A diamond once part of the Bavarian royal family crown has been recut by its new owner, writes DEREK SCALLYin Berlin
THE FIRST obituary of 2010 in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper was headlined “The Elimination of Eternity”.
The newspaper of record was mourning the passing, not of a person, but of the “Wittelsbach Blue”, an azure 35-carat diamond that once graced the crown of the Bavarian royal family.
Yesterday the stone went on display in Washington alongside the infamous Hope diamond. But rather than celebrate the return of the famous gem after half a century in obscurity, Germans are mourning a beauty they say is a mere shadow of its former self.
A little over a year ago, the diamond went up for auction. Hopes were high that the Bavarian government would snap it up and reinstate the Wittelsbach Blue in the Bavarian royal crown.
Instead, the diamond went for a record €19 million to Briton Laurence Graff, known as the “diamond king” to celebrity clients such as Victoria Beckham and the Sultan of Brunei.
To the horror of Bavarians, he gave the famous stone an extreme makeover, eliminating its famous 400-year-old rose shape – and 4.5 carats – in favour of a more multifaceted modern look. An apoplectic expert on the diamond accused Mr Graff of “vandalism akin to painting over a Rembrandt”.
The final insult, German critics said, was renaming it the “Wittelsbach-Graff”.
The London jewel dealer has shrugged off criticism, saying a recut was necessary for the worn and damaged diamond.
Some experts have said that, with its new, smaller look, the stone appears more dazzling and intensely blue than before.
The Gemological Institute of America says the diamond remains “the largest, flawless deep-blue diamond it has graded to date”.
Mr Graff is the latest in a long line of owners of the Wittelsbach Blue which, for all its fame, remains of mysterious provenance. Believed to originate in an Indian mine, the diamond was reportedly included by King Philip IV of Spain in the dowry of his daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa, on her engagement to Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1664.
In 1722 it passed to Bavaria’s ruling Wittelsbach family, where it was worn, first as part of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and then incorporated into the royal crown.
The family put the crown jewels up for sale in 1931 but the stone vanished from the crown before the auction took place. The diamond reappeared – unattributed – at the 1958 world’s fair in Belgium and then vanished again, reportedly sold in 1964 to department store magnate Helmut Horten as a wedding present for his wife.
Mr Graff describes his acquisition, even shorn of four carats, as the most valuable diamond in the world, with a reported asking price of €25 million.
Though the Hope diamond, at 45.5 carats, is considerably larger, as part of the Smithsonian collection it cannot be sold.
The Wittelsbach-Graff diamond may still be a girl’s best friend but Marilyn Monroe stands corrected: square-cut or pear-shaped, some rocks do lose their shape.