The Black Orlov, also known as the “Eye of Brahma” diamond, is one of the gemstones that are surrounded by enigmatic stories and superstition, beginning with a theft from a Hindu idol and resulting in at least three mysterious suicides. With all its sinister tales, this legendary gem will never cease to intrigue and attract.
Origin of the Black Orlov Diamond
The history of the Black Orlov diamond, also known as the “Eye of Brahma”, traces back to the early 19th century India.
According to a legend, it was once a part of a 195-carat (39.0 g) uncut gem that was used as one of the eyes in a statue of Hindu God Brahma, in a temple near Pondicherry in Southern India. The legend has it that the diamond was stolen from the temple by a travelling monk and this sacrilege made the Hindu priests of the temple place a curse on the diamond, that condemned all future owners to a violent death.
Although this mysterious story may seem quite fascinating, the occurrence and distribution of black diamonds in the world raise grave doubts about the Indian origin of the Black Orlov. Today the only important sources of black diamonds in the world are Brazil and the Central African Republic, and the discovery of any significant black diamond in the historical diamond mines of India has never been recorded. That is why the Black Orlov most probably was mined in the Central African Republic.
Curse of the Black Orlov Diamond
Although it is not known in which year the diamond was stolen from the temple, it somehow found its way to Russia and became the property of a Russian Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov, after whom the diamond is named, but whose existence is not documented. However, it has been reported that there was Princess Nadejda Petrovna Orlov of Russia (3 March 1898 – 21 April 1988) who was the third child of Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich of Russia and the former Princess Milica of Montenegro.
In 1932, the diamond reached the United States where it was acquired by a European diamond dealer, J.W. Paris from an unknown source. According to another legend, J.W. Paris was the first casualty of the curse, who jumped from a New York City skyscraper, shortly after selling the stone the same year. However, there is no record of a jeweller having jumped from a skyscraper in New York, 1932.
In 15 years after the first incident, the curse claimed its second and third victims both of which were Russian princesses, who are said to own the Black Orlov diamond in the past, possibly when they were in Russia. Princess Nadia Vyegin Orlov and Princess Leonila Galitsine Bariatinsky committed suicide several months apart in 1947 by jumping from buildings in Rome. However, there are no records to show that incidents, moreover, it is documented that Princess Leonila Galitsine Bariatinsky died long before 1947, in 1918 at the age of 102 in Switzerland.
The real Princess Nadejda Petrovna Orlov of Russia, who fled the country to France after the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, lived up to 90 years and died of natural causes in 1988, in France.
It is also said that in an attempt to break the curse, an Austrian cutter cleaved the original stone into three pieces, transforming the Black Orlov into a 67.50-carat cushion cut diamond we know today. The year in which the operation was performed and the fate of the remaining two pieces remain unknown.
Curse of the Black Orlov Diamond Lifted
Strangely enough, after the curse took its three victims, the effect seems to have lifted, and none of the further owners was affected by the evil the diamond holds.
The diamond was bought by a gem dealer, Charles F Winson, who valued the stone at $150,000. In fact, Winson was the first authenticated owner of the Black Orlov. The diamond was set into a platinum brooch surrounded by 108 white diamonds and suspended from a necklace of 124 white diamonds by Cartier. While in the possession of Charles F Winson, the gem was displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1951 and at the Wonderful World of Fine Jewellery and Gifts Fair in Dallas in 1964.
In 1969, the seventh largest black diamond in the world was sold to an unknown buyer for $300,000. However, in 1990 it came up for auction at Sotheby’s and was sold for $99,000. In 1995, the gem was auctioned again – this time for $1.5 million. Later in 2004, the Black Orlov was purchased by a jeweller and diamond dealer Dennis Petimezas from the anonymous private collector. The purchase price of the diamonds was not disclosed.
After owing the Black Orlov diamond for 30 months, Dennis Petimezas decided to sell it to buy the Monroe Diamond. In 2006, the gem was auctioned again – this time at Christie’s and was sold to an anonymous buyer for $360,000.
Cover image credit: Bruno Vincent via Getty Images