This exquisite 26.14 carat antique cushion-shaped diamond is referred to as the "Rajah" in "Notable Diamonds of the World" by Barbara Gleason and "Diamonds....Famous, Notable and Unique" by Lawrence Copeland. The stone is currently the property of a member of a prominent American family. Prior to their ownership, it belonged to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), one of the most celebrated figures of late 19th and early 20th Century Boston and New York society. Preceding Mrs Gardner's possession, the stone is believed to have been owned by Mary Jane Morgan, wife of Charles Morgan, a railroad and mail shipping moghul.
Married to John Lowell Gardner, member of a distinguished New England family, Isabella Stewart Gardner was a legend in her own lifetime. Whether travelling to remote parts of Cambodia to see the recently discovered ruins of Angkor Wat or building a museum in the style of a 15th Century Venetian palazzo in the Fens of Boston, everything Mrs Jack Gardner, or Mrs Jack, as she was better known, undertook was always on a grand scale. She purchased the "Rajah" diamond at Tiffany & Co., New York, on April 1, 1886 for $35,100. The receipt stated that the stone was previously the property of a Mrs. Morgan. An article from the time published in the "Saturday Evening Gazette" of Boston, confirms that this was Mrs. M.J. Morgan. A wealthy, but very discreet woman, little was heard about Mrs Morgan until after her death in July 1885, when her largely unknown, extensive collection of art and objects was dispersed in an auction for which a lavish 305-page catalogue was compiled.
Mrs Gardner left her name to posterity when she built her Boston mansion, Fenway Court, to house her highly important painting and sculpture collection. The building still exists today as a museum bearing her name. The idea for a palazzo-style residence was probably instilled both by a visit at a young age to the treasures housed in the Poldi-Pezzoli palace of Milan, as well as by many trips to Venice throughout her long life. Her interest in the fine arts was awakened through a series of lectures given at Harvard University by Charles Elliot Norton in 1878. This was further stimulated by friendships with painters James Abbot McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargeant. The talent for portraiture of both artists was not lost on Isabella, and each produced a painting of her. The individual who was instrumental in the formation of her collection was the renowned art historian, Bernard Berenson, who advised and aided her in the aquisitions of such masterpieces as "The Rape of Europa" (1559-1562) by Titian.
Upon buying the diamond, Mrs. Gardner had two mountings made by Tiffany: the first was a necklace, the second, a more unusual one, consisted of a tortoise-shell comb to which a coiled gold wire was attached. The latter suspended the stone in a dangling fashion, producing a glittering effect much reported by the society columns of the day, particularly when she wore it to a dance at the Algonquin Club.
The diamond's Indian name and 19th Century provenance (which effectively predates the discovery of diamonds in South Africa), combined with its brilliant and extremely transparent appearance, evince a probable, highly desirable Golconda origin. Diamonds from this region near Hyderabad are rare as the mines are now exhausted.
As can be observed from her superlative collection of works of art, Mrs Gardner only purchased the very best, be it a Rembrandt, a Vermeer or a gemstone. Hence, it is understandable that a conoisseur of her calibre would have been drawn to the extremely bright, "limpid" quality of this diamond. Such gems ornamented numerous Maharajahs and Mrs Gardner, like the Indian princes, was never one to forgo things exotic and beautiful.