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The Diamond Fund of Russia: Can You Put a Price Tag on the Russian Heritage?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

diamond fundThough many visitors to the Diamond Fund of Russia Exhibitions desperately want to know what the exhibited Fund's assets are worth, no one can really put a price tag on these treasures. After all, the Diamond Fund is the depository into which Russia's greatest treasures are kept. They are unique, and, theoretically, even if auctioned individually each item will fetch an unbelievably high price. Therefore, the total worth of the Diamond Fund of Russia cannot be estimated, or, as put by the head of Gokhran Vladimir Rybkin: «I call tell the real price of the assets stored here: it's over four million - the number of people who has visited the Diamond Fund exhibitions for over 40 years. Isn't it worth it?»

The Diamond Fund is a unique collection of gems, jewelry and natural nuggets, stored and exhibited in Moscow Kremlin, Russia. The Fund dates back to the Russian Crown treasury instituted by Emperor Peter I of Russia in 1719. Peter's gem collection was later stored in the Diamond Chamber in the Winter Palace.

The Russian State Diamond Fund works as a treasury, but its historical intent held the monarchs of Russia responsible for the contents of the Fund - the jewels, precious gems, and precious metals contained therein were not to be sold, given away, or modified, and each royal ruler was to leave a percentage of their acquisitions to the Fund; a 1922 study identified 85% of all exhibits to 1719-1855 (from Peter I to Nicholas I) and only 15% for the last three emperors.

The Russian State Diamond Fund is also where the Imperial Crown of Russia is located, which was made for Catherine the Great by the court jeweler Ekart and Jeremia Posier in 1762 and was worn by all succeeding Russian Rulers. The crown features an impressive red spinel weighing 398.72 carats, one of the seven historic stones of the Russian Diamond Collection, and 4936 diamonds arranged in splendid patterns across the entire surface of the crown. Bordering the edges of the crown is a number of fine large white pearls.

The Fund collection also includes a Lesser Imperial Crown, very similar in style and workmanship to the Great Imperial Crown, only smaller and entirely set with diamonds made for Empress Maria, the spouse of Paul I. The Imperial Sceptre, also from Catherine the Great's reign, displays the Orlov Diamond, which weighs over 189 carats. The history behind the Orlov Diamond is muddy, but it seems to have come into Catherine's possession by way of Count Orlov, who may have been Catherine's lover and purchased the diamond as a gift, or who may have simply facilitated the purchase by Catherine and subsequent transfer of the diamond.

Other significant holdings of the Diamond Fund include Faberge Eggs, the Shah Diamond, a sapphire weighing over 260 carats, diamond rose brooch featuring 1466 diamonds created in 1970 by Viktor Nikolaev and numerous pieces of jewelry collected and worn by Russian royals.

In addition, the collection also includes the rarest samples of gold and platinum nuggets: 100 gold nuggets, including among other The Great Triangle (36.2 kg), The Camel (9.28 kg) and Mephisto (20.25 g).

Precious stones in the Diamond Fund collection are no less unique and nearly impossible to sell as they are far too conspicuous, with the largest emerald, the President, weighing 1.170 kg, being the recent addition to the Fund collection. The stone was mined in 1992 in the Sverdlovsk area and purchased for the Diamond Fund ten years later. The Shah diamond, weighing 88.7 carats (17.7 g), first inscription dated 1591, is a gift of Persian Shakh to the Russian Emperor presented to atone for the assassination of Alexander Griboedov, the Russian ambassador to Iran, in 1829. As a result of this gift, a war may have been avoided. The Fund also holds the largest flat portrait diamond weighing 25 carats (5 g) concealing a miniature portrait of Emperor Alexander I.

However, it would be a mistake to believe that the treasures of the Diamond Fund have never been sold. According to the regulations adopted in 1719 by Peter I, they were detached as «items belonging to the state» and were stored in the Renterei (treasury) - in a chest with three locks. Only by the monarch's wish three officials (Cammer-president, cammer-councilor and royal rentmeister), each of whom had a separate key, upon assembling together could withdraw the precious objects and hand them to the royal court for solemn ceremonies. The political importance and a great material value stipulated for secure storage of the symbols of royal power, the main of which were the crown, the orb and the scepter.

Later the conditions and rules of storing state regalia began to include other jewels commissioned for the members of the imperial family and purchased by the treasury as gifts and awards. Upon setting up the Cammer department (treasury) in the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty, detachment of valuables from the private ownership by the royal family was fixed legally.

Under each new Russian emperor the regulations of the Cammer department of the Cabinet were amended, but the order of storing and purchasing valuables remained unchanged. At the same time when a regnant person fancied it some valuables were sold, others were altered for he sake of the fashion.

But throughout all the time of its existence the treasury which in the later years of the Romanovs' dynasty became known as the Diamond Room was replenished with rare gems, luxurious jewels, insignia, multiple and various precious stones. The 20th century changed the fate of the royal treasury.

At the start of the First World War in 1914 and a threat for Petersburg the valuables of the Diamond Room were rushed to Moscow among others and placed in the storage rooms of the Armory. The items were locked away until the late 1920's, when the collection was opened and catalogued. Some pieces were auctioned off at Christie's in London, and others may have found their way out of the Fund by other means. Historians have claimed that during the 1920s the crown jewels themselves were stored in a diplomat's house in Dublin, as collateral for a loan of 25,000 dollars that Ireland gave to the USSR. The treasures were first exhibited to the public in November 1967. Originally a short-term show, in 1968 it became a permanent exhibition.

Today, a significant portion of the State Diamond Fund can be seen by the public, and some items have even been lent to museums and exhibitions outside of Russia. Unfortunately, the fate of those items once held in the Diamond Fund is largely unknown.

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