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The Black Orlov joins Diamonds

21 September 2005

Black Orlov diamond

Black Orlov diamond

A 'cursed' black diamond is to go on display in the UK for the first time, at the Natural History Museum's Diamonds exhibition, from Wednesday 21 September.

Known as the Black Orlov or The Eye of Brahma, the jewel's curse allegedly began when it was removed from a Hindu shrine in southern India and then claimed to be responsible for the violent deaths of two Russian princesses.

Legend tells of a monk removing the original rough 195-carat diamond from the eye of the Idol of Brahma at a shrine near Pondicherry, India. This sacrilege allegedly cursed all future owners of the precious stone to a violent death.

In 1947 Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov and Princess Leonila Galitsine-Bariatinsky - both former owners of the Black Orlov - leapt to their deaths in apparent suicides. Fifteen years earlier, J.W. Paris, the diamond dealer who imported the stone to the USA, had jumped to his death from one of New York's tallest buildings shortly after concluding the sale of the jewel.

In an attempt to break the curse, the diamond was re-cut into three separate gems and has since been owned by a succession of private owners, all of whom seem to have escaped the curse. The 67.5-carat Black Orlov is set in a 108-diamond brooch suspended from a 124-diamond necklace.

''The intriguing legend of the Black Orlov highlights the powerful way that diamonds have captured human imagination for thousands of years,' said Alan Hart, exhibition curator. 'This jewel's beauty and apparent infamy make it a fitting addition to the world's biggest diamond exhibition'.

What black diamonds are made of
True black diamonds are incredibly rare. Only one in 10,000 diamonds mined are coloured. Most coloured diamonds get their colour from chemical impurities or defects in the stone itself. Black diamonds are different: their colour comes from the presence of tiny mineral inclusions.

Recent studies have shown that these inclusions are predominantly the iron oxide minerals magnetite and haematite along with native iron itself. When these iron-rich inclusions occur in a high enough proportion they can even make diamonds magnetic.