Shah Jahan is best known as the Mughal ruler who built the Taj Mahal. He spent much more of India’s wealth, however, building the Peacock throne (completed 1635), meant to rival the throne of Solomon. The value of the throne, perhaps the most bejeweled object ever created, can perhaps be understood by knowing that crowning one of the peacocks was the Kohinoor, one of the world’s largest diamonds. At the time, however, the Kohinoor wasn’t even considered the most impressive or valuable jewel in the throne!
Delhi was sacked by the Persian brigand Nader Shah in 1739. With ‘700 elephants, 4,000 camel and 12,000 horses’ Shah carted off hundreds of years of accumulated gold, silver and previous stones including the Peacock throne.
Nader brought the throne back to Persia but he soon went mad becoming ever more paranoid and vicious. He ordered his own son blinded and the eyes brought to him on a platter. Fearing a similar fate, some of his Afghan bodyguards turned on him and beheaded him. But one of his generals, Ahmad Khan Abdali, remained loyal, and amidst the violence and looting stood guard over the royal harem. He was rewarded by the first lady of the harem with the Kohinoor diamond and escaped to Afghanistan.
The rest of the Peacock throne was disbanded and disbursed to the winds although two of the other celebrated stones from the throne can be tracked through history. The Darya-i-Noor stayed in Persia were it eventually became part of the crown jewels of Mohammad Reza Shah, which as a child accompanied by my father I saw in Iran shortly before the revolution. The “Great Mughal” diamond eventually showed up in Amsterdam where it was bought by Count Orlov, the once-lover of Catherine the Great. Hoping to get back into her bed, he gifted her with the diamond but ended up only in debt and confined to a mental asylum. The Great Mughal is now on show in the Kremlin.
On his way back to Afghanistan, Ahmad Khan Abdali, who had escaped from the chaos of Nader Shah’s beheading, ran across a treasure caravan intended for Nader Shah. Commandeering the caravan he used its wealth to become the founder of the Durrani empire and the modern state of Afghanistan. Alas Ahmad Khan lost his nose to leprosy but kept the diamond until it fell to his heir, Timur Shah and then to his eventual heir (after much internecine warfare) Shah Zaman. Zaman was himself blinded with a hot needle “The point quickly spilled the wine of his sight from the cup of his eyes.” as Afghan historian Mirza ‘Ata put it poetically.
As the Durrani empire fell, the Sikh empire rose and the Kohinoor moved to Lahore under Ranjit Singh. The Sikhs, however, lost the Punjab to the East India Company who signed a peace deal with the boy king, Duleep Singh, which included the Kohinoor as tribute. Duleep would later be exiled to England where he would personally hand the Kohinoor over to his patron Queen Victoria.
After Queen Victoria’s death the Kohinoor was incorporated into various of the British crown jewels, excepting one period during World War II when it was hidden in a pond. As of last week, Queen Elizabeth announced that when Charles becomes King the Kohinoor will become part of the crown jewels of Queen Consort Camilla.
Addendum: Largely cribbed from the excellent Kohinoor by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand.