THE FASCINATING HISTORY OF THE EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN DIAMOND
The Emperor Maximilian Diamond is named for its original owner—Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph Maria, who became the Emperor of Mexico in 1864. With an interest in botany, Maximilian went on a botanical expedition in Brazil in 1860, and while there he purchased the 41.94 carat diamond. It may have been cut down from a larger stone, but there is no record of that happening.
Maximilian’s story is a sad one. He was a member of the royal family in Austria, and he had a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy. In 1857, he married his second cousin Charlotte, the daughter of Leopold I of Belgium, and Louise of Orleans. The couple resided in two estates they owned in Italy.
In 1859 Maximilian was approached by a group of Mexican monarchists (noblemen) with a proposal that he become the Emperor of Mexico as he had more legitimacy than other royal figures in Europe. Maximilian was the younger brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, and his father was Archduke Franz Karl, the second surviving son of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. This made him a member of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family, a branch of the House of Hapsburg. His mother was Princess Sophie of Bavaria, a member of the House of Wittelsbach.
Maximilian declined the initial offer until several years later. France, Spain and the United Kingdom invaded Mexico in the winter of 1861 to reclaim debts owed to the three countries. Napoleon III then offered Maximilian the rule of Mexico again, and this time he accepted. Napoleon’s goal was to establish a pro-French monarchy in Mexico.
Maximilian and Charlotte were not well-received by the Mexican people. In addition, the United States did not recognize him as a legitimate ruler of Mexico and considered the invasion of Mexico by France to be against the Monroe Doctrine.1 In 1866 Napoleon began to withdraw his forces from Mexico. Without their support the Republican forces, led by President Benito Juarez and aided by American forces, waged a civil war that ended with the capture of Maximilian only three years after he arrived in Mexico. The second Mexican Empire collapsed. Maximilian was tried and executed, and the Republic was restored.
Charlotte was in Europe trying to raise funds to combat the civil war when her husband was killed. It is believed that the Emperor Maximilian Diamond was discovered in a small bag found tied around Maximilian’s neck and was returned to his widow with his body.
After Maximilian’s death, Charlotte suffered from mental illness for the rest of her life. She had possession of the diamond until 1919 when it was sold to Chicago diamond dealer Ferdinand Hoetz, to raise money to cover her medical bills. Hoetz lent the Emperor Maximilian Diamond to the Century of Progress exhibition in Chicago (World’s Fair) in 1933-34 and it remained in his possession until his death in 1946. An unknown person purchased the stone following his death and had it mounted into a ring made by Cartier.
On July 20, 1982 the Emperor Maximilian Diamond was sold by Christie’s as “the property of a lady” and was bought by Lawrence Graff, the famed London diamond dealer, for $726,000, which was twice its estimate. In 1983 Graff sold the Emperor Maximilian Diamond, along with two others, the Idol’s Eye and the Sultan Abd al-Hamid II diamonds. The buyers were Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Most of their jewelry was later confiscated by the Philippine’ government.
The Emperor Maximilian stone was re-cut in the 1990s to a new weight of 39.55 carats and sold by Christie’s on April 22, 2010 for $1,762,500. It was not known who the seller was at that time or who is the owner today. A GIA report from the sale states that the diamond is I color, VS1 clarity, and has a strong blue fluorescence.
A second, smaller diamond (33 carats) was also owned by Maximilian and is known as the Maximilian Diamond. It is said that Charlotte wore this diamond in a pendant.
The story told of this smaller stone is that someone tried to smuggle it out of Mexico and the diamond was confiscated by the United States government. It was later sold at auction for $120,000 and eventually ended up in the possession of a New York jeweler named Morris Nelkin.
An uncorroborated story is that there was a robbery at Nelkin’s apartment and either Nelkin or a family member hid the diamond in the trash, and it accidentally ended up at the city dump. An alternate story that has circulated says Nelkin sold the diamond to someone else, and the robbery took place in that second person’s home.
No one really knows the truth and it is possible the stone is still out there somewhere.
1Buried in a routine annual message delivered to Congress by President James Monroe in December 1823, the doctrine warns European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization or puppet monarchs in the Western Hemisphere.