History is no stranger to diamonds with epic, tumultuous and storied pasts; the Shah, the Black Orlov and the Hope, to name a few. However, there hardly exists a famous diamond nomenclature that is used to describe a multitude of stones; eighteen of the sparklers, to be exact! Let’s delve deep into the recesses of gemstone history to discover the odd origins and sprawling paths that this collection of famed gems have ventured down.
It began with one man; Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino (born on July 14th, 1602). Unless you’re really bad at guessing this type of thing, you’ve correctly assumed he was of Italian descent. Early on, he left his home in the Kingdom of Naples and sought education, by the Jesuits, in Roma. However, for reasons only known to the intriguing Naples native, Guilio all but renounced his heritage, moved to France and fully ensconced himself in full French fashion. Forgoing spaghetti for escargot, he altered his moniker as well, now assuming the identity of one “Jules Raymond Mazarin.” Through a series of fortunate events, ‘Mazarin’ was able to utilize his syncretic education and weave his way into the close knit community of French aristocrats and nobles. His apparent charms knew no end, despite his alleged gambling problem and proclivity to chase married women; namely, the Queen of France. Now here’s where his somewhat apocryphal tale gets significantly weirder. Mazarin, despite not holding any previous titles in the clergy and being a married man (a marriage he was rumored to have been forced into to repay a particularly hefty debt incurred through unbridled gambling), was somehow able to ascend to the role of Cardinal. Admission into such a high position in the Roman Catholic Church has never been a simple task, so there is much speculation about how this truly went down. Through this auspicious and serendipitous trajectory, Mazarin was able to amass his amazing amalgamation of gemstones.
While the legend of Mazarin is steeped in many unsubstantiated stories and wild rumors, historians have narrowed down a few solid possibilities for his rapid ascension to Catholic fame. One such theory is that French Cardinal Richelieu (the right hand man to the current king, Louis the 13th) was visiting Rome and was introduced to a plucky, young Mazarin. He promptly invited the seemingly sedulous scamp to venture back with him to Paris, to try his hand at bourgeois Parisian life. Under Richelieu’s wing, Mazarin quickly adapted to the politics of French Catholicism and became all but indispensable to the religious magnate. A mainstay of the royal court, Mazarin now found himself rubbing shoulders with his holiest of holies, the Pope, and his kingliest of kings, Louis XIII. By 1641 ole Louis Louis had appointed Mazarin a Cardinal himself, thus sealing the once-Italian’s legacy. While many believed King Louis to fancy the not-so-fair sex, there is no direct evidence linking his tastes in gentlemen of the court to why Mazarin was able to slip in so seamlessly. Nevertheless, Louis would kick the bucket a mere two years later; a victim to tuberculosis. This would pave the way for Mazarin to further secure his status as a royal player…
Mazarin now seemed destined to procure the favor of the recently widowed Queen Anne. One interesting snippet about him and the Queen that circulated involves his love of the gamble. While playing a card game in court (or whatever 17th century folk did that involved betting), Mazarin was on a real hot streak and had a huge pile of gold in front of him. As the amour-deprived Queen walked into the room, Mazarin impulsively put all his winnings on the line. He won the bet and immediately began fawning all over the Queen, attributing her fortuitous aura to his hearty haul. This (among other undisclosed, most likely naughty things) would garner the Queen’s esteem, and once Cardinal Richelieu was dead and out of the picture, she named Mazarin the First Minister of France. From that point on Mazarin was co-calling the shots in France. Acting as a virtual stepdad to the lil’ king Louis the 14th (more hearsay dictates that Mazarin and the Queen took clandestine vows of their own), Mazarin and Anne were not only knocking knees but were leading the nation. Times were not always smooth sailing, as phalanxes of the French people revolted here and there, but Mazarin kept his head held high until he finally succumbed to illness in 1661, leaving behind a wake of questions as to how such an unknown person could reign so supreme.
Now on to the diamonds. Unfortunately, the actual origin of the majority of the 18 stones remains shrouded in mystery. Two of the best known diamonds in the collection, however, the “Sancy” and the “Mirror of Portugal” do have definitive roots. They both essentially were collateral turned into actual payment from the King of England, Charles I’s widow, Henrietta, to a dude named the Duke of Épernon – who subsequently sold the diamonds to Mazarin. Wanting to further bolster his collection, Mazarin sequestered some more stones from England’s coup captain and interim ruler, Oliver Cromwell. Amongst these new stones came the first ever “brilliant” cut diamond – which has yet to relinquish its title as ‘engagement ring stone of choice.’ When Mazarin passed over to the great cathedral in the sky, he willed his 18 diamonds to the French Crown. His faux stepson, Louis the 14th, had three of the gems forged into his “battle” sword and donned them with pride (at his hip, of course, never in actual combat).
It would seem that this Brobdingnagian assortment of priceless diamonds would have been solidified in history as major gemological mainstay, but, alas, twas not meant to be. More than a century after Mazarin’s death, a bold robbery took place; the Garde Meuble, where the stones were tucked away, was ransacked and 12 of the stones were lost forever (including the much beloved Mirror of Portugal). While these gems were all substantial in size, and thus fairly easy to recognize, popular belief is that they have been recut over the years to avoid detection. If you’d like to take a gander at some of the remaining diamonds, three of the diaphanous stones are on display at the Louvre in Paris. Alas, most of the Mazarins live on in memory, myth and mystery alone.