“Returnism” / Diamonds are Forever

Koh-i-Noor was the world’s largest uncut diamond at almost 800 carats and it was mined in Andhra Pradesh, India. It its current form, it has been cut down to 105 carats — apparently there were several sloppy stone cutters over the years. Huge & lovely, it is literally the center stone in crown of the Queen of England’s crown jewels. Presuming the status quo is maintained, Kate will get to wear it when Wills takes the throne…

In 1849 the stone was stolen by the British East India Company and in 1850 it was presented to Queen Victoria. Or, in an alternate interpretation (depending on which side of history you choose): it was surrendered to the Queen as per the terms of the Treaty of Lahore. Although, I’m not sure that they are materially different, since the treaty was more window-dressing for the Company’s occupation of Punjab than an equitably negotiated agreement.

Random Fact: The diamond is supposed to bring men bad luck; it can only be worn safely by Gods and Women.

There is a movement here to have the diamond returned — like many other artifacts taken from their indigenous places that end up in imperialist/colonist/Western museums and private collections. Similar to other country’s demands for “art repatriation.” Others think it could symbolically make up for the atrocities of colonialism, more akin to atonement or cultural reparations.

Last year, David Cameron was widely reported to have shot down that notion. When visiting Amritsar, India (the scene of the horrific 1919 massacre of unarmed civilians by British soldiers during the Raj), he was asked about the diamond. Cameron reportedly replied, “They’re not having that back.” According to multiple reports, he went on to say, “No, I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’, as it were. I don’t think that is sensible.” (To be fair, I’m sure The British Prime Minister was worried about precedent with respect the other “looted” objects in the British Museum that the Egyptians and Greeks want returned, too — not just the Queen’s bling!)

I remember going to Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY with my friend Simon to see the Euphronios Krater (a lovely terra cotta urn) before it was returned to Italy. And I have seen the crown jewels in the Tower of London. Given the choice, I’d prefer the Indian diamond to the Italian urn…

Note #1 (legal): All photos are believed to be in the public domain. If any images come into dispute and are contested legally by an official source, they will be removed.
Note #2 (fun): Lots of interesting British crown facts on this blog, too.

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