The Black Orlov

Of all the black diamonds in the world, the 67.50-ct. cushion brilliant Black Orlov (sometimes spelled Orloff) is probably the most famous-or infamous. Its story dates back to the 18th century and the legend of Russian princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov. The black diamond, also called the “Eye of Brahma,” was supposedly discovered in India and stolen by a monk before turning up in Russia with the princess. But according to Sotheby’s auction galleries in New York, the story of the Black Orlov is difficult to prove.

The stone’s corroborated history begins in the 1950s with New York gem dealer Charles F. Winson. (Even this part of the history is confusing-some references cite Harry Winston as the longtime owner of the gem.) Winson (not Winston) displayed the black diamond numerous times, for example, in 1951 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and in 1964 at the Dallas Texas State Fair. Winson put the stone up for auction in 1969, and it sold for $300,000. It resurfaced at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990, and the story of its questionable history was detailed in the catalog. The stone sold for only $90,000.

Then, in 1995, the Black Orlov was sold again, this time to a private collector unaware of its curious past, for $1.5 million. (See “Jeweler Gets 40 Years for Fraud,” JCK, Aug. 2000, p. 21.)