The Florentine Diamond was a 137.27 metric carat stone that was the heirloom of the Medici family of Florence, who held the title of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
It passed into the hands of the Habsburg-Lorraine family of the Austro-Hungarian dynasty after the death of the last male of the Grand Ducal Medici line in 1737.
The Florentine diamond went missing sometime after 1918 when Charles 1 of Austria went into exile following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The whereabouts of the diamond remains a mystery to this day. However, people have proposed multiple theories to explain its disappearance.
History of the Florentine Diamond
There are various conflicting versions of the origins of the Florentine diamond.
The Duke of Burgundy origin story
One version claims that the original owner of the Florentine diamond was Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy(1433-1477). The Flemish jeweler and diamond cutter Lodewyk van Bercken cut the stone for him.
According to legend, Charles wore the precious stone to the Battle of Morat near Bern in June 1476. He fell while fighting against the Swiss. A private soldier found his body and removed the stone. Unaware of its value, the soldier pawned it for a pittance to Bartholomew May (1446-1531) of Bern, owner of the Toffen Castle.
May sold the diamond to a Genoese jeweler who transferred it to Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508), the Regent and later Duke of Milan (1494-1499). The stone then changed hands multiple times before ending up in the hands of the Fugger family, influential bankers, and venture capitalists.
It eventually came into the hands of the Medici family of Florence, known for controlling the biggest bank in Europe in the 15th century. The family also established a political dynasty under the hereditary title of Grand Duke of Tuscany.
However, some sources report that research in the 1920s by the art critic Nello Tarchiani (1878-1941) suggested that the account associating the Florentine diamond with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was not historically accurate (Deirdre Pirro, February 4, 2016).
The Indian origin story of the Florentine diamond
Some historians consider the Indian-origin account of the Florentine diamond the more likely historically accurate. The story claims that the stone originated in India in the late 16th century.
The King of the South Indian Kingdom of Vijayanagar (Narsinga) reportedly transferred it to Don Ludovico (Ludwig) Castro, Count of Montesano and Governor of the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India.
Castro then gave it to his wife, Mexia de Noronha, as a gift.
[Note: Goa was a colony of the Portuguese from 1510 to 1961 after Afonso de Albuquerque (c. 1453-1515) conquered it.]
The Medici family purchased the Florentine diamond
In 1601 CE, Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (r. 1587 to 1609), purchased the diamond from Castro and his wife.
The Jesuits in Rome reportedly mediated the lengthy negotiations between the Medici and the Castro-Noronha families. They concluded the negotiations on October 12, 1601, and drew up a purchase contract.
Cosimo II de Medici (r. 1609-1621) succeeded Ferdinando I de Medici as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1609. Cosimo commissioned the Venetian gem cutter Pompeo Studentoli to finish the rough diamond he inherited from his father. Studentoli completed and delivered the gem to Cosimo II on October 10, 1615.
Jean Baptiste Tavernier described the Florentine diamond
The jeweler and gem collector Jean Baptiste Tavernier offered the first documented description of the Florentine diamond after visiting the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1657.
He reported examining a unique stone in the jewelry collection of Ferdinando II de Medici, who succeeded his Cosimo II de Medici as the Grand Duke of Tuscany (1621-1670).
Description of the Florentine diamond
Tavernier published a description of the Florentine diamond in his book The Six Voyages of John Baptiste Tavernier, published in 1676.
He described it as a 139-carat (137.27 metric carats or 27.454 g) double rose cut diamond (supposedly Indian style cut) with 126 facets. It had an irregular nonagonal (nine-sided) shape with a color approximating lemon (greenish-yellowish, dark lemon/citron).
The Florentine diamond came into the hands of the Habsburgs following the death of Gian Gastone, the last male of the Grand Ducal Medici line.
After the death of Gastone in July 1737, the throne of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed to Francis I Stephen, Duke of Lorraine and Bar. Under the Treaty of Vienna (1738), signed after the War of the Polish Succession, Francis I had to exchange his Duchy of Lorraine and Bar for Tuscany.
The Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed into the hands of the Habsburgs through the marriage of Francis I to the Habsburg heiress Maria Theresa, who also became the Grand Duchess of Tuscany.
Francis I (1708-1765) became the first Holy Roman Emperor of the Habsburg-Lorraine line in 1745 but died in 1765, leaving the domains, including the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to his wife Empress Maria Theresa and son Joseph II.
The Habsbugs included the Florentine diamond, valued at $750,000, in the Austrian Crown Jewels kept in the Imperial Treasury of Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria.
The diamond featured in the coronation of Francis Stephen as Holy Roman Emperor in 1745.
The Western powers exiled Charles I to Switzerland
The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty ended with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Charles I went into exile in Switzerland in March 1919. He left for Switzerland after the proclamation of the independent Republic of German-Austria in November 1918.
He reportedly took the Crown Jewels, including the Florentine diamond, to exile.
Banished to Mediera
The Habsburgs left Austria for Switzerland in March 1919 following pressure from the British.
The British decided that the presence of Charles and his family in Austria after being deprived of power in November 1918 threatened the security and stability of the newly created Republic of German-Austria.
Charles had issued a carefully worded statement on November 1918, saying he had relinquished participation in the administration of the state. But he avoided saying he had abdicated.
In 1921, the Allied powers banished him and his pregnant wife Zita (and later their children in February 1922) from Europe. The eventual decision to banish Charles from Europe came after he made two failed attempts to restore himself to the throne of Hungary.
They took the family aboard MS Cardiff and transported them to Madeira, an island in Macronesia under Portuguese control.
Charles 1 died in 1922
Charles fell ill with a cold in March 1922. His illness worsened, and he developed bronchitis and pneumonia
He died on April 1, 1922, at 35, after suffering multiple heart attacks and respiratory failure. His family buried him on April 5, 1922, at the local Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte.
Past Attempts to Find
What happened to the Florentine diamond?
The Florentine diamond went missing sometime after 1919, after the Habsburgs moved to Switzerland. The fate of the diamond remains unresolved, but people have proposed many theories.
Charles accidentally misplaced it
Charles and his family had to move twice after he lost power. They moved to Switzerland and later to the island of Madeira.
A theory claims that Charles might have misplaced the diamond during the hurried packing and stressful journeys. He might have left it behind in Austria at their lodge in the Marchfeld region of Lower Austria, where they stayed after vacating their official residence.
The family also moved after arriving in Switzerland. They took up residence in Schloss Wartegg near Rorschach on Lake Constance before moving to Villa Prangins on Lake Geneva.
Similarly, when they arrived at Madeira, they first lived at the luxurious Reid’s Palace Hotel in the capital city of Funchal. But due to financial difficulties, they moved to the Villa Quinta de Monte, the summer residence of a local banker.
Charles might have misplaced the Florentine diamond while the family repeatedly moved residence.
Stolen by an aide
Another theory claims that a close friend or aide of the family stole the diamond and other items from the Crown Jewels collection and took them to South America.
Rumor has it that the diamond eventually surfaced in the U.S. in the 1920s, where they recut and sold it.
Charles sold it to raise funds
A third theory proposes that Charles might have sold the diamond and other items of the Crown Jewels collection to raise funds to maintain his family.
The family experienced financial difficulties after they arrived in Maderia. They had to move from their hotel in Funchal to a cheaper place.
Although Zita was the first to suggest that an aide might have stolen the Crown Jewels, Alphonse de Sondheimer, a Swiss jeweler, claimed Charles asked him to sell them to raise funds.
According to an account, Charles sold some of the jewels in Switzerland to fund his unsuccessful attempts to regain his throne in Hungary. When he went into exile, his family had difficulty maintaining their accustomed lifestyle because the authorities failed to go ahead with a plan to pay them an annual stipend.
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A rhinestone copy of the Florentine Diamond created in 1865. Pic credit: Gryffindor/Wikimedia
Where to find
In the media
Uncrowned Emperor: The Life and Times of Otto Von Habsburg by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, 2007
https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/florentine-diamond-centers-story-of-family-and-history/, “The fabled Florentine Diamond takes center stage in tale of family and fate,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.theflorentine.net/2016/02/04/the-florentine-diamond/, “The Florentine: The Florentine Diamand: Every gem has its own history…,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-137-carat-diamond-lost-forever, “The 137-Carat Diamond Lost Forever,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.habsburger.net/en/chapter/habsburgs-exile-i-switzerland-madeira, “The Habsburgs in exile I: from Switzerland to Madeira,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.jewellermagazine.com/Article/540/Florentine-World-Famous-Diamonds, “Florentine: World Famous Diamonds,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.langerman-diamonds.com/encyclopedia/history-of-natural-color-diamonds/famous-color-diamonds/florentine.html, “Famous color diamonds: The Florentine,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://www.torrini1369.com/archivio/en/the-archival-heritage/70-events-2019/538-1984-the-florentine-diamond-538.html, “1984. The Florentine Diamond: Notes for a Conference of Franco Torrini to Lions Club Pietrasanta,” accessed on June 8, 2023.
https://famousdiamonds.tripod.com/florentinediamond.html, “The Florentine,” accessed on June 8, 2023.