In a country obsessed with the legend of the Kohinoor, little public attention is paid to the fact that there were far larger diamonds in India until very recently. In fact many made the Kohinoor, look like a poor cousin and they had equally interesting back stories. Take for instance the 245.35 carat ‘Jubilee diamond’ which is the sixth largest diamond in the world today, making it more than double the size of the 105.6 carat Kohinoor – which by the way isn’t even in the list of top 10 diamonds in India. The Jubilee Diamond was once owned by Sir Dorabji Tata and it even helped bailout Tata Steel. In fact we also have the diamond to thank for one of India’s most respected charitable hospitals – the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
The Jubilee diamond was discovered in the Jagersfontein Mine of South Africa in 1895
Till the late 19th century, India and Brazil were the only known sources of diamonds, but the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in the 1860s, opened a new chapter in the history of the gem. The Jubilee diamond was discovered in the Jagersfontein Mine of South Africa in 1895. It was originally a rough stone of a whopping 650 carats and was acquired by a consortium of London based diamond merchants, who originally named it the ‘Reitz Diamond’ in honor of Francis William Reitz, then president of the Orange Free State (in present day South Africa) in which the Jagersfontein mine is located.
In 1896, the diamond was sent to Amsterdam for polishing, where it was cleaved into a spectacular diamond of 245.35 carats. Out of the cleaved out bits, a beautiful pear shaped diamond of 13.34 carats was was acquired by King Carlos I of Portugal for his wife. The consortium had originally planned to present the main diamond to Queen Victoria, who was celebrating the diamond jubilee (60 years) of her accession to the throne in 1897. While the diamond was never presented to the Queen for reasons unknown,the diamond was named the ‘Jubilee Diamond’ to commemorate the occasion.
In 1900, the diamond was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition, where it was a star attraction
In 1900, the diamond was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition, where it was a star attraction. Soon after it was bought by Sir Dorabji Tata, who presented it to his wife Lady Meherbai Tata. This was an interesting time for the Tatas, as they were making a transition from being Bombay mill owners, to becoming industrialists. The Taj Mahal Hotel at Bombay opened its doors in 1903, Tata Steel (TISCO) in 1907, while Tata Power was established in 1910. The Chairman of the Tata group, Sir Dorabji and Lady Meherbai lived in the Esplanade House in Bombay, where they amassed a vast art collection.
However in 1924, Tata Steel (then called TISCO) was on a verge of collapse, due to cheaper Japanese iron flooding the market . The young company faced a severe liquidity crunch and needed almost Rs 2 crores (a substantial sum at that time), to pay outstanding wages and for the repayment of debentures. At such a time, it was the Jubilee diamond which came to the Tata’s rescue. Business historians like RM Lala and Gita Piramal write how Sir Dorabji Tata pledged the diamond and other jewellery with the Imperial Bank of India (now SBI), as a collateral, for the loan. The money was raised and Tata Steel got saved.
Lady Meherbai Tata was granted the title of Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E) by King George V
Lady Meherbai Tata, though not as well remembered like her husband, was a formidable lady in her own right. A staunch campaigner for women’s rights, she was one of the founder’s of Bombay Presidency Women’s Council and National Council for Women. She was also one of the campaigner’s for the ‘Sharda Act’ , designed to outlaw child marriage. An active member of the Indian Red Cross Society, she was granted the title of Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E) by King George V in 1919. Despite being childless, she would shower her love on her two nephews, who would become famous in their own right – noted scientist Homi Bhabha, who went on to found the TIFR, and Jamshed Bhabha, who founded the NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts) in Mumbai. Lady Meherbai Tata wore the Jubilee diamond on several occasions, and a famous painting of her wearing it, can be seen at the CSMVS Museum in Mumbai.
Sadly, Lady Meherbai died of leukemia in 1931, and soon after, so did Sir Dorabji, in 1932. In his will, Sir Dorabji Tata bequeathed his entire wealth, including the Jubilee diamond to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. This was just one of the great jewels bequeathed to the Sir Dorabji trust. The trust deed of Sir Dorabji Tata reveals a jaw dropping list of Tata jewels including a necklace of 40 blue diamonds set in platinum, weighing 103 carats!
By 1935, the trustees who included JRD Tata, Sir Homi Mody sold the jewellery and from the proceeds funded, the famed Tata Memorial Hospital.
The Jubilee diamond is presently in the Mouawad collection
The Jubilee diamond had been sent to the famous jewellery firm of Cartier to find for a buyer. And the diamond was almost bought by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda for 75,000 pounds. In fact, the princely state of Baroda had sanctioned its purchase and even allocated the money, however, seeing that the independence of India approaching soon, the thrifty and ( also visionary in his own right), Maharaja decided against it. The diamond was then sold to a French Industrialist M. Paul-Louis Weiller, who sold it to the Lebanese diamond magnate Robert Mouawad. The Jubilee diamond is presently in the Mouawad collection.
Today, the Jubilee diamond lies hidden in a secure vault. But it is ever remembered for its fascinating but short, Indian connection.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s latest novel, The Last Queen, is an exquisite love story of a king and a commoner, a cautionary tale about loyalty and betrayal, and a powerful parable of the indestructible bond between mother and child. Here’s an excerpt-
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