THE WITTELSBACHER DIAMOND SAGA
‘Every nick, chip, and scratch has a story to tell’
WITTELSBACH: THE LEGENDARY FANCY BLUE DIAMOND
Believed to have originated from the mines of the former Indian kingdom of Golkonda, the name of the unique and alluringly beautiful deep blue diamond called ‘Der Blaue Wittelsbacher’ (translated as ‘the Wittelsbach’s blue,’ was mentioned for the first time in Vienna (Austria) at the beginning of the 18th century. It was then that a 35.36-carat (7.11g) fancy deep grayish-blue diamond graded VS2 clarity had been part of both the Austrian and the Bavarian Crown Jewels.
Wittelsbach Diamond, known as ‘Der Blaue Wittelsbacher’
The Wittelsbach Diamond in the Crown of Bavaria, just beneath the cross.
The Wittelsbach Blue Diamond was first mounted on the Bavarian Elector’s Order of the Golden Fleece in 1745. When Maximilian IV Joseph von Wittelsbach became the first King of Bavaria in 1806, he commissioned a royal crown, which prominently displayed the diamond.
The ‘royal diamond’ thus remained on the top of the Bavarian Crown until 1918 and was last seen in public at Ludwig III of Bavaria’s funeral in 1921.
During the Great Depression in 1931, the Wittelsbach family announced their intention to sell the diamond, but found no immediate buyers due to the contemporary economic depression. They eventually sold the precious blue diamond in 1951, and a few years later in 1958, the stone was shown at the World Expo in Brussels.
In the 1960s, Joseph Komkommer, an expert jeweler known throughout Europe, was asked to re-cut the diamond. He recognized the historical significance of the unique deep blue fancy diamond, and refused the assignment!
In December 2008, the 35.56 carat Wittelsbach Diamond was sold by Christies auction house to London-based jeweler Lawrence Graff for 16.4 million pounds Sterling, or US$23.4 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a diamond. Immediately following the sale, Graff announced his intention to re-cut the gem to remove damage to the girdle and enhance the color thereof.
‘It is a great honour and a lifetime dream to handle a museum-quality stone such as the Wittelsbach,” said Francois Curiel, international head of jewellery at Christie’s.
Francois Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe and the sale’s auctioneer, wrote in a statement: “At $24.3 million, the 35.56-carat Wittelsbach blue diamond, dating to the seventeenth century, has become the most expensive diamond sold at auction, topping the previous record of $16.5 million for a 100-carat diamond in 1995 in Geneva.’
END OF A CULTURE OR OVERPAINTING OF A REMBRANDT PAINTING?
The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond
On January 7th 2010, it was reported that the diamond had been recut to enhance the stone’s color and clarity, losing over 4.45 carats in the process. The resulting stone has been renamed the Wittlesbach-Graff.
The move encountered heavy criticism by experts: Gabriel Tolkowsky called it “the end of culture.” And shortly after the auction of the diamond, American gem cutter and replicator of famous diamonds Scott Sucher added:
“In the case of the Wittelsbach, what’s at stake is at minimum over 350 years of history, as every nick, chip, and scratch has a story to tell. Just because we can’t decipher these stories doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”
The alteration of the historical stone has been compared by Professor Hans Ottomeyer, Director of the Deutsches Historisches Museum of Berlin, to the overpainting of a painting by Rembrandt.
It is said that the recutting was done to increase its market value and, by extension, that of other ‘fancy diamonds’. As a result of the recut, the gem had been reevaluated by the Gemological Institute of America and its color grade revised from Fancy Deep Grayish Blue, (the same grade attributed to The Hope Diamond by GIA), to the more desirable Fancy Deep Blue. The diamond’s clarity had also been upgraded from Very Slightly Included (VS1) to Internally flawless (IF).