Origin of name
The Niarchos Diamond gets it's name from the Greek
shipping magnate Niarchos Stavros Spyros, brother-in-law to the famous
Aristotle Onassis, and reputed art collector and investor, who purchased the
diamond in 1958, for $ 2 million, from Harry Winston, and presented it to
his wife Charlotte Ford.
Characteristics of the
The Niarchos diamond is a 128.25 carat, pear-shaped,
colorless diamond of unknown color and clarity grade. But, the master cutter
of Harry Winston Inc. New York, Bernard de Haan, referred to the rough
diamond as the "Ice Queen", because according too him the rough stone would
have been hard to spot in a bucket of ice cubes. This gives an indication as
to the color and clarity of the diamond. A satellite stone of the Niarchos,
an emerald-cut, 39.99-carat diamond, which was purchased by Sheik Ahmed
Hassan Fitaihi in 1991 for $ 1,870,000, was graded by the G.I.A. as D-color
and VVS-1 clarity, and bears the name "Ice Queen". Thus the Niarchos diamond
was most probably a D-color diamond of a similar clarity grade.
Being a D-color diamond, the Niarchos is a type IIa
diamond, which is nitrogen-free and structurally perfect. These diamonds are
known as the "purest of the pure" of all diamonds and constitute 1-2 % of
all naturally occurring diamonds. The presence of nitrogen and structural
distortion are two factors that can induce colors to diamonds.
In the list of famous D-color diamonds about which
information is available, the Niarchos is perhaps the 14th largest D-color
diamond and the 5th largest D-Color, pear-shaped diamond in the world.
The Premier diamond mine, situated in Transvaal, South
Africa, was discovered in 1902, by Sir Thomas Cullinan, who later formed the
Premier Diamond Mining Company. It was in this mine the world's largest
rough diamond weighing 3,106 carats, was discovered in 1905, and was
appropriately named the Cullinan diamond. During the long period of
operation of this mine, it has produced some of the world's most outstanding
diamonds, such as the Niarchos in 1954, the Taylor Burton in 1966, the
premier Rose in 1978, and the Centenary diamond in 1986.
The ownership of the Premier mines was subsequently
acquired by the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, and under it's management
became one of the most productive diamond mines in the world. The Premier
mines also became the source of exceptional quality fancy colored diamonds,
including the very rare blue diamonds.
But, during the last 100 years, production in the premier
mine was not continuous. There were two major interruptions during this
period, when operations at the mine were temporarily suspended. The first
such interruption was during the outbreak of World War I in 1914, but after
two years in 1916, work at the mines resumed again. The second interruption
in production was much longer, and started in 1932 during the great
depression, and continued until the end of world war II in 1945.
Production started again in 1945, but was given an
added boost in 1979, with the opening of the mine below the "Gabro Sill" ,a
70 meter geologic intrusion of barren rock which cuts right through the pipe
some 400 meters below the surface. Production from this new source extended
the life of the mine and was expected to enable production to continue for
at least another 15 years.
May 22nd 1954, was a routine day of operations at the
Premier mines, when suddenly workers engaged in their monotonous duties at
the grease tables of the recovery plant realized that a large gem-quality
diamond had appeared on the tables. A quick and casual inspection of the
diamond revealed that this was indeed an exceptional find.
Further extensive examination revealed that the rough
stone was internally flawless and weighed 426.5 carats, but was slightly
chipped at one end, attributed to the stone's contact with the mine's
underground crusher. The dimensions of the stone were 51 x 25 x19 mm. Sir
Ernest Oppenheimer who examined the rough stone said, that it possessed the
most perfect color of any diamond he had seen.
The diamond which was still unnamed was dispatched to
London, and included in a 'lot" of rough diamonds that was eventually sold
by the Diamond Trading Company to Harry Winston Inc. of New York in January
1956, for a record breaking sum of £ 3,000,000. This was one of the largest
ever transactions negotiated by the Diamond Trading Company.
The Niarchos diamond yet unnamed was dispatched
separately from the other diamonds, from London to New York. The diamonds
reached the Idle Wild Airport, New York. on Feb 1st 1956. A messenger from a
customs broker at the airport delivered a brown paper bag containing the
Niarchos to the Harry Winston Inc. and an accompanying postman delivered
three boxes to the same address containing the remaining stones sent by
ordinary registered post costing only £1.75. The total lack of security for
the diamonds although astonishing was an ingenuous method of avoiding undue
attention towards the priceless items.
The next formidable task was the cutting of the rough
stone, to bring out the beauty and brilliance locked up within the stone for
perhaps billions of years. Harry Winston and his cutting staff were
confronted with the same age-old problem of deciding between historic value
and marketability, that had baffled owners of extraordinarily large diamonds
before. Finally after weeks of debating Mr. Harry Winston decided on a
single large diamond, because he considered the historical value of creating
one fine large diamond as more important, than creating several smaller
stones, that would have proved easier to sell.
The final decision having been made by Mr. Harry Winston,
the team of cutters headed by Winston's chief cleaver and cutter, Bernard de
Haan, who hailed from a family of hereditary diamond cutters in Amsterdam,
set about the task of planning the cutting process. Several lead models of
the rough and proposed finished gem were cast in order to guide them in
their task. Bernard de Haan, was involved in the project for an entire year,
before it was finally completed. The first step which took five weeks
resulted in the cleavage of a 70-carat piece from the original rough stone.
This was eventually transformed into a perfect 27.62-carat marquise. The
second step, which took almost the same time as the first, involved the
cleavage of another 70-carat piece from the stone, which was eventually
fashioned into a top quality 39.99-carat emerald-cut diamond. After the
first two operations, what remained was about 270 carats of the original
rough diamond. Bernard de Haan then began in earnest, the faceting and
polishing of this large piece, and after 58 days of continuous hard work a
brilliant pear-shaped diamond weighing 128.25 carats, was fashioned out. The
diamond had a total of 144 facets, 86 of which was around the girdle. The
finished diamond was finally unveiled to the world on February 27th 1957,
and was nicknamed the "Ice Queen" by Bernard de Haan, as according to him
the rough stone would have been difficult to spot in a bucket of ice cubes.
The April 1958 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, featured an
article on diamonds, which also included the cutting process of the Niarchos
the 128.25-carat pear-shaped diamond was then purchased
by the Greek shipping magnate Niarchos Stavros Spyros for his then
wife, formerly Charlotte Ford, for a reported $ 2 million. He also purchased
the two satellite gems that originated from the 426.5-carat rough, the
27.62-carat marquise-cut and the 39.99-carat emerald-cut. Niarchos Stavros
owned the largest private shipping fleet in the world, which consisted of
more than 80 tankers, some of which were supertankers that set the world
record for size and carrying capacity. He was the Brother-in-Law to the
other famous Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Niarchos was
also a reputed connoisseur and collector of art works. His famous
acquisition was the French impressionist art collection belonging to the
American actor Edward G. Robinson, which he purchased for $ 2,500,000. The
marriage of Niarchos to Charlotte Ford eventually ended up in divorce, but
Niarchos retained the diamond, which came to be known as the Niarchos
Diamond. He was generous enough to lend the diamond to many exhibitions, and
in 1966 the Niarchos returned to it's country of origin, South Africa, for
the famous Centennial "Jewel Box 1966" exhibition.
Present owners of the
Stavros Niarchos died in April 1996, and since then the
whereabouts of the diamond are unknown. However 5 years before he died, in
1991, the 39.99-carat, emerald-cut, satellite diamond, came up for auction
at Sotheby's of New York, and was purchased by Sheik Ahmed Hassan Fitaihi of
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for $ 1,870,000. This diamond was graded by the G.I.A.
as D-color and VVS-1 clarity, and today it is known as the "Ice Queen".