Sparkling jewels have decorated royalty and the occasional lucky commoner for centuries, so many famous diamonds have fascinating stories. Here are a few fun facts about some of the largest, most brilliant diamonds in history. When you shop for your own diamond jewelry, you can take part in the historical tradition of wearing remarkable stones.
Hope: The Hope diamond weighs 45.52 carats and is the most famous blue diamond in the world. It is on display in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C., set in a diamond necklace designed by Cartier.
A French royal jewel: Found in India in the 17th century, the original stone weighed about 112 carats; trace amounts of boron give the diamond its dark grayish blue color. King Louis XIV of France purchased the diamond in 1668, had it cut by court jewelers, and wore it on a necklace for ceremonial occasions. It became known as the French Blue.
The diamond gets a new name: The French Blue became lost during the French Revolution and resurfaced in London in the 19th century. Henry Philip Hope, an Englishman, owned the diamond in the 1830s; the French Blue became the Hope diamond in his honor.
The Hope diamond arrives in America: Eventually, Cartier acquired the Hope diamond. The famous jewelers set it in a pendant, surrounding the blue diamond with 16 white diamonds, as part of a diamond necklace for socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean. Harry Winston Inc. purchased this necklace as part of Mrs. McLean's jewelry collection in 1949 and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958.
Cullinan: Discovered in South Africa in 1905, the Cullinan diamond weighed a whopping 3,106 carats. It was named for Sir Thomas Cullinan, the mine's owner. He gave it to Britain's King Edward VII. The cutting yielded nine large stones and some smaller stones. The two largest gems, known as Cullinan's Stars, are famous in their own right.
Great Star of Africa: Also called the Cullinan I, the Great Star of Africa is the largest of gems cut from the Cullinan diamond. It weighs 530.20 carats and has a long pear shape. King Edward VII had it placed in the sceptre with the cross, which monarchs carry at their coronations. The diamond sits under the amethyst orb near the top of the sceptre.
Lesser Star of Africa: The Cullinan II, despite its designation as the lesser star, is still a big diamond, weighing 317.4 carats. It decorates Britain's imperial state crown.
Koh-i-noor: The Koh-i-noor, "mountain of light," diamond weighs 108.93 carats. It is part of the British crown jewels, set in a crown for Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI, in 1947, but the stone has a long history in the East.
Koh-i-noor was a treasure of the Mogul Dynasty. The earliest references to the diamond appear in 14th-century Hindu writings, and although its exact origins are unknown, the rough stone was probably mined in India much earlier. Mogul rulers acquired it in 1526. Various Indian, Persian, and Afghani rulers owned the Koh-i-noor over the next 300 years.
Britain made it part of the crown jewels. The British took possession of the diamond in 1850. Queen Victoria had it re-cut to enhance the fire, which changed the oval diamond's weight from 186 carats to just below 109 carats.
This diamond comes with a curse. Like other large diamonds in history, the Koh-i-noor is said to be cursed. According to a Hindu text dating back to 1306, "He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity."
Golden Jubilee: The Golden Jubilee, at 546 carats, is the largest faceted diamond in the world. It is golden brown in color and named for the 50th anniversary of the King of Thailand's coronation, presented to him in 1997. Before that, it was known as the "Unnamed Brown."
Taylor-Burton: Movie star Elizabeth Taylor made this 69.42-carat diamond, purchased for her by Richard Burton, famous when she wore it to the 1970 Academy Awards. The pear-shaped stone was set in a stunning Cartier necklace. The appearance of the Taylor-Burton diamond is a highlight of awards show fashion history.
Cullinan Heritage: On September 24, 2009, a 507-carat white diamond was discovered at the Premier mine in South Africa, the same mine that yielded the 3,000-carat Cullinan diamond in 1905. The 2009 stone has exceptional color and clarity and ranks among the top 20 largest diamonds ever found.
Agra: This famous cushion-cut diamond weighs 28.15 carats and has a fancy pink color. The origins of the Agra diamond are sketchy, but legend has it that Babur, the first Mogul Emperor, acquired the diamond in the 1520s and wore it in his turban. The British auction house Christies auctioned the diamond in 1990. Read our FAQs about colored diamonds to learn more about these colorful gems.
Centenary: The Premier mine yielded another great diamond in July 1986; this rough stone weighed 599.10 carats. De Beers had it cut to a modified heart-shape gem that weighs 273.85 carats. The Centenary made its public debut in 1988 to celebrate De Beers' 100th anniversary. It is the world's largest colorless and flawless cut diamond.
Orlov: The 189.62-carat Orlov diamond once belonged to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Grigory Orlov, a former lover, bought the diamond for Catherine, who had a sceptre made for it in 1784. Originally from India, the Orlav diamond has a faint bluish-green color and a domed rose cut. The diamond, still in the sceptre, is on display in Moscow as part of Russia's state jewels.
Star: Astronomer Travis Metcalfe and his colleagues discovered a diamond star in 2004 that is estimated to be 10 billion trillion trillion carats. It is a white dwarf star made of crystallized carbon. The star is located about 50 light years away from Earth, in the constellation Centaurus.
Published April 29, 2010
Updated January 8, 2015