Gem Gawking

Where to See Famous Diamonds

Crown Koh-i-noor Diamond (Tim Graham / Getty Images)

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Many of the 300 rooms that once housed the sultans' concubines and families are now open to the public, as are the imperial wardrobe, the palace library, several mosques and other chambers. The Imperial Treasury can be found inside one of the oldest buildings, the Conqueror's Pavilion. The treasury's rooms are filled with the riches of the sultans, gold and jeweled objects that had once been created by palace artisans, received as gifts or taken as the spoils of war.

The 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker's Diamond, which is surrounded by 49 smaller diamonds and also known as the Kasikci, sits in the third room of the treasury. Legend says that a poor man found the gem in a garbage heap in Istanbul in 1669 and sold it for three wooden spoons to a spoonmaker, who then sold it to a jeweler for 10 silver coins. The diamond is said to have passed through the hands of several jewelers before coming to the attention of Sultan Mehmed IV, who claimed it as his own.

Green Vault, Dresden Royal Palace, Dresden, Germany

Diamonds can be made green through exposure to radiation. As this can happen naturally, green diamonds are fairly common, though large ones are not. The most famous of these is the Dresden Green, which is on display in the Green Vault at the Dresden Royal Palace along with other treasures of the former rulers of Saxony.

The diamond became part of the Crown Jewels of Saxony when Frederick Augustus II purchased it around 1742. The Green Vault, however, is not named after the diamond. The vault had already been established as a museum, between 1723 and 1730, by Frederick Augustus I, who, in addition to being king of Saxony, had also been elected king of Poland and had the regalia (and jewels) for both positions.

Three of the Green Vault's eight chambers were destroyed in the 1945 bombing of the city. The treasures had already been moved to safekeeping, but they were seized by the Soviets after the war. Upon their 1958 return, the Dresden Green and other items in the collection were displayed in the Albertinum Museum as the palace was too damaged to display them there. The collection has since been restored to its former home—a New Green Vault opened in 2004 and the Historic Green Vault's restoration was completed in 2006.

Condé Museum, Château de Chantilly, Chantilly, France

Though it was not part of the royal jewels of France, the Condé diamond nonetheless has royalty in its history. The 9.01-carat pink pear-shaped diamond was a gift from the French king Louis XIII to Louis II, Prince de Condé—"Le Grande Condé," head of the French branch of the House of Bourbon—sometime around 1643. The diamond stayed in the family until 1884 when the Duc d'Aumale, an heirless descendent of Le Grande Condé, bequeathed the family home, the Château de Chantilly, to the Institut de France. His terms: The chateau's collections had to be opened to the public as a museum and could never be loaned out.

The Condé diamond is on public display in the museum's Gem Room (Le cabinet des Gemmes). Despite the wishes of the Duc d'Aumale, though, the pink diamond left the chateau once, taking an unscheduled trip to Paris in October 1926 when two thieves stole it. The gem was recovered in Paris days later, hidden in an apple left behind by the thieves in a hotel room.

In addition to the diamond, visitors to Château de Chantilly can tour the grand rooms of the chateau, view the second-largest collection of pre-1850 paintings in France, and examine the contents of the library (Cabinet des Livres). The grounds cover nearly 300 acres and include gardens in the French and English styles.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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