When Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, wife of King George III, died in 1818, her will was very precise on what should happen of her personal jewels, and especially some of her diamonds:
‘…I give and bequeath the jewels received from the Nawab of Arcot to my four remaining daughters, or to the survivors or survivor in case they or any of them should die before me, and I direct that these jewels should be sold and that the produce… shall be divided among them, my said remaining daughters or their survivors, share and share alike.’
Five important diamonds had indeed been gifted to her in 1777 by a loyal British ally in South India, Muhammad Ali Wallajah, Nawab of Arcot. Of incredible beauty, they were some of the favorites of the Queen’s personal jewels. Still, against Queen Charlotte’s will, her son, the future King George IV, appropriated the diamonds for a few years before eventually selling them to Rundell & Bridge, who in 1804 had been appointed jewelry and silversmiths to the Crown by George III.
In 1837, the ‘Arcot’ diamonds ended up at auction. The historic sale took place in London at Willis’s Rooms in St James’s. The auction catalogue illustrated all of the five diamonds, giving their weights in grains. 'The Times' stated a few days before the auction ‘We have been gratified with a private view of the extraordinary jewels, for some time past in the possession of Messrs. Rundell, Bridge and Co… The celebrated Arcot diamonds are of great brilliancy, and very large: among them are a superb pair of earrings, which, in volume, shape, and purity we should say far surpass anything of the kind.’.
Arcot I and II, the so-called pair of earrings, were purchased for £11,000 by Emanuel Brothers of Bevis Marks, for their client Robert Grosvenor, First Marquess of Westminster. He was to present them to his wife, Eleanor Egerton, as a present; he had also purchased the Nassak diamond from the same auction
Almost a century later, in 1930, still in the Grosvenor family, the Arcot diamonds were given to Parisian jeweler Lacloche to be mounted into the ‘Westminster Halo Tiara’ for Loelia, third wife of the 2nd Duke of Westminster. She was famously photographed in 1931 by Cecil Beaton wearing the magnificent tiara. It was then passed on to Anne Grovesnor, fourth wife of the Duke, who wore it at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth. After the Duke of Westminster died, it was not to be seen until it appeared at auction in 1959 in London, sold by order of the executors of the late Duke.
Harry Winston purchased the tiara for a then record £110,000. He unmounted the two pear-shaped diamonds, which had probably never been touched since they had been in Queen Charlotte’s collection. Their respective weights were 33.70 and 23.65 carats. The discrepancy between these weights and the weights indicated into the 1837 catalogue is understandable. In 1837, the Arcot diamonds’ weights were stated in grains as 131 1/2 and 92 grains. When translated into carats, it resulted in 32.9 and 23 carats. But these are what we call ‘old carats’, when a carat was about 0.2053 grams, before the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world, adopted a universal metric carat at the beginning of the 20th Century. Once converted to metric carat, weights correspond exactly to 33.70 and 23.65 carats.
Harry Winston had the stones re-cut to improve their symmetry and remove some surface scratches, bringing them to 31.01 carats and 18.85 carats respectively. They were then mounted in separate rings and sold. That is how the famous pair parted for the first time.
Years later, when leaving the collection of Baroness Stefania von Kories zu Goetzen, the Arcot II was slightly recut to achieve the best color and clarity possible, now weighing 17.21 carats, but still carrying the original magic of its Golconda origin.