In 1849 the Treaty of Lahore was signed. A 10 year old boy, who also happened to be the Maharaja of Punjab, lost his kingdom to the British government and a very special diamond to Queen Victoria.
The then Governor General of India, Earl Dalhousie, played a central role in obtaining the diamond. Once the treaty had been signed, he wrote to a friend declaring, “I had now caught my hare.”
Dalhousie believed, having captured one of the East’s most venerated gems, he was going to be a hero of the Empire.
When news spread of the Kohinoor’s arrival in Southampton, Britain was gripped. People clamoured to see what was, at the time, the largest diamond in world.
The first opportunity for people to see it was at the Great Exhibition. There was a great rush, but the crowds left disappointed. Newspapers reported that it didn’t really sparkle. It was overrated.
A lot work went into fixing Dalhousie’s gift.
First, the organisers cut off all natural light to the diamond and shone lamps upon it at specific angles. Reports came back that although its lustre was much improved, visiting the Kohinoor was a hot, close and arduous visit. Some viewers fainted.
It was then decided that the diamond be cut. In the process it lost almost half of its size, but it shone like never before. At last the diamond was fulfilled its promise. It went on to be set into jewellery and has sat in the crowns of three different queens.
What did Dalhousie get wrong? He misunderstood his market. In the East, the fashion with precious gems was to leave them as natural as possible so you could appreciate the beauty of nature’s creation. In the west cutting and polishing gems to bring out their lustre was the thing. It was about getting the most sparkle.
Dalhousie was mesmerised by his product, but he ignored the audience. They weren’t impressed. It’s an instructive lesson: he failed to understand his market so even the world’s largest diamond did not impress.