THE BLACK ORLOV DIAMOND
The world of diamonds has always created a sensation of allure, intrigue and fascination, whether famous, historical or impressive in size and color. The black diamond is no exception. Auguste Hamlin in 1884 described his attraction in Leisure Hours Among the Gems, as: "The black crystalline diamond is a very rare stone which, once polished, becomes a unique gem whose incredible sparkle seems to come from within its blackness."
Black diamonds may appear in hues of very dark grey, blue or brown, or black, due to numerous black inclusions. These inclusions, often in the form of small platelets, may be submicroscopic, distinguishable under a standard gemological microscope, or seen by the naked eye. The black inclusions are composed of graphite, a hexagonal polymorph of carbon, and when dense enough, the graphite actually makes the diamond electrically conductive. The luster of a polished black diamond is often described as metallic, due to the almost total absorption of visible light and the diamond's inherent hardness.
The Black Orlov has served as a benchmark for black diamonds, and is well-known not only for its notorious provenance, but also for its large cushion-shape of 67.49 carats and its color uniquely described as gun-metal.
The history of this captivating stone, though skeptical, provides an intriguing story that adds to the stone's appeal. According to tradition, after the stone's rough weighing 195 carats was cut, it was set in an idol as part of a shrine near Pondicherry, India, and was called the 'Eye of Brahma.' The stone was supposedly renamed in the mid-eighteenth century after its then owner, Russian Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov. However, due to recent scholarship it can be surmised that the early history of this diamond has probably been fabricated. According to Ian Balfour's Famous Diamonds, the stone is unlikely to be of Indian origin, as there is no historical evidence of black diamonds in this region, nor is the color considered an auspicious one by Hindus. Furthermore, there is no trace of any Prince or Princess Vyegin-Orlov because all Princes Orlov descend from the brothers of Catherine the Great's lover, Count Grigor Grigorievich Orlov. Lastly, the cushion-shape of the diamond indicates that it was probably fashioned within the last century. Although the stone's illustrious past is unsubstantiated, one cannot argue that this stone has tremendous appeal for its incredible size, desired shape and compelling gun-metal color.
The Black Orlov was owned by Charles F. Winson, a New York dealer, for many years, and during this time, had a varied exhibition history. The stone was displayed at the New York American Museum of Natural History in 1951, the Texas State Fair in Dallas in 1964, and the Diamond Pavilion in Johannesburg in 1967. In July 1969, Mr. Winson sold the Black Orlov for $300,000. It was then mounted as a pendant, set within a platinum and diamond laurel wreath surround. It was sold again at auction in December 1990 and is currently being offered as a pendant necklace.