The Orlov Diamond is the jewel in the crown of the Kremlin’s diamond collection.
It has never been officially weighed, but is estimated to be approximately 190 carats, which makes it one of the largest cut diamonds in the world – at one point it was the third largest cut diamonds known.
The Orlov diamond, which is sometimes also referred to in older style spelling as the Orloff diamond is not, as many people wrongly assume, a Russian diamond. Instead it originally comes from India, and has a fascinating back-story (not much of which can be verified – but it makes a great tale, nonetheless).
An amazing find, it was incorporated into a statue in the Sri Rangandathawamy Temple of Srirangam, where it served as the statue’s eye. It stayed in temple until a French soldier heard of it. It is thought that he deserted from the French army and converted to Hinduism, solely so that he could gain access to the diamond – the temple was located on an island, and Christians were not allowed to enter. It took the soldier several years, but he eventually gained access to the temple and stole the diamond.
The soldier quickly escaped to Madras, in British controlled India and sold the diamond to an English captain for £2,000 – a massive sum at the time. The diamond was transported to England, and quickly sold on for £12,000 – a sum which we can assume left the ship’s captain a very rich man – to a Persian dealer.
At around the same time, Grigory Orlov, a Russian count had been busy advancing his political career by seducing Catherine the Great of Russia. When they met she was married to Peter III, the Emperor of Russia, and they are said to have had a passionate affair before Orlov helped her to depose her husband in the coup that led to her becoming Empress of Russia. However, the relationship did not last, and Orlov soon fell out of favour at the Russian court.
It was while trying to find a way back into Catherine’s favours that Orlov came into contact with the Persian merchant. He bought the diamond that was soon to become named after him for a reported 400,000 Dutch Florins, and presented it to Catherine on Catherine’s day 1766, in lieu of flowers.
Catherine accepted the diamond, named it after Orlov, and had it placed into a sceptre designed especially to house the diamond. The gift didn’t, however, win Orlov back his place in Catherine’s affections.
The diamond is now regarded as one of the most famous Russian diamonds, and is on display at the Kremlin in Moscow.
(Note: The Orlov Diamond should not be confused with the Black Orlov diamond which, as its name suggests, is black in colour. This diamond is also reported to be of Indian origin, but this is thought to be inaccurate. It is privately owned, and not on display at the Kremlin.)