About Taj Mahal Diamond
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 that’s steeped in the timeless love between Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife. And to know that a diamond went on to be called Taj Mahal speaks to the immense historical significance the gemstone has 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 40 th 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-i-Mahal. But when Mumtaz-i-Mahal died four years later, the emperor was overwhelmed with grief. He decided to pay the most befitting tribute to his wife by commissioning the iconic Taj Mahal mausoleum. It’s this very majestic structure that inspired the naming of the Taj Mahal Diamond.
In 1972, the British actor, Richard Burton, gifted her wife with this legendary diamond on her fortieth birthday. Burton reportedly purchased the diamond at a cost of £350,000. The Taj Mahal 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.
Origin and History of the Taj Mahal Diamond
The Taj Mahal Diamond traces its roots back to the 17 th century. The heart-shaped, table-cut, diamond features inscriptions in both Persian and Arabic languages, clearly suggesting the possible origin of the diamond.
As we’ve already mentioned, Empress Nur Jahan was the original owner of this diamond and jade pendant. Her name has been immortalized in an inscription that reads "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. And after months of rigorous design work, the pendant was finally 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 years rule. It’s important to remember that in the Gregorian calendar, 22 years is almost equivalent to 23 years in the Islamic Lunar calendar. That 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’s believed that she might never have worn it after all. That’s because 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 the elimination of all those he perceived would be a threat to his reign. That included his brothers and male cousins. And since he didn’t trust Nur Jahan either, he placed her under house arrest.
Prior to Khurram’s ascent to the throne, Nur Jahan had supported the short reign of Shahriyar, who was a younger brother to Khurram. However, Shahriyar would be overthrown, blinded before eventually being killed.
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, it’s highly likely that Nur Jahan may have surrendered the diamond willingly to the new tyrant emperor. The emperor then later gifted the gemstone to his favorite wife, Mumtaz i Mahal. Some historians also suggest that Mumtaz i Mahal and Nur Jahan related well. As such, Nur Jahan may have thus gifted her the Taj Mahal Diamond on her own accord.
Empress Mumtaz i Mahal wasn’t the only wife of Shah Jahan. However, she was his favorite and most beloved. According to historians, she was actually the power behind the throne. In 1631, the new owner of the Taj Mahal Diamond, Mumtaz i Mahal, died a tragic death while giving birth to her 14 th child.
Much as he ruled with an iron fist, the death of Mumtaz Mahal left Shah Jahan devastated. It’s reported that he 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 memory of his wife. It was after the commissioning of the mausoleum that the diamond, formerly known as The Nur Jahan Diamond, was officially christened the Taj Mahal Diamond.
It's believed that the diamond remained within the Mughal treasury for some time 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 would later be assassinated in 1749 by his bodyguards who stole most of the valuables presently under the custody of the Iranian treasury. That's how the diamond possibly ended up in the West. The next we heard of it was 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.
Characteristics of the Taj Mahal Diamond
The Taj Mahal pendant features a heart-shaped, table-cut diamond at its centerpiece, on a grey thick jadeite mount. Also, the jadeite mount is heart-shaped and is further mounted on a gold backing. The gold backing has bent edges that almost resemble a bezel setting, which secure the slab of the jade all round. The jadeite mount features thick slanting edges that are mounted on each side and adorned by six rhomboidal table-cut stones, which are bezel-set with the 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 actually balas rubies [spaniels] which are believed to have been abundant in the Afghan Badakshan mines during the 17 th century. Each of these gemstones features simple rectangular table cuts, which are a popular cut used during the 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 which originates from the upper tip of the pendant. It’s important to note that the pendant was originally suspended using two silk chords which would be tied around the neck. However, in 1972, Cartier designed a more elegant gold and ruby neckchain to replace the silk chord. The new gold-woven neckchain is set using cabochon rubies and numerous other mine-cut diamonds.
One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Taj Mahal Diamond is the Lasque shape. The Lasque shape is achieved by cutting a diamond into a thin sheet of different shapes and sizes. After that, only the upper surface [and on rare occasions, also the lower one] was polished. That created a magical contrast between the polished and unpolished surfaces once the diamond was mounted on a ring.
The Taj Mahal Diamond appears white. It has often been classified as a Type IIa diamond, with a color grade ranging from D to F. The carat weight of the gemstone has never been established. That’s because it’s mounted on a jade setting and is almost impossible to remove. Also, the stone has never been graded for clarity since it’s already inscribed.
One thing about the Taj Mahal Diamond that has always fascinated gemologists is its meticulously-done inscriptions which were made long before the invention of the laser technology. Even more fascinating is that laser technology is hardly used for Arabic inscriptions. That goes to show how much of craftsmanship went into developing the Taj Mahal Diamond.
The Taj Mahal Diamond is aptly named after the imposing Taj Mahal mausoleum. And just like the structure, this diamond has lived through time, carrying with it a rich heritage reminiscent of the ancient Indian civilizations.