Black Orlov Sells at Christie’s

Billed as “the world’s most famous black diamond,” the 67.50 ct. antique-cushion-cut Black Orlov sold for $350,000 at Christie’s New York auction house Oct. 11, 2006.

The Gem Certification and Assurance Lab, which provided Christie’s with authentication papers before its Magnificent Jewelry auction, noted the black diamond’s “alleged curse,” which includes the suicides of three former owners—including two Russian princesses. But GCAL’s Don Palmieri also noted that “the stone’s current owner is alive and well in Pennsylvania.”

GCAL’s history reiterates earlier accounts: The stone originated in India in the early 1800s and was known as the Eye of Brahma. It was taken from a statue at a shrine in India. Its name comes from Russian Prince Grigori Grigorievich Orlov, who gave it as a gift to his lover, Catherine the Great. None of this has ever been substantiated, and the last item is almost certainly false. According to Ian Balfour, a leading authority on famous diamonds, Catherine the Great was given another Orlov diamond, a 189 ct. near-colorless one.

The Black Orlov’s traceable history begins in 1951, when owner Charles F. Winson, a New York dealer, loaned the diamond to the American Museum of Natural History. He also exhibited the stone at the 1964 Texas State Fair and the Diamond Pavilion in Johannesburg in 1967. He auctioned the stone in 1969, for $300,000. It resurfaced at Sotheby’s in 1990 and sold for only $90,000. In 1995, the Black Orlov was sold for $1.5 million. In 2005 it was featured at the Natural History Museum in London. Then the Orlov flew to California to make an appearance at the Oscars.

There are two types of black diamonds. One gets its color from micro-dispersed graphite along growth planes, the other from visible black inclusions. The Black Orlov gets its color from a plethora of black inclusions, which can be seen easily.

Today’s Black Orlov is surrounded by 108 diamonds and worn with a 124-diamond necklace.