While many of us have heard of famous diamonds such as the Hope Diamond (45.52 carats), residing as a premiere attraction in the Smithsonian, and the Koh-I-Noor Diamond (105.60 carats), displayed in the Tower of London, few people are familiar with the Sancy Diamond.
The Sancy diamond has a long, mysterious and passionate history. The larger of the two diamonds that carry the Sancy name, it weighs 55.23 carats and is of a pale yellow color. The shield shape (pear) was said to be discovered before the year 1570. It is named after the French Ambassador to Switzerland Seigneur de Sancy. He was the owner during the last years of the 16th century. But the stone’s history runs deeper. The legend has it that Charles the Bold, also the Duke of Burgundy, owned the diamond. As fate would have it the gem was lost in battle about 1477.
Nicholas Harlai, Seigneur de Sancy, acquired the diamond around 1570 in Constantinople. As a gem connoisseur he acquired gems in his travels to Turkey and the Far East. Nicholas actually loaned the diamond to both Henry III and Henry the IV. Henry the II used the diamond in a cap to hide his baldness whereas Henry the IV used it as security in order to finance his army.
In a bizarre twist the story is told of a messenger carrying the jewel never reaching his destination. De Sancy, who was Minister of Finance at the time, knew the messenger to be loyal and sent out a search for him. It seems the man was murdered but before he was murdered, in an attempt to rob him, he swallowed the diamond. His body was autopsied and the diamond was indeed in his stomach.
King James of England bought the diamond around the 1625 but there is some note in the inventory described in the Tower of London of 1605 that mentions a diamond ‘bought of Sancy’. The gem stayed in England for a while but traveled with other jewels from the Royal Treasury with Queen Henrietta Maria. James the II, third son of Charles I (King of England) .The French Crown was bequeathed the diamond from a Cardinal Mazarin who had purchased the diamond from James II for 25,000 pounds.
Now the famous diamond, residing in France, mysteriously disappears during the French Revolution! Its journey still far from over, the diamond’s whereabouts remain unknown. It surfaced in 1828 with its purchase by the Russian Prince Nicholas Demidoff (at left). The price tag now is 80,000 pounds. The Demidoff collection holds the diamond as it passed from father to son and then to the sons’ Finnish bride. Sold again in 1865 to Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy the price jumped to 100,000 pounds. Displayed at the Paris Exhibition in 1867 the Sancy carried a price tag of one million francs.
Mystery enters the picture again as the diamond is not seen for the next 40 years! As these fascinating diamonds will, the Sancy resurfaced and in the early 1900’s the stone was purchased by William Waldorf Astor for his wife Lady Astor. Worn by Lady Astor in a tiara on many of her state occasions (shown at right in an old newspaper clipping) as the first woman to be a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the Sancy continued to be admired and adored.
The Astor family retained the diamond for the next 72 years. The 4th Viscount Astor then sold it to the Louvre for $1 million in 1978. The Apollo Gallery at the Louvre is now the home of this famous well traveled gem along with the Hortensia diamond and the Regent diamond.
Just as we follow, admire and sometimes even adore great people of history, these famous diamonds also beguile us. They have a past, present and future that speaks to us. Their travels often reflect our own…
So the next time you find yourself at the Louvre, the Tower of London or the Smithsonian gazing into a famous sparkling diamond think about the quote from John Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness”.