In the words of Venetian explorer Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) “No country but this (India) produces diamonds. Those which are brought to our part of the world are only the refuse, as it were, of the finer and larger stones. For the flower of the diamonds are all carried to the Great Khan and other kings and princes of the region. In truth they possess all the treasures of the world.”
Universally esteemed as the world’s finest diamonds, ‘Golconda’ is a name used within the jewelry world to denote diamonds which possess superb luminousness and transparency and an innate purity. Besides indicating a superior quality, the term also signifies that the diamond is a period gem, mined in the ancient diamond fields of Southern India. ‘The Diamonds of Golconda’ were known as India’s most prized possession, and some of the most famous Golconda stones include the Agra Diamond, the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, the Koh-i-Noor which forms part of the British Crown Jewels, the Darya-i-Nur in Iran, and The Princie Diamond.
Golconda diamonds have a higher degree of transparency – a quality which is rarely seen in diamonds from other areas, such as South Africa, Russia, Canada or Australia, or even within India. The special whiteness about them is often described as soft, limpid, watery or pure. It is not to be confused with the color grade or clarity – it is rather a quality in which light appears to pass through the stone as if it were totally unimpeded, which gives the stone its soft appearance. In addition, the surface luster appears to have a light softness, more gentle and yet luminous and striking.
For the connoisseurs, the Golconda diamonds which retain their original cuts are the most appreciated. Since the stones may have been mined hundreds of years ago, many exhibit the slightly less than precise cutting styles common prior to this century. ‘The Evening Star’s old mine pear-shaped cut tends to emphasize the limpid transparency which makes Golconda diamonds so special.
It is widely accepted that all diamonds which display this special luminousness are of Indian origin. Although little is recorded of the very early days of diamond mining in India, it is believed that it began about 400BC. For about 200 years, with the exception of a small and protected source in Borneo, this was the only source of the precious gems until about 1725 when diamonds were discovered in Brazil, coincidentally at the same time as the majority of diamond mines in India were depleted.
The Indian diamond fields are found scattered throughout a broad belt of ancient rocks extending nearly one thousand miles in the north-south direction along the eastern half of the country. The vast majority of the diamonds found were from alluvial deposits – a secondary deposit formed by the breakdown of older rocks by the forces of nature and set down in river beds. Within the diamond belt, diamonds were found in five distinct districts, each separated by high terrain. Each district had its own name, the most famous being the Golconda district centered around the area capital, trading center and ancient fort of Golconda.
Rome 2002, p. 80, fg. 17
Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2015, p. 49, no. 10
The Miho Museum, Koka 2016, p. 180, no. 142
Grand Palais, Paris 2017, p. 40, no. 12
The Doge’s Palace, Venice 2017, p. 51, no. 5
The Palace Museum, Beijing 2018, p. 60, no. 6
de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco 2018, p. 171, no. 8
Christie's, New York, 20 April 1988, lot 308
Christie's, New York, 10 December 2013, lot 496