Five crazy things history’s rich & royal did with their jewels

A new book digs into the bizarre histories of giant gems

By Anna Rasche/ Community

Aja Raden’s new, snarky non-fiction book Stoned: Jewellery, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World reveals the pivotal roles played by famous jewels in world history. While we all know that the main point of fancy gems is to wear them so other people can understand how beautiful/ awesome/ wealthy you are, what Stoned highlights are the other ways history’s rich and royal have chosen to use their jewels. So, inspired by Raden’s research, here are five alternative ways to take advantage of those giant diamonds once they get too heavy for your earlobes:

  1. Worship them

Inca pilgrims from far and wide would travel to the valley of Manta to bring offerings of tiny emeralds to an emerald “the size of an ostrich egg” that had its own temple and was carved  to look like a parrot.

On the other side of the world, when Vladimir of Kiev was unsure whether Christianity or Islam was the way to go, reports of the “twinkling jewelled mosaics” and “gilded amber room” at the Haga Sophia cathedral in Constantinople convinced him that Christianity was the right choice for Russia.


2. Steal them to bankroll government activities of dubious morality

Speaking of Russia, after the ousting of the ill-fated Romanovs, their royal jewels were sold by the kilogram to fund various Soviet enterprises.

    Empress of Russia


Queen Isabella of Spain famously resorted to pawning the crown jewels (a bit awkward since they weren’t technically hers…) to fund the nation’s holy war in Grenada. Later, she pawned her personal jewellery to fund Columbus’s voyage to the new world, largely in the hope that he would find even more jewels.


3. Use them for tax exemptions

After Harry Winston acquired the Hope Diamond, the beautiful and mysterious blue stone appreciated so much in value that he was unable to find a buyer! Instead, he donated the supposedly-cursed gem to the Smithsonian and got a huge tax write-off.




4. Illustrate how out-of-touch you are with the 99%

The Mughal Emperor Babur once bragged that his prized diamond, the Koh-i-noor, was “worth the value of one day’s food for all the people in the world.” Mary Tudor (also known as ‘Bloody Mary’ for her penchant for burning heretics at the stake) had twenty cartloads of gold paraded through the streets to show off all the riches she got by marrying Philip of Spain.



5. Acquire huge tracts of land

Cecil Rhodes—the evil-genius who started De Beers and monopolized the diamond trade—got an entire region of Africa named after himself! The not-so-creatively-titled colony of Rhodesia is now the country of Zimbabwe.





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