The 105-carat Kohinoor diamond, which was set in the Crown of the Queen Mother in 1937, has been passed to the Queen Consort Camilla following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Camilla will reportedly wear the crown when her husband King Charles III takes the coronation oath next spring.
The diamond has a storied—and controversial—past, and since the death of Queen Elizabeth II was announced, there have been calls in India—the diamond’s place of origin—for it to be returned.
Here’s what you need to know about this historic gemstone, and why it has ignited so much debate.
Its history goes back hundreds of years—and it had long been a prized possession of rulers
Scene from the Baburnama, Babur the first Mughal Emperor, defeats the Sultan of Delhi, at the Battle of Panipat to acquire the Kohinoor (Photo: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The Kohinoor, or “mountain of light” in Persian, was mined between 1100 and 1300 AD in present-day India. It is believed to have weighed 793 carats when it was mined.
The diamond was in the possession of the King of Malwa in India when it was acquired by the Sultan of Delhi, Alla-ud-din Khilji, in around 1306 AD. The stone is also mentioned in The Baburnama, the compiled memoirs of Babur, who founded the Mughal empire in India in the 16th century.
According to Britannica, the King of Gwalior presented the stone to the son of Babur at the 1526 Battle of Panipat in Delhi.
It is also believed that the stone was in Shah Jahan’s possession until the 17th century, when it was captured by Iranian ruler Nadir Shah during a raid on Delhi's Red Fort. Following the death of the Nadir Shah, the diamond came into the possession of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of Afghanistan’s Durrani dynasty. But it was eventually returned to India when Ahmad Shah’s exiled kin surrendered it to the Sikh Maharaja, Ranjit Singh, who was known to wear a bejewelled turban.
Fast forward to 1846 and the signing of the Treaty of Lahore by King Dilip Singh, who agreed to surrender the Kohinoor to the British empire. Four years later, the diamond was delivered to Buckingham Palace, where upon request by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, royal jeweller Garrard cut and polished it from 186 carats to its current lustre, measuring 106 carats.
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Rumour has it that the stone is cursed
King Edward VII (1841 - 1910) with his consort Queen Alexandra (1844 - 1925) in London on the day of his coronation, 9th August 1902 (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth on the day of her coronation in 1936 with her daughter Princess Elizabeth on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London, England (Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all of its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
By - Ancient Hindu Text
The earliest Hindu text that mentions the Kohinoor states that “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all of its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
Alarmed by the age-old curse, Queen Victoria ensured that the diamond was never donned by a male member of the royal family. She was the first to wear it as a brooch, followed by Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VIII; and Queen Mary, the wife of King George V. In 1937, the diamond was embedded in the crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for the coronation of her husband King George VII, after which the crown was known as the Crown of the Queen Mother.
Controversy surrounding the diamond continues—and its future is uncertain
The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II waves to the crowd from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. Her children Prince Charles and Princess Anne stand with her (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
When Queen Elizabeth II died, the Kohinoor became a trending topic on Twitter in India, with citizens demanding its return.
Claims of the diamond’s ownership has long been a source of contention in India. According to BBC, Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson of India’s freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi, proposed the return of the Kohinoor to India as “atonement for the colonial past.”
During a 2010 visit to India, then-UK prime minister David Cameron was asked by Indian news channel NDTV if the diamond would be returned to its place of origin. “If you say yes to one [claim] you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty,” Cameron said. “I think I am afraid to say it is going to have to stay put.” The British museum has faced criticism in the past for the display of artifacts acquired during the British colonial era.
Funeral of the Queen Mother who had lived to the age of 101. Her coffin is carried by pallbearers from the household division of guards with her crown bearing the Kohinoor on top (Photo: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
In 2017, the Supreme Court of India dismissed pleas filed by an NGO for the return of the Kohinoor to India, on the grounds that they did not have the authority to ask a foreign government to hand over an ancient gem.
India is not the only country claiming ownership of the infamous diamond. Claims of ownership have also come from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Kohinoor was last seen at the Queen Mother's funeral in 2002, sitting atop her coffin. The next time we see it will be at King Charles III's coronation, where it will reportedly be worn by Queen Consort Camilla. Until then, the diamond will remain on public display at The Tower of London’s Jewel House.