Diamonds, Gemstones and Politics


-October 2015-

Even if today gemstones are often seen as traded luxury goods, centuries ago they were desired as a symbol of power and wealth. Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492 and the acquisition of new trading companies in India via the new Cape of Good Hope maritime channel provided new business opportunities.


Later, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - jeweller and traveller under the French Monarchy of Louis XIV- brought back the most beautiful precious stones on his return from India. He was the first European to be able to admire the treasure of the Great Mogul. Between 1631 and 1668 he made six trips to India and Persia. In his travel notes he describes the mines and the most beautiful gems he saw. He exchanged Italian enamelled jewellery - much appreciated by Orientals - for beautiful precious stones.


Louis XIVMazarin, who insured Louis XIV’s regency, was a lover of precious stones. He possessed the most beautiful diamonds in Europe, such as the Sancy and the Mirror of Portugal which he bequeathed to the French Crown when he died. Later Louis XIV bought other diamonds as the one blue diamond, better known as the Blue Hope. Shaped as a heart, the Blue Hope was set on a pin and worn by Louis XIV.  
Thanks to Mazarin, councillor to the king and a gem connoisseur, the Sun King had the most beautiful collection of precious stones in Europe. The king made gifts of gems and diamonds to other monarchs, to ambassadors, generals and members of the court, to satisfy or pacify them.

Holland’s power in terms of trade and shipping made Amsterdam a centre for diamond trade. The city’s religious freedom and financial advantages made the city an important haven for many merchants.

Around 1700, the Golconde mines gradually ran out of diamonds. Fortunately, in 1723, mines were discovered in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. This meant that in the 1720s the supply from Brazil was five times more important than from India. In 1739, other mines were discovered near the coast of Bahia. In order to take control of the situation, the Portuguese made a law in 1730. This new law declared the King of Portugal owner of the mines, who claimed the monopoly of the transport of precious stones.

At the end of the 18th century, The French revolution was a blow to the supremacy of France and consequently to the monarchies of Europe as a whole. Nobles fled abroad, mostly to England, taking their precious jewels with them. The French crown jewels were stolen in 1792 in Paris. In the Assemblée, the Minister of Finance, Roland, had to admit that jewellery, with a value of  500.000 francs, was found back. Although, the total value of the Crown jewels was estimated on 30 million francs. It is often said, with a touch of irony, that the French revolution was as good source of gems as was Brazil.


Texts ©World Luxury Jewellers



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