14 FebHistory of Famous Regency Romance Era Jewels And Other Precious Gems

In the Flash of a Jewel: Certain barbaric instincts in the human race seem to be ineradicable. It is but a step from the painted native, gorgeous in his beads and paint, to my lady of fashion, who wears a tiara upon her stately head, chains and collars of precious stones at her throat, bracelets on her white arms, and innumerable rings upon her dainty fingers. Wise men may decry the baleful fascination of jewels, but, none the less, the jeweler’s window continues to draw the crowd.

Like brilliant moths that appear only at night, jewels are tabooed in the day hours. Dame Fashion sternly condemns gems in the day time as evidence of hopelessly bad taste. No jewels are permitted in any ostentatious way, and yet a woman may, even in good society, wear a few thousand dollars’ worth of precious stones, without seeming to be overdressed, provided the occasion is appropriate, as in the case of functions held in darkened rooms.

In the evening, when shoulders are bared and light feet tread fantastic measures in a ball room, which is literally a bower of roses, there seems to be no limit as regards jewels. In such an assembly a woman may, without appearing overdressed, adorn herself with diamonds amounting to a small fortune.

During a season of grand opera in London, a beautiful white-haired woman sat in the same box night after night without attracting particular attention, except as a woman of acknowledged beauty. At a glance it might be thought that her dress, although elegant, was rather simple, but an enterprising reporter discovered that her gown of rare old lace, with the pattern picked out here and there with chip diamonds, had cost over fifty-five thousand dollars. The tiara, collar, and few rings she wore, swelled the grand total to more than three hundred thousand dollars.

Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls, and opals—these precious stones have played a tremendous part in the world’s history. Empires have been bartered for jewels, and for a string of pearls many a woman has sold her soul. It is said that pearls mean tears, yet they are favourite gifts for brides, and no maiden fears to wear them on her way up the aisle where her bridegroom waits.

A French writer claims that if it be true that the oyster can be forced to make as many pearls as may be required of it, the jewel will become so common that my lady will no longer care to decorate herself with its pale splendour. Whether or not this will ever be the case, it is certain that few gems have played a more conspicuous part in history than this.

Not only have we Cleopatra’s reckless draught, but there is also a story of a noble Roman who dissolved in vinegar and drank a pearl worth a million sesterces, which had adorned the ear of the woman he loved. But the cold-hearted chemist declares that an acid which could dissolve a pearl would also dissolve the person who swallowed it, so those two legends must vanish with many others that have shrivelled up under the searching gaze of science.

There is another interesting story about the destruction of a pearl. During the reign of Elizabeth, a haughty Spanish ambassador was boasting at the Court of England of the great riches of his king. Sir Thomas Gresham, wishing to get even with the bragging Castilian, replied that some of Elizabeth’s subjects would spend as much at one meal as Philip’s whole kingdom could produce in a day! To prove this statement, Sir Thomas invited the Spaniard to dine with him, and having ground up a costly Eastern pearl the Englishman coolly swallowed it.

Going back to the dimness of early times, we find that many of the ancients preferred green gems to all other stones. The emerald was thought to have many virtues. It kept evil spirits at a distance, it restored failing sight, it could unearth mysteries, and when it turned yellow its owner knew to a certainty that the woman he loved was false to him.

The ruby flashes through all Oriental romances. This stone banished sadness and sin. A serpent with a ruby in its mouth was considered an appropriate betrothal ring.

The most interesting ruby of history is set in the royal diadem of England. It is called the Black Prince’s ruby. In the days when the Moors ruled Granada, when both the men and the women of that race sparkled with gems, and even the ivory covers of their books were sometimes set with precious stones, the Spanish king, Don Pedro the Cruel, obtained this stone from a Moorish prince whom he had caused to be murdered.

It was given by Don Pedro to the Black Prince, and half a century later it glowed on the helmet of that most picturesque of England’s kings, Henry V, at the battle of Agincourt.

The Scotchman, Sir James Melville, saw this jewel during his famous visit to the Court of Elizabeth, when the Queen showed him some of the treasures in her cabinet, the most valued of these being the portrait of Leicester.

“She showed me a fair ruby like a great racket ball,” he says. “I desired she would send to my queen either this or the Earl of Leicester’s picture.” But Elizabeth cherished both the ruby and the portrait, so she sent Marie Stuart a diamond instead.

Poets have lavished their fancies upon the origin of the opal, but no one seems to know why it is considered unlucky. Women who laugh at superstitions of all kinds are afraid to wear an opal, and a certain jeweller at the head of one of the largest establishments in a great city has carried his fear to such a length that he will not keep one in his establishment—not only this, but it is said that he has even been known to throw an opal ring out of the window. The offending stone had been presented to his daughter, but this fact was not allowed to weigh against his superstition. It is understood when he entertains that none of his guests will wear opals, and this wish is faithfully respected.

The story goes that the opal was discovered at the same time that kissing was invented. A young shepherd on the hills of Greece found a pretty pebble one day, and wishing to give it to a beautiful shepherdess who stood near him, he let her take it from his lips with hers, as the hands of neither of them were clean.

Many a battle royal has been waged for the possession of a diamond, and several famous diamonds are known by name throughout the world. Among these are the Orloff, the Koh-i-noor, the Regent, the Real Paragon, and the Sanci, besides the enormous stone which was sent to King Edward from South Africa. This has been cut but not yet named.

The Orloff is perhaps the most brilliant of all the famous group. Tradition says that it was once one of the eyes of an Indian idol and was supposed to have been the origin of all light. A French grenadier of Pondicherry deserted his regiment, adopted the religion and manners of the Brahmans, worshipped at the shrine of the idol whose eyes were light itself, stole the brightest one, and escaped.

A sea captain bought it from him for ten thousand dollars and sold it for sixty thousand dollars. An Armenian named Shafras bought it,  and after a time Count Orloff paid $382,500 for this and a title of Russian nobility.

He presented the wonderful refractor of light to the Empress Catherine who complimented Orloff by naming it after him. This magnificent stone, which weighs one hundred and ninety-five carats, now forms the apex of the Russian crown.

The Real Paragon was in 1861 the property of the Rajah of Mattan. It was then uncut and weighed three hundred and seven carats. The Governor of Batavia was very anxious to bring it to Europe. He offered the Rajah one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and two warships with their guns and ammunition, but the offer was contemptuously refused. Very little is known of its history. It is now owned by the Government of Portugal and is pledged as security for a very large sum of money.

It has been said that one could carry the Koh-i-noor in one end of a silk purse and balance it in the other end with a gold eagle and a gold dollar, and never feel the difference in weight, while the value of the gem in gold could not be transported in less than four dray loads!

Tradition says that Karna, King of Anga, owned it three thousand years ago. The King of Lahore, one of the Indies, heard that the King of Cabul, one of the lesser princes, had in his possession the largest and purest diamond in the world. Lahore invited Cabul to visit him, and when he had him in his power, demanded the treasure. Cabul, however, had suspected treachery, and brought an imitation of the Koh-i-noor. He of course expostulated, but finally surrendered the supposed diamond.

The lapidary who was employed to mount it pronounced it a piece of crystal, whereupon the royal old thief sent soldiers who ransacked the palace of the King of Cabul from top to bottom, in vain. At last, however, after a long search, a servant betrayed his master, and the gem was found in a pile of ashes.

After the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the Koh-i-noor was given up to the British, and at a meeting of the Punjab Board was handed to John (afterward Lord) Lawrence who placed it in his waistcoat pocket and forgot the treasure. While at a public meeting some time later, he suddenly remembered it, hurried home and asked his servant if he had seen a small box which he had left in his waistcoat pocket.

“Yes, sahib,” the man replied; “I found it, and put in your drawer.”

“Bring it here,” said Lawrence, and the servant produced it.

“Now,” said his master, “open it and see what it contains.”

The old native obeyed, and after removing the folds of linen, he said: “There is nothing here but a piece of glass.”

“Good,” said Lawrence, with a sigh of relief, “you can leave it with me.”

The Sanci diamond belonged to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who wore it in his hat at the battle of Nancy, where he fell. A Swiss soldier found it and sold it for a gulden to a clergyman of Baltimore. It passed into the possession of Anton, King of Portugal, who was obliged to sell it, the price being a million francs.

It shortly afterward became the property of a Frenchman named Sanci, whose descendant being sent as an ambassador, was required by the King to give the diamond as a pledge. The servant carrying it to the King was attacked by robbers on the way and murdered, not, however, until he had swallowed the diamond. His master, feeling sure of his faithfulness, caused the body to be opened and found the gem in his stomach. This gem came into the possession of the Crown of England, and James II carried it with him to France in 1688.

From James it passed to his friend and patron, Louis XIV, and to his descendants, until the Duchess of Berry at the Restoration sold it to the Demidoffs for six hundred and twenty-five thousand francs.

It was worth a million and a half of francs when Prince Paul Demidoff wore it in his hat at a great fancy ball given in honour of Count Walewski, the Minister of Napoleon III—and lost it during the ball! Everybody was wild with excitement when the loss was announced—everybody but Prince Paul Demidoff. After an hour’s search the Sanci was found under a chair.

After more than two centuries, “the Regent is,” as Saint-Simon described it in 1717, “a brilliant, inestimable and unique.” Its density is rather higher than that of the usual diamond, and it weighs upwards of one hundred and thirty carats. This stone was found in India by a slave, who, to conceal it, made a wound in his leg and wrapped the gem in the bandages. Reaching the coast, he entrusted himself and his secret to an English captain, who took the gem, threw the slave overboard, and sold his ill-gotten gains to a native merchant for five thousand dollars.

It afterwards passed into the hands of Pitt, Governor of St. George, who sold it in 1717 to the Duke of Orleans, then Regent of France, for $675,000. Before the end of the eighteenth century the stone had more than trebled in worth, and we can only wonder what it ought to bring now with its “perfect whiteness, its regular form, and its absolute freedom from stain or flaw!”

The collection belonging to the Sultan of Turkey, which is probably the finest in the world, dates prior to the discovery of America, and undoubtedly came from Asia. One Turkish pasha alone left to the Empire at his death, seven table-cloths embroidered with diamonds, and bushels of fine pearls.

In the war with Russia, in 1778, Turkey borrowed $30,000,000 from the Ottoman Bank on the security of the crown jewels. The cashier of the bank was admitted to the treasure-chamber and was told to help himself until he had enough to secure his advances.

“I selected enough,” he says, “to secure the bank against loss in any event, but the removal of the gems I took made no appreciable gap in the accumulation.”

In the imperial treasury of the Sultan, the first room is the richest in notable objects. The most conspicuous of these is a great throne or divan of beaten gold, occupying the entire centre of the room, and set with precious stones: pearls, rubies, and emeralds, thousands of them, covering the entire surface in a geometrical mosaic pattern. This specimen of barbaric magnificence was part of the spoils of war taken from one of the shahs of Persia.

Much more interesting and beautiful, however, is another canopied throne or divan, placed in the upper story of the same building. This is a genuine work of old Turkish art which dates from some time during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a raised square seat, on which the Sultan sat cross-legged. At each angle there rises a square vertical shaft supporting a canopy, with a minaret or pinnacle surmounted by a rich gold and jewelled finial. The entire height of the throne is nine or ten feet. The materials are precious woods, ebony, sandal-wood, etc., with shell, mother-of-pearl, silver, and gold.

The entire piece is decorated inside and out with a branching floriated design in mother-of-pearl marquetry, in the style of the fine early Persian painted tiles, and the centre of each of the principal leaves and flowers is set with splendid cabochon gems, fine balass rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls.

Pendant from the roof of the canopy, and in a position which would be directly over the head of the Sultan, is a golden cord, on which is hung a large heart-shaped ornament of gold, chased and perforated with floriated work, and beneath it hangs a huge uncut emerald of fine colour, but of triangular shape, four inches in diameter, and an inch and a half thick.

Richly decorated arms and armour form a conspicuous feature of the contents of all three of these rooms. The most notable work in this class in the first apartment is a splendid suit of mixed chain and plate mail, wonderfully damascened and jewelled, worn by Sultan Murad IV, in 1638, at the taking of Bagdad.

Near to it is a scimitar, probably a part of the panoply of the same monarch. Both the hilt and the greater part of the broad scabbard of this weapon are encrusted with large table diamonds, forming checkerwork, all the square stones being regularly and symmetrically cut, of exactly the same size—upward of half an inch across. There are many other sumptuous works of art which are similarly adorned.

Rightfully first among the world’s splendid coronets stands the State Crown of England. It was made in 1838 with jewels taken from old crowns and others furnished by command of the Queen.

It consists of diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, set in silver and gold. It has a crimson velvet cap with ermine border; it is lined with white silk and weighs about forty ounces. The lower part of the band above the ermine border consists of a row of one hundred and ninety-nine pearls, and the upper part of this band has one hundred and twelve pearls, between which, in the front of the crown, is a large sapphire which was purchased for it by George IV.

At the back is a sapphire of smaller size and six others, three on each side, between which are eight emeralds. Above and below the sapphires are fourteen diamonds, and around the eight emeralds are one hundred and twenty-eight diamonds. Between the emeralds and sapphires are sixteen ornaments, containing one hundred and sixty diamonds. Above the band are eight sapphires, surmounted by eight diamonds, between which are eight festoons, consisting of one hundred and forty-eight diamonds.

In the front of the crown and in the centre of a diamond Maltese cross is the famous ruby of the Black Prince. Around this ruby to form the cross are seventy-five brilliant diamonds. Three other Maltese crosses, forming the two sides and back of the crown, have emerald centres, and each contains between one and two hundred brilliant diamonds. Between the four Maltese crosses are four ornaments in the form of the French fleur-de-lis, with four rubies in the centre, and surrounded by rose diamonds.

From the Maltese crosses issue four imperial arches, composed of oak leaves and acorns embellished with hundreds of magnificent jewels. From the upper part of the arches are suspended four large pendant pear-shaped pearls, with rose diamond caps. Above the arch stands the mound, thickly set with brilliants. The cross on the summit has a rose cut sapphire in the centre, surrounded by diamonds.

A gem is said to represent “condensed wealth,” and it is also condensed history. The blood of a ruby, the faint moonlight lustre of a pearl, the green glow of an emerald, and the dazzling white light of a diamond—in what unfailing magic lies their charm? Tiny bits of crystal as they appear to be—even the Orloff diamond could be concealed in a child’s hand—yet kings and queens have played for stakes like these. Battle and murder have been done for them, honour bartered and kingdoms lost, but the old magic beauty never fades, and to-day, as always, sin and beauty, side, by side, are mirrored in the flash of a jewel.

Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of the Regency Romance Novel, A Very Merry Chase

Officially, most historians will agree that the dates of Regency Romance Era England extend only from 1811 to 1820 when King George III was deemed unfit to rule by reason of insanity and his son Prince George IV-more familiarly known to all lovers of <strong>Regency Romance</strong> era novels as Prinny-ruled by proxy as the Prince Regent.  However, as I, and  most lovers of the <strong>Regency Romance</strong> era in general will quickly tell you, they don’t really care so much for the formal politics of the era as they do the culture, architecture, literature, fashions, and romanticized societal norms.  It is, in fact, the unique culture of the era and the romantic doings of the wealthy classes as most often presented by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer that draw the Regency lover’s attention and hold our hearts.  Therefore, for these purposes, this most romantic of eras can easily be extended from 1795 when The Prince Regent wed Caroline of Brunswick, until his death as King George IV in 1830, and even beyond, until the death of his brother and heir William IV in 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the British throne ushering in an era of change.

2 Responses to “History of Famous Regency Romance Era Jewels And Other Precious Gems”

  1. [...] History of Famous Regency Romance Era Jewels And Other Precious … Women who laugh at superstitions of all kinds are afraid to wear an opal and a certain jeweller at the head of one of the largest establishments in a great city has carried his fear to such a length that he will not keep one in his In the front of the crown and in the centre of a diamond Maltese cross is the famous ruby of the Black Prince. Around this ruby to form the cross are seventy-five brilliant diamonds. Three other Maltese crosses, forming the two sides and . [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Historical Romance, Teresa Bohannon. Teresa Bohannon said: History of Famous Regency Romance Era Jewels And Other Precious Gems http://t.co/cr3seHi via @AddThis [...]

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