In this corner, weighing in at 105.6 carats, reflecting light like it has done it for centuries, is the one, the only — Koh-i-Noor diamond! In all the other corners are, well, the entire global community: the British Royal Family, the entire country of India, and skeptical historians are ready to duke it out over the rightful claim to this hefty hunk of bling.
The diamond is one of the most precious and most historied additions to the UK’s Crown Jewel collection, but as the years tick by, more and more people are calling for the famed gemstone to be returned to its country of origin. As the Brits have told it, the diamond was given to them as a gift, but that’s not the whole story.
It goes by Koh-i-Noor, Kohinoor, and Koh-i-nur, but it’s also fair to call it a big ole’ diamond. Its name translates from the original Persian and Hindu-Urdu to mean “Mountain of Light.”
Rather than glitter on Queen Elizabeth’s neck like a massive disco ball, the sought after jewel lies dormant, heavily guarded, taken out only for special occasions. So, by royal standards, you’re more likely to set eyes on a unicorn.
The Royals keep the massive jewel stowed away in bombproof cases along with all their other most precious valuables. It’s kept next to the Tudor Crown and St. Edward’s Crown in the Tower of London’s vault dubbed the Jewel House.
But the famed diamond wasn’t always in the clutches of the British Royal family. In fact, it has a complicated and bloody past that paints a grim portrait of the Royals…
The first mentions of the Koh-i-Noor popped up in 1628. Nestled inside the heart of a peacock, the jewel was the prominent focal point of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s aptly named Peacock Throne.
Funnily enough, the Koh-i-Noor wasn’t the most sought after jewel attributed to the throne. The Mughals were more impressed by the fiery color of the Timur Ruby, which was later determined to be a red spinel and not even a ruby at all.
Mughal rulers were sitting pretty in their jewel-encrusted throne, presiding over a flourishing empire, for more than a century. That is until the temptations of their thriving realm caught the eye of power-hungry nations.
In 1769, the great diamond found a new owner when Persian emperor Nader Shah stormed the city of Delhi, ruthlessly seizing power and, of course, carrying away the Peacock Throne.
Once Nader spotted the Koh-i-Noor, he immediately had the one-of-a-kind diamond plucked, believing a stone that rare deserved to be shown off. So, the diamond, and the Timur Ruby too, found a new resting place on the arm of Nader’s coat.
From India to what is now present day Afganistan, Koh-i-Noor ping-ponged from ruler to ruler for 70 years. Finally, in 1813, the diamond made its way home to India, under Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh.
Historian and journalist Anita Anand, a co-author of the book Kohi-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, points to this moment as a shift in thinking about the jewel. It went from being an impressive treasure to a symbol of capability.
“It becomes this gemstone like the ring in Lord of the Rings, one ring to rule them all,” Anand told the Smithsonian. Ranjit Singh returned the Koh-i-Noor to India, but its security was short lived. After his death in 1839, the fragility of the next rulers left the diamond open to threats.