Natural History of Precious Stones and Gems – Charles William King


Adamas. Diamond Mines

We find in the ancients few indications as to the particular locality of India that supplied them with the Diamond; Pliny says merely, at random, the gem-producing rivers are the Acesines (Jenaub) and the Ganges. Dionysius Periegetes enumerates the Diamond amongst the numerous gems (the Beryl, Green Jasper, Topazius,  Amethyst) picked up in the river-beds by the natives of India, as anciently understood, lying to the east of Mount Parapamissus, and Ariana. Ammian (xxii. 8,30), writing in the 4th century, mentions the region of the Agathyrsi beyond the Sea of Azov as abounding in Diamonds : ” apud quos adamantis est copia lapidis.”

He may refer to the washings in the Ural Mountains. There is actually a false Diamond found plentifully in Siberia, the use of which is interdicted to the Eussian jewellers under the heaviest penalties. All that the usually well-informed M. Ben Mansur knew of the Indian Diamond Mines was the fable that ” in the Eastern part of India there is a deep valley inhabited by serpents,  where the Diamond is produced ; but some believe it to be found in the mines of the Jacut.”

The earliest authentic account of them is to be found in the little treatise, ‘ De Arom. et Simp. Historia,’ written in Portuguese by Garcias ab Horto, in 1565, in the form of dialogues ; a Latin abridgment of which was published by Clusius two years later. This writer had been physician to the Viceroy at Goa, and had occasionally been called in by the Nizam-moluco (ul-Mulk), ruler of the Deccan, who had offered him 40,000 pardaos a year to reside permanently at his court.

His account represents in all probability pretty nearly the same state of things as when the Roman traders from Alexandria made their annual voyages to Baroche upon that coast. ” Diamonds are found in only three or four places. In the province of Bisnagar there are two or three rocks that produce them, which brings in immense gain to the king of that country, as every stone above the weight of 30 Mangelis (150 grains) belongs to the sovereign.

There is another rock in the Deccan, not far from the territory of the Imadixa (Imad-shah), or Imad-moluco, but within the lands of a certain native prince, which produces excellent Diamonds, though of smaller size. These are the stones known by the name of ‘ Diamonds of the Old Rock,’ and are brought for sale to Lispor, a town of the Deccan, where there is a famous market.

The Gazerat merchants buy them there, and bring them to us at this place (Goa). They even carry them as far as Bisnagar, tempted by the great profit. For these stones, naturally polished, and called ‘ Naifes ‘ by the Indians, are infinitely preferred to any others. There is another rock on the sea of Tanjan, in the Malacca country, which yields Diamonds, also called ‘ Diamonds of the Old Rock,’ of small size but fine quality.

One fault they have, they are very heavy, which makes them more liked by the sellers than by the buyers.” The same careful investigator of Indian productions notes Fliny’s assertion as to Diamonds being found in Arabia as altogether unfounded. But there is little doubt that the Sabaeans of South Arabia were a Hindoo race, there settled for purposes of trade, like the Banian merchants, who nearly engrossed all the trade in precious stones in Tavernier’s age.

These obtained gems of all kinds from India itself, and, pursuing their business, passed over incredible distances ; and were to be found domiciled in places where they were least to be looked for. ” It seems to mo,” says Garcias, ” quite a miracle that these gems, which might be expected to be produced in the deepest bowelsof the earth, and in a space of many years, should on the contrary be generated almost on the surface of the ground, and come to perfection in an interval of two or three years.

For in the mines, this year for instance, at the depth of a cubit, you will dig and find Diamonds : let two years pass, and mining in the same place you will again find Diamonds. But it is agreed that the largest” are only found under the bottom of the rock.”

De Laet in 1047, after quoting the above with a few explanatory remarks, adds : ” But in former years, as I have been informed by some English merchants, the richest mines were at Golconda, on the gulf of the Ganges, about 108 miles from Masilipatam.

These used to be farmed out for 300,000 pagodas per annum (150,000l.), with the reservation of all above ten carats for the royal treasury. But these works were stopped by the king’s order in 1532, either through fear the stones should become too common and cheap, or, as others say, because the Great Mogul’ had demanded an annual tribute from the king of Golconda of three pounds by weight of the finest stones found.

The most likely reason however is, that the mines were already worked out. An Englishman, William Methold, says that he had visited these mines at the time that they employed some 30,000 labourers, some in digging, some in baling out the water by hand, having no mechanical contrivances for that purpose.

They sunk shafts 10 or 12 fathoms deep, and carried out the earth, which was red, mixed with white and yellow chalk, to a place levelled to receive it: and when dried by the sun broke it small and sifted it. Sometimes, though very rarely, they obtained stones of from 120 to 200 carats; many of from 10 to 15 carats ; but by far the largest number so excessively minute, that from 8 to 20 of them put together would only weigh a single carat.”

India now sends no Diamonds to the market; but a few, and of the best quality, still come from Borneo. The mines of the Sierra do Frio, Brazil, have ever since their opening in the year 1727 supplied the world, and are computed to have yielded in that time the incredible quantity of over two tons of this precious article. The Dutch, who previously had the monopoly of the Indian trade, endeavoured at first to discredit the Brazilian stones as spurious, so that it became necessary to send them to India and re-export them to Europe in order to give them a character.


Incomparably the largest, authentic, specimen ever yet discovered, was that known as the ” Mogul;” found in the mine called by the Indians Gani, by the Persians Coulour, seven days’ journey distant from Golconda. Its weight in the rough when presented, a few years after its discovery, to Shah Jehan by Mirgimola (Meer-Jomlah), who stole it from his master the king of Golconda when he fled to the Mogul’s Court, is said to have been 787-1/2 carats; but full of flaws.

To get rid probably of these, the Venetian Hortensio Borghis, the imperial jeweller, cut it down to’ 280 carats, making it a perfect Rose, with an extremely high crown or apex. It was then ” of fine water, with but one crack on the lower edge, and one little flaw inside.”

But the Mogul was so vexed at this lamentable diminution of the weight, that, instead of paying Borghis for his labour, he fined him 10,000 rupees ; all he was worth. This Diamond was exhibited, together with the other regalia, to Tavernier (Nov. 1, 1665), in the presence of Aurungzeb himself, ” with the utmost solemnity and deliberation, the Indians considering nothing so unbecoming as haste in matters of importance.”

Tavernier, after examining and weighing it with the greatest care, gives a faithful drawing of it (Voyage, ii. p. 372). This also fell a prize to Nadir Shah on the sack of Delhi (1739), and is supposed by Barbot to be still amongst the Persian Crown jewels, and to figure there as the stone designated the ” Deryai Noor ” (Ocean of Light).

This Mogul Diamond is often confounded with the Koh-i-noor, and the same traditions as to its discovery, fortunes, and influence, are told of both indiscriminately.  But Tavernier had no knowledge of the latter, else he could not have avoided describing so remarkable a stone : probably it came into Aurungzeb’s possession at a later period.

Besides the greatly inferior weight (186-1/2 carats), it was also an Indian-cut stone; whereas the Mogul was a perfect example of the newly-invented European pattern, the Rose. Other celebrated stones are— The Orloff Diamond, weight 193 carats, set in the top of the Eussian Imperial sceptre, and said to have been formerly one of the eyes of the Idol at Sheringham, whence a French soldier stole it.

This exactly resembles the Great Mogul in form and cutting: a very extraordinary coincidence, if the Orloff were actually Indian-cut. Catherine II. purchased this for 90,000/., and an annuity of 4000l, with a patent of nobility to boot.

The Nizam’s Diamond, weight 340 carats, is somewhat almond-shaped, almost intact, though an attempt has been made to shape it into the mystic Yoni, probably to be placed in the hand of a statue of Parvati, goddess of fecundity.

This stone was broken into two in the year of the Sepoy mutiny. I have seen a cast of it in the British Museum. The Raja of Mattan’s is said to be of the finest water, and to weigh 367 carats (uncut most probably). Lowe (‘Sarawak,’ p. 28) was informed by a party professing to be a competent judge, that he had examined this renowned stone, which is actually in the possession of the present Raja: it is egg-shaped, with an impression on one side.

But, adds he, to strangers a mere bit of crystal is shown in its stead, out of fear of exciting the cupidity of the Dutch at Pontiniak, who, having already stripped this unfortunate prince of his lands, would seize upon this last relic of his fortunes, if assured of its genuineness.

Hence this matter is still dubious.  The “Regent of France” (weight in the rough 410 carats) was bought by Gov. Pitt of the dealer Jamchund for 12,500l. To cut it into a perfect brilliant occupied two years, at a cost of 5000/. The Regent Orleans paid for it 135,000l. Its present weight is 136-1/4|, and it is the most perfect brilliant in existence, and therefore as yet, for shape and water, is without a rival. It was found at Parteal, 45 leagues south of Golconda. (The fragments cut off in the shaping were valued at 3000l. or 4000l., thus nearly paying for the cutting.)

The cutting of the Koh-i-noor is said to have cost 8000/., by the “improved process,” a small steam-engine being employed, and workmen brought over from Holland. A most ill-advised proceeding, which has deprived the stone of all its historical and mineralogical value ; for as a specimen of a monster diamond whose native weight and form (186 carats) had been as little as possible diminished by art (for the grand object of the Hindoo lapidary is to preserve the weight), it was unrivalled in Europe; and giving in their stead a bad-shaped, shallow brilliant, of but inferior water, and only 102-1/2 carats weight.