Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Maximilian Diamond

Warmest thanks to my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles, who sends this news about a most interesting auction. See the Christies announcement in full here, and see my comments at the end of this post in italics.

"The Emperor Maximilian" was auctioned of at Christie's New York on April 22nd, 2010 as a lot in Jewels: The New York Sale, with The Catherine the Great Emerald Brooch and The Emperor Maximilian Diamond. The Estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. Price Realized $ 1,762,500. That Friday at Christie’s was the first time the Emperor diamond had been on display to the public since 1982.

SHAPE & CUTTING STYLE: Cushion Brilliant
Measurements: 23.22 × 20.29 × 12.35 mm
Weight: 39.55 Carats
Depth: 60.9%
Table: 59%
Girdle: Medium to slightly thick, Faceted
Culet: Large
Polish - Very Good
Symmetry - Good
Fluorescence - Very Strong Blue

History of the Diamond:

Maximilian of Habsburg held a burning desire to visit the New World. In 1860, he journeyed to the tropical forests of Brazil on a botanical expedition. While in Brazil he acquired two exceptionally large diamonds which were to be named for him, the Emperor Maximilian and the Maximilian II.

The first was a 41.94-carat diamond with a strong blue fluorescence which gives the diamond a soft luminosity in daylight. The second diamond was of a greenish-yellow tint and weighted 33 carats. After his return to Europe, Maximilian presented the smaller diamond to his wife, who wore it mounted as a pendant. The Maximilian II is therefore sometimes called the "Carlota" Diamond. (Not to be confused with the pear-shaped pink stone of the same name.)

When Carlotta left Mexico during the summer of 1866, she left behind the 33-carat greenish-yellow diamond, which her husband had given her.

Legend holds that Maximilian was wearing the Emperor Maximilian Diamond in a small satchel tied around his neck when he faced the firing squad.* Following the execution, his remains were sent to Vienna and the Emperor Maximilian Diamond returned to Charlotte. Upon news of his death, Charlotte’s condition worsened and she shut herself off from the outside world. The diamond was subsequently sold to help pay for expenses during Charlotte’s illness and it disappeared for over three decades until, in 1901, two Mexicans attempted to smuggle it into the United States. It was seized by Customs and auctioned by the U.S. Government later the same year for $120,000, a quite large sum for a yellow diamond, even a larger one, in those days. In 1919, the Emperor Maximilian Diamond was purchased by a Chicago gem dealer, Ferdinand Holtz and was displayed in the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair as the highlight of the 'Century of Progress' exhibition, which reproduced a South African Diamond mine in operation with native laborers. Despite several offers to buy it, Mr. Holtz refused to sell the diamond and it remained in his possession until his death in 1946. It was subsequently sold to a private collector in New York. The name of the new owner has never been revealed and the diamond remained in her possession, mounted in a ring by Cartier, until Christie’s auctioned it in New York in 1982.

It was expected that diamond would fetch $330,000 but it eventually sold for $726,000 to Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, who has a vast collection of notable and historic diamonds. In January 1983, Graff sold The Emperor Maximilian, together with two other important diamonds, in a single transaction to the same buyer, Madame Imelda Marcos, wife of the President of the Philippines. Subsequently, it was sold and re-cut in the 1990’s, to its current weight of 39.55 carats, and finally it was acquired by the present owner.

According to the staff at Christie’s, the stone is believed to be a Golconda diamond but that cannot be proven conclusively. Golconda’s are absolutely exquisite stones. While many of the stones that end up on the auction block at places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s are top-notch Ds or Es, the Emperor diamond is actually only an I-color stone.

The stone’s strong blue fluorescence actually makes it look a few color grades better and, besides, there is for sure no denying this is one stone with a rich history.

View the Christies Video about The Emperor Maximilian Diamond.

*C.M. notes: This is quite a story! I should note, however, that I have developed a healthy skepticism for so-called "legends." I sincerely doubt Maximilian wore such a thing around his neck at the time of his execution. Never in all my years of research have I come across anything in a primary source about such a diamond being returned by the Mexicans to Carlota, and I find it extremely unlikely. There is in the Maximilian von Mexiko Archive in Vienna a copy of the detailed inventory taken when Maximilian was captured in Querétaro which includes everything, and it wasn't much, down to the last teaspoon. The Christies video talks about his liberal sentiments, but well... to give an idea of things, after an extensive trial in 1867, Maximilian was found guilty of several crimes against the Mexican nation, the most grevious--- and the one upon which his sentence of death was based--- for having signed into law the "Black Decree" of October 1865, in which anyone found in Mexican territory with a weapon could be treated, not as an enemy combatant, but as a common criminal and shot without trial. In 1865 and 1866, hundreds of people were executed by Mexican Imperial troops and by French troops under this "law." And this "Black Decree" was certainly not something trotted out at the last minute in a kangaroo court. John Bigelow, the U.S. minister in Paris, protested vociferously to the French authorities about the barbaric "Black Decree" just as soon as he heard about it. Even Carlota's own uncle, Joinville, wrote to her objecting to such drastic and cruel measures. (And Maximilian's tussles with the Iturbide family, the subject of my novel, which is based on extensive original research, shows no small degree of moral confusion on his part. Suffice it to say he had Alice Green de Iturbide, the distraught mother of the prince he "adopted," arrested and forcibly exiled. The entire, sad, file on that subject is perserved in own archive in Vienna.) After Maximilian was executed by the firing squad, his body did not fit into the temporary coffin, so, not feeling beholden to delicacy, the Mexicans broke the legs to make it fit. The embalming of the body was another grotesque fiasco--- also well documented by multiple observers (read the memoir of an eyewitness here). So again, I find this story of the Mexicans, clearly not in a mood for charity, returning any such diamond to Carlota very difficult to believe.

But who knows? History is often stranger than fiction.

As for Carlota, she had suffered her psychotic breakdown in while on a mission to Paris and Rome in September 1866, more than six months before Maximilian's death (read an eyewitness account in José Luis Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo, and see the letters of Maximilian's consul in Rome at the CONDUMEX archive in Mexico City) and was taken back to Miramar Castle in Trieste and kept under guard until her family took her back to Belgium. For the rest of her long life, insane, (possibly bipolar and later, so it seems, suffering from senile dementia) she lived in a castle in Belgium with a highly vigilant entourage, including ladies-in-waiting and a doctor. Her personal wealth was sustantial, but most historians concur that her fortune must have disappeared into the hands of her brother, Leopold II, King of the Belgians.

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