The Mysterious Life of the Princie Diamond

Every once in a while a diamond comes along that has it all  — fabulous color, spectacular size, provenance and in some cases a little mystery. The Princie diamond has all of that and more. The tale of this storied stone starts in the Golconda mines in the Hyderabad region of India some 300 years ago when it was unearthed.

The lovely powder puff pink diamond, (pink diamonds get their color from an anomaly in the internal structure of the stone as it is forming )is a hefty 34.65-carats, VS2 clarity, cushion cut, type IIa gem. It also has a strong orangey-red fluorescence, which gives the diamond a glowing effect. During the 1700s the gem was inventoried as part of the wealth of the Nizam of Hyderabad. A couple of hundred years later, one of his heirs sold the diamond at a Sotheby’s London auction on March 17, 1960.

The diamond was purchased by none other than Van Cleef & Arpels for 46,000 pounds. The gem was sent to the Paris store where a party was planned for its debut. It was at this very soiree that the rock got its name. Van Cleef & Arpel invited its most prominent clients to the event including the collector and gem enthusiast the Maharani of Baroda, Sita Devi, who was the guest of honor. She was accompanied by her 14-year old son Prince of Baroda Sayajira Gaekwad, affectionately referred to as “Princie”; the diamond was named after him.

The Princie was purchased that same year from Van Cleef & Arpels by the Italian business mogul Renato Angiolillo, who owned the newspaper Il Tempo. He also married his second wife, Maria Girairi Angiolillo later in the year. Renato gifted the Princie diamond to Maria. He died in 1973 and Maria kept possession of the diamond. She died in 2009 and here is where the mystery starts. According to Italian law an estate automatically passes on to the children of the deceased party. Maria’s son Marco Oreste Bianchi Milella stated that the diamond and a few other pieces of jewelry were missing. The Angiolillo family, the step siblings of Marco, filed a police report but the diamond and other jewels were not recovered.

Fast forward to 2013 when the Princie showed up at Christie’s New York. The Angiolillo family contacted Christie’s to let them know that the diamond was possibly their misplaced gem. Turns out that Marco had sold the stone to a Swiss dealer, who then consigned the rock to Christie’s. Meanwhile Marco, claimed that he had inherited the stone from his mother. After some legal gyrations, it was deemed that the Swiss dealer was the rightful owner of the gem and was therefore allowed to sell it.

Surrounded by much fanfare, the Princie, which had its own special catalog for the sale, went on the block. The diamond had been the talk of the town before the sale, with some dealers alleging that the Swiss dealer had spent two years trying to sell it for $55 million, with no luck.

The Princie was the last lot of the sale and despite the brouhaha surrounding the stone it sold quickly and decisively to the only bidder, who was on the phone, for $39,323,750, or $1,135,000 per carat. At the time the Princie set a world auction record price for a Golconda diamond and it was the most expensive diamond ever sold at Christie’s and the most expensive diamond ever sold in the United States. The buyer was not revealed, as often happens at auction a buyer of a particularly important gem or jewel will ask to remain anonymous.

The anonymity did not last long as the Angiolillo family sued Christie’s and the new owner of the Princie, which turned out to be the royal family of Quatar, who had stashed the diamond in a vault in Switzerland. After several years of back and forth legal machinations, the parties recently settled the Princie case out of court avoiding a trial. So who has the diamond now and where is it? That’s the next chapter in the mysterious life of the Princie diamond.

Featured image (top of page): The Princie Diamond, image courtesy Christie’s.

Authored by Amber Michelle