The Great Diamonds of the World – Edwin Streeter



IF genuine, the Braganza is by far the largest diamond, not only now in existence, but of which there is any record. But its very size, weighing no less than 1,680 carats in the rough, has caused it to be suspected, and no opportunity has hitherto been afforded of examining it with sufficient care to warrant anything like a conclusive judgment as to its true character. It is also to be noticed that even were it ascertained to be a diamond, it might have to be greatly reduced in size, if not cleaved into two or more stones, in the cutter’s hands.

As a rule the larger the stone the more it proportionately loses in size in the process necessary for the full development of its beauty. The loss is usually reckoned at about one half for moderately large gems. But for one of such large dimensions as the Braganza it could not safely be estimated at perhaps less than two-thirds. This would reduce the finished jewel to about 560 carats ; but even so it would still remain exactly twice as large as the Great Mogul, the’ next largest cut stone of which we have any record.

Consequently, pending the decision of the question regarding its real nature, it must stand at the head of our list of great diamonds. One of the earliest and best accounts we have of this stone is that given by Mawe at p. 242 of his Travels in Brazil. ” A few leagues,” he writes, ” to
the north of the Rio Plata is the rivulet named Abaì’té, celebrated for having produced the largest diamond in the Prince’s possession, which was found about twelve years ago.

Though this circumstance has been already briefly stated,* it may be allowed me in this place to relate the particulars as they were detailed to me during my stay at Tejuco. Three men [elsewhere named Antonio de Sousa, Jose Feliz Gomez, and Thomas de Sousa], having been found guilty of high crimes, were banished into the interior, and ordered not to approach any of the capital towns, or to remain in civilized society on pain of perpetual imprisonment.

Driven by this hard sentence into the most unfrequented part of the country, they endeavoured to explore new mines or new productions, in the hope that, sooner or later, they might have the good fortune to make some important discovery, which would obtain a reversal of their sentence, and enable them to regain their station in society. They wandered about in this neighbourhood, making frequent searches in its various mines, for more than six years, during which time they were exposed to a double risk, being continually liable to  become the prey of the anthropophagi, and in no less danger of being seized by the soldiers of Government.

At length they, by hazard, made some trials in the river Abaité, at a time when its waters were so low, in consequence of a long season of drought, that a part of its bed was left exposed. Here, while searching and washing for gold, they had the good fortune to find a diamond nearly an ounce in weight. Elated by this providential discovery, which at first they could scarcely believe to be real, yet hesitating between a dread of the rigorous laws relating to the diamonds, and a hope of regaining their liberty, they consulted a clergyman, who advised them to trust to the mercy of the State, and accompanied them to Villa Rica, where he procured them access to the governor.

They threw themselves at his feet, and delivered to him the invaluable gem on which their hopes rested, relating all the circumstances connected with it. The governor, astonished at its magnitude, could not trust the evidence of his senses, but called the officers of the establishment to decide whether it was a diamond, who set the matter beyond all doubt.

Being thus by the most strange and unforseen accident put in possession of the largest diamond ever found in America, he thought proper to suspend the sentence of the men as a reward for their having delivered it to him. The gem was sent to Rio de Janeiro, from whence a frigate was dispatched with itto Lisbon, whither the clergyman was also sent to make the proper representations respecting it.

The sovereign confirmed the pardon of the delinquents, and bestowed some preferment on the holy father.”This famous stone, which has been valued by Rom6 Delisle at no less than 300 millions sterling, is said to be about the size of a goose’s egg, and its weight is usually estimated at 1,680 carats, which at the rate of 150 carats to the ounce, would make rather over 11 oz. M. Ferry makes it weigh 1,730 carats ; and Emanuel as much as 1,880, though this figure may probably be a misprint for 1,680.

Still, the lowest of these estimates is immensely in excess of Mawe’s calculation that it weighs only ” seven-eighths of an ounce.” Mawe is here, however, inconsistent with himself, for a stone of this size could not be described as ” perhaps the largest diamond in the world.”
In his ” Memoir on the Diamond,” Murray supplies some further interesting particulars. He tells us that ” it remains still uncut, but Don John VI. had a hole drilled through it, and it was suspended to his neck on gala days.”

Murray was not aware whether it was still among the crown jewels given up by Miguel, or had been previously pledged to carry on the war against the French. For this latter report, current in Murray’s time, there seems to be no foundation, and according to all recent authorities the stone would appear never to have been removed from the Portuguese treasury, where it is jealously guarded against all inquisitive sight-seers.

For obvious financial motives, the Government is naturally anxious that,whatever be its true character, it should continue to be regarded as a genuine diamond. On this point the strongest doubts have always been entertained, and Murray tells us that, ” Mr. Mawe, who had attentively examined it, informed me that he considered it to be a ‘Nova Mina,’ or white topaz, and not a diamond.”

This passage presents considerable difficulty, for Mawe nowhere says he had ever even seen, much less examined, the stone ; nor is it easy to understand how he could have had the opportunity of doing so.

Indeed his description of it as a ” white topaz ” would seem to imply that he never set eyes on this gem, at least if Barbot is correct in describing it as “d’une couleur jaune foncé.” This is very far from being the only discrepancy in the current accounts of the Braganza.

Barbot himself tells us that it was found, not by three banished criminals, but by a slave, who, therefore, received his liberty, and, ” une pension viagère pour lui et la famille.” He adds that it is the shape of a pea, and, ” might be about the size of a hen’s egg ;” while Liebig reduces its weight to 95 carats.*

Authorities are equally at variance as to the date of its discovery, which Kluge says was in 1741, Murray about 1764, and others, with Mawe, more correctly, about 1797.”)* In the same way, the locality where it was found is stated by