The Kohinoor Diamond still has its home in the gloomy 900-year-old Tower of London, the Norman-built edifice that managed to survive the blitz years. Gem experts tell us that no other diamond in the world can compare with it in brilliance and clearness, nor in its long and tragic history.
Now set in the crown of Britain's queen, ancient legends knew it as the "Mountain of Light." Historians have traced its course through the centuries under a variety of spellings that included Koh-i-Nur and Koohinoor as well as Kohinool.
For centuries it was believed that whoever owned the Kohinoor ruled the world, despite the superstition that its possession endangered the owner's life, unless that person happened to be a woman. Perhaps it was because of that ancient belief that the Kohinoor today sparkles in the crown· of the Queen rather than the British King.
The history of the Kohinoor threads its way back about 5,000 years to the legend of its discovery in the sands of the Godavari River in India. Its first owner was said to be the hero Karna, whose deeds are celebrated in the "Mahabharata. "
The stone remained in the possession of the powerful Rajahs of Malwa until 1304, as the coveted symbol of their sovereignty over neighboring tribesmen. At that time it was brought to Delhi by Ala-ed-din. It was then supposed to weigh 793 carats.
When the Grand Mogul sold it to 'l'avernier in 1673, it weighed only 279 carats. The fabulous "Mountain of light" had been injured by the inexperience of a Venetian diamond cutter - thus reducing it in size and value, if not in historical importance.
The Kohinoor passed by inheritance through a long line of Mogul Emperors until the changing times of the 18th century brought it into the hands of the Nadir Shah of Persia. It was in 1739, after the sacking of Delhi by the Persians, that the stone journeyed to Afghanistan and into the hands of the Nadir Shah.
Bad luck followed the Mohammedan conqueror, who was assassinated by a courtier. Nadir Shah's grandson was the next owner of the diamond. He, too, died a violent death, with the diamond then going to Ahmed Shah. It never lacked willing recipients, despite the dread and superstition of the stone's evil influence!
In 1850 the Kohinoor came into the possession of the British East India Company, which in turn presented the stone to prim little Queen Victoria. In the following year it was one of the foremost attractions on display at the London Exposition.
At that time the weight 01 the stone was 186 carats, indicating that during its various ownerships a few "souvenirs" might have been chipped from the Kohinoor. In 1852 the crown jeweler of Britain was entrusted with the job of recutting the stone and bringing out its rare beauty in a modern setting.
With painstaking care, artisans worked under his supervision to bring out all the hidden lights of the age old diamond. Recutting reduced the Kohinoor's size and weight to its present 108 carats.
The Kohinoor is by no means the largest diamond in the world. A stone weighing 971 carats and three inches in length was sent to London in 1893. It came from the famed Jagersfontein mines in South Africa.