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These Diamonds Have a Lore All Their Own

The 45-carat Hope Diamond, for example, is believed to have been owned at various times by both the French and English royal families. Louis XVI lost possession of the gem during the French Revolution when a mob looted the crown jewels and the already-famous gem - then known as the French Blue Diamond - disappeared. It turned up, re-cut, probably to disguise its origins, 20 years later in England. George IV is believed to have owned the gem and it may have been sold privately upon his death to cover his enormous debts - the fate of many magnificent gems. It had a number of owners, including a family named Hope - before arriving at its current home in the Smithsonian Museum.

The 109-carat Kohinoor Diamond, said to have caused more bloodshed than any gem in history, continues to be the subject of international controversy even today. Discovered in India, it was owned at various times by rulers in both India and Persia before being acquired by Queen Victoria as a result of the Anglo-Sikh Wars. In recent years, India has been demanding that England return many of the treasures it acquired during its colonial rule, and the Kohinoor, the centerpiece of a crown often worn by the Queen Mother before her death in 2002, is at the top of India's wish list.

It is fitting that in the 20th century some of the world's most prized diamonds were acquired by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who reigned for many years as king and queen of Hollywood. Among Burton's gifts to his Elizabeth were the 33-carat Krupp diamond and the Taj Mahal diamond. The latter, a heart-shaped gem, derives its name from the fact that in 1621 it was given by Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who also inspired the Taj Mahal.