Taj Mahal Diamond: The Nur Jahan Gem

Sharif Khan
Sharif Khan
Last Updated    EST 
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The iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum, located in the Indian city of Agra, is considered one of the most beautiful buildings ever designed. The marble structure boasts a history steeped in the timeless love between Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife. Knowing that a diamond went on to be called Taj Mahal speaks to the gemstone’s immense significance with some of India’s famous ancient emperors.

The Taj Mahal Diamond is a gold and ruby pendant by Cartier, circa 1627 – 28, which was a present from Richard Burton to his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, on her 40th birthday in 1972. The diamond has an inscription of the name of Nur Jahan, who was the wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahangir.

The Taj Mahal Diamond is thought to have been gifted by the emperor to his son, who then became the great emperor Shah Jahan between 1592 and 1666. Shah Jahan would later present the gift to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. But when Mumtaz Mahal died four years later, the emperor was overwhelmed with grief. As a tribute to his wife, he commissioned the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum, the majestic structure that inspired the naming of the Taj Mahal Diamond.

In 1972, the British actor, Richard Burton, gifted this legendary diamond to her wife on her fortieth birthday, reportedly purchasing it for £350,000. The diamond also features an inscription reading “Love Is Everlasting” in Parsee, another evidence of how much sentimental attachment the original owners placed on the stone.

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Taj Mahal Diamond Origin & History

The Taj Mahal Diamond traces its roots back to the 17th century. The heart-shaped, table-cut diamond features inscriptions in both Persian and Arabic languages, clearly suggesting the possible origin of the diamond.

As already mentioned, Empress Nur Jahan was the original owner of this diamond and jade pendant. Her name has been immortalized in an inscription titled “Nur Jahan Begum Padshah; 23; 1037." The English translation of the inscription is Nur Jahan, Lady of the Padshah; 23; 1037. After she married Jahangir Shah in 1611, the emperor commissioned his most skillful artisans to design the iconic gemstone. After months of rigorous design work, the pendant was inscribed with Nur Jahan’s name.

In 1037 A.H. (After Hijra), Jahangir Shah presented the Taj Mahal Diamond as a gift to her wife in appreciation for her timeless love and support. The eventful gifting ceremony marked the end of Jahangir Shah’s 22-year rule. It is important to remember that in the Gregorian calendar, 22 years is almost equivalent to 23 years in the Islamic Lunar calendar. This fact might help explain the reason behind the number 23 that appears in the inscription. Also, historians suggest that the number 1037 in the inscription is a date on the Islamic calendar that translates to 1627 AD.

While Nur Jahan’s name appears on the diamond, it is believed that she might never have worn it; for as soon as her husband died in October 1627, her stepson, Prince Khurram, ascended the throne and became the new Shah Jahan. One of the priority agendas in Khurram’s order of business was eliminating everything that he perceived as a potential threat to his reign. This decree included his brothers and male cousins, and since he did not trust Nur Jahan either, he placed her under house arrest.

Before Khurram’s ascent to the throne, Nur Jahan had supported the short reign of Shahriyar, a younger brother to Khurram. However, Shahriyar was overthrown and subsequently blinded before he was put to death.

The new emperor ruled with an iron fist, and power struggles within the family were evident after the death of Jahangir Shah. Though not formally documented, Nur Jahan may have surrendered the diamond willingly to the new tyrant emperor. The emperor later gifted the gemstone to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Some historians also suggest that Mumtaz Mahal and Nur Jahan related well, possibly implying that Nur Jahan may have gifted her the Taj Mahal Diamond on her own accord.

Empress Mumtaz Mahal was not the only wife of Shah Jahan, but she was indeed his favorite and most beloved. According to historians, she was the power behind the throne. In 1631, the new owner of the Taj Mahal Diamond, Mumtaz Mahal, died a tragic death while giving birth to her 14th child.

Much as he ruled dictatorially, the death of Mumtaz Mahal left Shah Jahan devastated. He reportedly ate no food for eight days and mourned his wife for a year. He then decided to commission the Taj Mahal mausoleum, a structure whose construction had been ongoing for over 20 years, in the memory of his wife. In what followed, the diamond, formerly known as The Nur Jahan Diamond, was officially christened the Taj Mahal Diamond.

It is believed that the diamond remained within the Mughal treasury until the neighboring Persia, under the rulership of Nadir Shah, invaded and overrun Delhi and Agra in February 1739. The diamond might have been lost in the ensuing plunder. Nadir Shah was later assassinated in 1749 by his bodyguards, who stole most of the valuables then under the custody of the Iranian treasury, which is how the diamond possibly ended up in the West. It was heard of next when Richard Burton purchased the stone in 1972. The diamond eventually went up at a New York City auction sale in 2011 for a whopping $8.8 million.

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Characteristics of the Taj Mahal Diamond

The Taj Mahal pendant features a heart-shaped, table-cut diamond at its centerpiece on a thick grey jadeite mount. Also, the jadeite mount is heart-shaped and is further mounted on a gold backing. The latter has bent edges, almost resembling a bezel setting, that secures the slab of the jade all round. The jadeite mount features thick slanting edges mounted on each side and is adorned by six rhomboidal table-cut stones bezel-set with gold edges.

Another heart-shaped zone further surrounds the diamond, leaving a small margin on the jade mount. The new zone is designed with a row of red gemstones, adding even more elegance to the Taj Mahal Diamond. The red gemstones are balas rubies (spaniels), believed to have been abundant in the Afghan Badakshan mines during the 17th century. Each gemstone features simple rectangular table cuts—a popular cut used in ancient times before the development of modern diamond-cutting equipment.

The Taj Mahal pendant also features an enameled-gold metal backing, with its reverse sporting an enamel latticework motif.

Lastly, the necklace is suspended using a double-looped silk chord that originates from the upper tip of the pendant. Moreover, the charm had two silk cords tied around the neck. However, in 1972, Cartier designed a more elegant gold and ruby neck chain to replace the silk cord. The new gold-woven neck chain uses cabochon rubies and numerous other mine-cut diamonds.

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Taj Mahal Diamond is the Lasque shape , usually achieved by cutting a diamond into thin sheets of different shapes and sizes. Afterward, only the upper surface (and, on rare occasions, the lower one) was polished. Once the diamond was mounted on a ring, this created a magical contrast between the polished and unpolished surfaces.

The Taj Mahal Diamond appears white and has often been classified as a Type IIa diamond, with a color grade ranging from D to F. The gemstone’s carat weight has never been established since it is mounted on a jade setting and is almost impossible to remove. Also, the stone has never been graded for clarity because it is already inscribed.

One thing about the Taj Mahal Diamond that has always fascinated gemologists is its meticulously-done inscriptions made long before the invention of laser technology, which, interestingly enough, is hardly used for Arabic inscriptions. Each one of these facts is evidence of the profound craftsmanship that went into developing the Taj Mahal Diamond.

The Taj Mahal Diamond is aptly named after the imposing Taj Mahal mausoleum . Like the structure, this diamond has lived through time, carrying a rich heritage reminiscent of the ancient Indian civilizations.