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7 Famous Jewels Throughout History

Whether they’re strung around the neck of a Hollywood celebrity or set in a royal crown, famous gems inspire awe and envy. Throughout history, brilliant baubles have symbolized outrageous wealth as well as piety; some have been rumored to be cursed, and others enticed brazen thieves. Here are just a few of the world’s most recognized — and notorious — jewels and jewelry.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope diamond with 45. 52 carats in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington,D.C.
Credit: Marvin Joseph/ The Washington Post via Getty Images

Arguably the world’s most famous jewel, the Hope Diamond is named for one of its early owners, British gem collector Henry Philip Hope. After he died in 1839, the Hope Diamond was bought and sold several times. Washington, D.C., power couple Ned and Evalyn Walsh McLean purchased the 45.52-carat, deep blue diamond in its setting of 16 white diamonds in 1912. Evalyn wore it frequently, despite rumors that it was cursed, owing to the alarming number of its possessors who suffered tragedies—  including Evalyn herself. Her husband, son, and daughter all died prematurely, and eventually, her other children sold the diamond to jeweler Harry Winston. He donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958, where it is still on display.

The Crown Jewels

The Imperial State Crown is brought to the Sovereign's Entrance of the House of Lords for the State Opening of Parliament at the Houses of Parliament in London on December 19, 2019..
Credit: Victoria Jones/ POOL/ AFP via Getty Images

Thirty million admirers have filed through the Tower of London to glimpse Britain’s dazzling Crown Jewels. The collection consists of the monarch’s ceremonial crowns, scepters, and other objects, including the Imperial State Crown, which features the 317-carat Cullinan II among its 2,868 diamonds; the 170-carat Black Prince’s Ruby, which is actually a red spinel; and two historic sapphires, the Stuart Sapphire and St. Edward’s Sapphire. The colossal Cullinan I diamond, weighing in at 530.2 carats, adorns the Crown Jewels’ scepter. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Crown holds the famed Koh-i-Noor, a 105.6-carat diamond.

The Dresden Green

Dresden Green Diamond, a 41 carats (8.2 g) natural green diamond, on display.
Credit: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 1741, Friedrich Augustus II of Saxony purchased this naturally colored, 41-carat green diamond from a London merchant. About 27 years later, the diamond was put into its current setting, an opulent hat ornament dripping with gems. For most of the past few centuries, the Dresden Green has been on display in the Green Vaults in Dresden, Germany, the spectacular treasury of Saxon rulers’ jewelry, decorative arts, and objects of curiosity. In times of war, however, the Dresden Green and the rest of the vaults’ goods were moved to Königstein Fortress, a virtually impenetrable battlement southeast of Dresden, for safe-keeping.

The Star of India

The jewel at the heart of an infamous heist, the 563.35-carat Star of India is the world’s largest star sapphire and renowned for its dusky-blue color. On October 29, 1964, two beach boys from Miami broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, used a glasscutter to penetrate the case holding the Star of India and other impressive gems, and made off in a getaway car driven by a third accomplice. An assistant district attorney eventually struck a deal with the thieves to return the jewels, which had been stashed in a bus terminal locker. Officials recovered 10 of the 24 most valuable jewels, including the Star of India, but the other 14 have never been found.

La Peregrina

"La Peregrina", a Cartier pearl, diamond and ruby necklace owned by US actress Elizabeth Taylor on display during a preview of The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor .
Credit: STAN HONDA/ AFP via Getty Images

This massive pearl, discovered in the 16th century, boasts plenty of European royals on its provenance. From 1582 to 1808, eight Spanish kings owned the 50.56-carat pearl, after which time it was passed on to members of the Bonaparte dynasty and then a British duke. In 1969, actor Richard Burton purchased it for his then-wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor. She designed its current setting, a stunning two-strand necklace of natural and cultured pearls, rubies, and diamonds. Following Taylor’s death in 2011, Christie’s sold the La Peregrina necklace for $11,842,500, about four times the estimated auction price of $2-$3 million.

Princess Diana’s Engagement Ring

Close up of Kate Middleton's hand, wearing her engagement ring that formerly belonged to Princess Diana.
Credit: Arthur Edwards/ The Sun/ Corbis via Getty Images

It’s not the biggest stone in Britain, nor does it contain an extravagant number of jewels, but Princess Diana’s 12-carat sapphire and diamond engagement ring — given to her in 1981 by Prince Charles — is recognized around the world. Diana chose the ring herself in a catalog from Garrard, the Crown Jeweler, based on a design of the sapphire and diamond brooch given to Queen Victoria by her husband Prince Albert in 1840. Charles reportedly paid $60,000 for the ring. Since 2010, it has adorned the finger of Kate Middleton, the late princess’ daughter-in-law.

The Tiffany Diamond

The Tiffany Yellow Diamond on display.
Credit: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For almost as long as Tiffany & Co. has been selling fine diamond jewelry, the Tiffany Diamond has been a part of its brand. Company founder Charles Lewis Tiffany bought the 287.42-carat rough yellow diamond from a South African mine in 1877. He had chief gemologist George Frederick Kunz (the man who created birthstones) cut the diamond to 128.54 carats of pure faceted splendor. Usually, the Tiffany Diamond is on display at its Fifth Avenue flagship store, but the company has lent it to four famous women for special occasions — socialite Mary Whitehouse wore the iconic jewel for the 1957 Tiffany Ball in Newport, Rhode Island; Audrey Hepburn wore it in publicity photos for her film Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961; Lady Gaga wore it in a new setting to the 2019 Oscars; and Beyoncé wears it in a 2021 Tiffany ad campaign.

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