stone of ill fortune

On a November day in 1981, Christie's held a jewel auction in an exclusive Geneva hotel. One of the items for sale, Lot 710, was listed as an 'unnamed yellow diamond of precisely 81.56 carats, framed with 15 small brilliants'. It is rare to see a stone of this size with no name or provenance and some wondered whether it may have been none other than the legendary Florentine stone, once part of the Habsburg diamond collection that disappeared, more than 60 years earlier.

Stories of the large, yellow diamond date from 1477 when

(A vast yellow diamond has been linked to bad luck since 1477 - implicated in the downfall of kings, queens and empire.

Once considered the most beautiful woman in the world, Sisi (Elisabeth), Empress of Austria, was famed for her fashion sense and her diet and exercise regimes. But she was doomed to meet a violent end)

Charles the Bold of Burgundy is said to have been wearing it when he fell in battle. The first clearly documented mention dates from 1657 when it was owned by the Medici family of Florence. An Antwerp diamond merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who was compiling a catalogue of the world's most valuable precious stones, came across the gem in the Medici treasure chamber. It was known as the Grand Duke of Tuscany after its owner. Tavernier was entranced by the great diamond which had 126 facets enhancing its golden glow.

In 1736, when Francis, Duke of Lorraine, married the Austrian princess Maria Theresa of Habsburg, he inherited the title and property of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, including the 137-carat diamond. Maria Theresa nicknamed the diamond the 'Florentine' after its Medici origins. The Florentine made its first public appearance in 1745, when the Duke of Lorraine was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. For this occasion, the stone had been set into the Habsburg family crown.

When, in 1770, Francis's 14-year-old daughter Marie Antoinette married the Dauphin, later to become King Louis XVI of France, she wore the priceless showpiece around her neck as a wedding present from her father. But the diamond did not bring its new owners much luck - the French Revolution resulted in their execution on the guillotine in 1793, and the Florentine vanished without trace.


The diamond resurfaced when Napoleon I, who had crowned himself French Emperor, married into the Habsburg family in April 1810. His marriage to Josephine had failed to produce heirs, so he married 'a womb' to try and ensure his succession. Archduchess Marie Louise was the 19-year-old daughter of Emperor

When her marriage to Napoleon failed, Marie Louise took the Florentine diamond home to her father, Emperor Francis I of Austria, had the stone reset into the Habsburg crown, now also crown of the Austrian Empire Francis I of Austria - who wanted the union to bring peace to Austria. Napoleon gave his new wife a wedding present on an imperial scale - the Florentine. A year later she bore him a son, but neither their child nor Napoleon's wedding gift led to a lasting union. When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, the Habsburg Archduchess returned to her family - with the diamond which was then set into the Habsburg crown.

The diamond remained in the crown until 1888, when the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef had it incorporated into a necklace for his popular wife Sisi. This, too, was inauspicious - ten years later, at the age of 60, Sisi was assassinated by a young anarchist wielding a needle file. She died from a puncture wound to the heart. From then on, no Habsburg wanted to wear the jewel and it went on permanent display as part of the Austrian crown jewels in Vienna.


In the aftermath of the First World War, when political turmoil threatened to sweep away the Austrian monarchy, the Habsburgs deposited the Florentine and other jewellery in a Swiss bank. When the Austrian public got wind of what they regarded as a 'towering act of betrayal' there was a grounds well of indignation in what was already a volatile atmosphere of revolutionary upheaval. In November 1918 the emperor, Charles I, was forced to sign a document in which

he renounced 'any further part in the business of government.

A few months later the family fled to Switzerland in exile; all they possessed were the jewels. But the Austrian government had passed laws stating that all Habsburg property belonged to the state, which implied that the Habsburgs could not offer the jewellery for public sale.


The family was obliged to use a middleman, Bruno Steiner, to dispose of the jewellery - including the Florentine which was by then thought to be worth more than 10 million Swiss francs (at least £4 million). The Habsburgs made a poor choice of agent and the stone, along with the rest of the crown jewels, was stolen. This spelt financial ruin - the theft could not be reported as the jewellery did not officially belong to them. It is rumoured that everything was taken to South America and that the Florentine was taken to be recut in the United States in the 1920s. Perhaps part of it resurfaced, briefly, as the nameless jewel in the auction in 1981. Or perhaps it still lies intact in a strongroom somewhere.

Diamond facts


Diamonds are graded for quality according to the four 'c's: colour, clarity, cut and carat


The best diamonds are colourless and transparent with a very high refractive index. Traces of nitrogen give a yellow tint.


A diamond's clarity is lowered by the presence of fine 'inclusions' of minerals in the stone. Clarity is graded on a scale ranging from 'flawless' to 'imperfect'.

Cuts of diamond       

The commonest diamond cuts are the brilliant, the Dutch rose, the marquise, pendeloque, and the emerald cut.


One carat is the equivalent of 200 milligrams. Thus the Florentine weighs (or weighed) 27.454 grams.