“Every diamond is a story as old as the earth and will outlast us all.”
The Wittelsbach Diamond is no different – and its tale is a captivating one. It’s not just a remarkable gemstone because of its size, flawless clarity or stunning color, either. The 31.06-carat blue diamond boasts an ultra-rare blue hue, making it the chief rival of the legendary Hope diamond. Both blue diamonds were unearthed in India, but the Wittelsbach Diamond’s journey is an extra special one. Donned throughout history by European royalty, put on display in some of the most important museums around the world and hailed by gemstone experts as a remarkable find, this is certainly no ordinary stone.
“The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is an object of intrigue and legend, certainly one of the great gemstones of the world,” said Jeffrey Post, curator of the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of History.
So, what sets the Wittelsbach Diamond’s story apart?
The truth is, there are gaps in what we know about this diamond’s genealogy, and it’s precisely this enigmatic air that makes the Wittelsbach even more alluring. The New York Times explained that the grayish blue diamond likely traveled from India to Europe sometime in the 17th century. The news source noted that many believe Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a 17th-century traveler and trader, is the one who brought the stone to the West. Some have also speculated the Wittelsbach and the Hope diamond may have come from the same larger rough stone, but there is still no evidence of that theory being true. Considering the fact that India was the only source of diamonds up until the 1700s, it’s safe to say that this blue stone was found there – specifically in the Golconda mines.
Early records regarding the stone’s history were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, so there’s limited knowledge about its ownership. Nonetheless, once the Wittelsbach made its way to Europe, it passed through royal hands several times. The New York Times revealed that in 1664, King Philip IV of Spain offered the beautiful gem to his daughter, Infanta Margarita Teresa, for her dowry when she became engaged to the Emperor Leopold I of Austria. The Infanta died just 11 years later, however. Thus, the diamond was given to the King’s wife, Empress Eleanor Magdalena, who then passed it on to her granddaughter, the Archduchess Maria Amelia. When Maria Amelia wed the Bavarian Crown Prince Charles Albert in 1772, the Wittelsbach diamond was incorporated into the Bavarian crown jewels, lending it an even more historically significant existence. It remained under the ownership of the House of Bavaria for over a century.
When Bavaria became a republic following World War I, the crown jewels were distributed in different directions. The Wittelsbach was put up for auction by Christie’s in London, but no buyers came forward. This is where the mystery around the diamond begins – in fact, after the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, the stone disappeared.
A dazzling rediscovery
One question remained for years: Where did the Wittelsbach go? According to PrimeStyle, the inquiry remained unanswered until 1962, when Belgian diamond jeweler Joseph Komkommer was tasked with evaluating a mystery diamond for recutting. Imagine his surprise when he opened the package to find the Wittelsbach. Komkommer wasn’t keen on the idea of cutting it, and in fact, was worried that doing so might compromise its value and importance to the overall diamond industry. Therefore, he sought out a slew of interested buyers to acquire the diamond and secure its original state.
Just two years later, though, the stone was purchased by a private collector, and once again fell off the radar. The Wittelsbach diamond finally reappeared in 2008 at a Christie’s auction. It was then that billionaire jeweler Laurence Graff bought it for a record-breaking $23.4 million. Considering the fact that, according to the New York Times, the diamond was only expected to rake in $15 million, the sale certainly made headlines. At the time, the fancy grayish-blue stone weighed 35.56 carats – but not for long.
From Wittelsbach to Wittelsbach-Graff
This is when the cutting controversy over the diamond began. Graff decided that as the stone was cut in the 1600s, it wasn’t as perfect as it could be, so he opted to chip away at the nicks, bruises and scars that the diamond had weathered over time. While this would mean better clarity and brilliance, it would also mean a lower weight. He promised that the Wittelsbach would “come back to the market as a more beautiful stone.”
The diamond lost 4.52 carats from the recutting, but after the process was complete, the Gemological Institute of America updated its grade from “fancy deep grayish-blue” to the more valuable and coveted “fancy deep blue.” Not only that, but the stone was no longer rated VS1 clarity – it was now IF, or internally flawless. Now in its new refined state, Graff renamed the diamond – fittingly – the Wittelsbach-Graff.
So if the diamond came out of the transformation with a better grade, why were so many people opposed to the recutting of the Wittelsbach? According to the New York Times, some experts believed that these changes were so dramatic that the coveted stone was barely recognizable anymore. For example, Hans Ottomeyer, director of the German Historical Museum in Berlin and an expert on the gem’s history, went so far as to say that the stone is “no longer in any sense the Wittelsbach.”
“That stone has a pedigree that is incomparable,” explained Sotheby’s senior global specialist Daniela Mascetti, as quoted by the source. “The provenance of a gem is important in ways that are not true of other things. With the Wittelsbach blue, you knew how it came into existence and in a rather exciting way. You know who has worn it, what kinds of historical events it has gone through and what social upheavals it was present for.”
Henri Barguirdjian, Graff president and CEO, admitted that the famed jeweler called the diamond the “pinnacle of his career” after he purchased it. Regardless of whether or not people agree with the recutting of the diamond, there is no denying its awe-inspiring beauty, rarity and historical importance.