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The Orlov Diamond

In 1759, Grigori Grigohevich Orlov came to the attention of the heir to the Throne of Russia, Grand Duke Peter, and his German-born wife, Catherine. Leading a riotous life in Petersburg, Orlov soon became Catherine's lover. Peter couldn't have cared less as he had a regiment of soldiers and a lover to play with to keep him out of trouble. When Peter ascended the throne as Peter III, Orlov continued in his favored position as lover to the Empress. In 1762, Orlov helped organize the coup d'etat that dethroned Peter in favor of Catherine (known in history as Catherine the Great). Peter was imprisoned and subsequently murdered (rumors said it was ordered by Orlov). As a reward for his loyalty, Catherine made him a count, adjutant general, director- general of engineers, and general-in-chief. His entire family was showered with titles and gifts. Catherine's intention of marrying Orlov was stopped by political considerations. The German-born Catherine enjoyed remaining as Empress of all the Russias.

Meanwhile Catherine's roving eye focused on a string of new lovers. Orlov was most enraged and resentful of the intruders in Catherine's bedroom and the Imperial "Pork Barrel." With G.A Potemkin, Orlov felt his power slipping away. Potemkin dazzled Catherine on her trip to the newly acquired Crimea. He had built phony villages along her route filled with cheering peasants. When she complained that a forest ruined the view from her bedroom on the visit, Potemkin had it removed before she woke up the next morning. Orlov's complaints annoyed Catherine. She felt she had paid him enough for his role that put her on the throne. Orlov, although highly favored by Catherine, was losing ground to Potemkin, who staged great festivals and shows. Orlov's new trump card was a plan to give her a diamond worthy of her on the Empress' Saints Day. It was embedded in a bouquet. The diamond came to be known as the Orlov diamond.

The history of the Orlov diamond says it was stolen from the eye of a Hindu idol in Mysore, a native state of Southern India. A French grenadier learned of an idol whose eyes were two great diamonds. He planned the theft over a long period of time. First, he deserted the army. He became a Hindu and obtained employment within the temple, and in time he was admitted as a devout worshipper to the inner shrine. A night of a great storm gave him the chance he had been looking for. He pried one diamond loose and started to remove the other. Bolts of lightning startled him. He heard noises and feared detection and death. He fled, scaled the walls, swam the river, and escaped to Madras. He said nothing about the diamond. Penniless, he got passage on an English ship, and confided his secret to the captain who purchased the stone. The Frenchman went back to France to live the life of a gentleman- the captain sold the stone for six times the price he paid for it.

Passing from one hand to another, the as yet unnamed diamond eventually reached Amsterdam. The diamond's weight was 199.6 carats. It measured 7/8 of an inch high, 1 1⁄4 inches wide, and 13/8 inches long. It was in the shape of half an egg. Catherine heard about the stone and offered to buy it offering 104,166 pounds and an annuity of over 100 pounds. She was refused. What she didn't know was that Orlov had purchased the stone for 500 times what the Frenchman had received for it.

On Catherine's Saints Day, Orlov presented his bouquet. The Empress was enchanted. She named the stone after Orlov and had it mounted on the top of the imperial scepter's double eagle. There it remains to this day in the Kremlin's Diamond Treasury. Orlov? The gift did not work. Potemkin remained Catherine's lover until a younger man displaced him too. Orlov, enraged, left Russia in 1775. He went to Switzerland, married his cousin, and upon her death in 1782, returned to Russia. His mind deranged, completely insane, he died a year later.

Is there a lesson to be learned from the tale of the Orlov diamond? Perhaps! One diamond, no matter how large or unique, doesn't buy an Empress or her bed.

via The Backbender's Gazette, 1/02