Precious Stones


8. The Sanci

The diamond which is known as "the Sanci," or, as it is sometimes written, "Sancy," has been not inaptly termed a Sphinx among stones. Until recently writers have been accustomed to begin the story of this diamond with Charles the Bold Duke of Burgundy and, with numerous variations of detail, to derive it from him.

Now Charles the Bold had three diamonds which were famous throughout Europe as well for their size as for the fact that they were cut by a European lapidary. Louis de Berquen, who flourished in the fifteenth century, discovered by chance the true principle of diamond-cutting. He rubbed two diamonds together and found that one would bite upon the other, and that a high polish could thus be effected. The Duke confided his three great diamonds to the hands of this cutter and was so delighted with the result that he rewarded the clever lapidary with three thousand ducats. Of the diamonds thus cut, one was presented to Pope Sixtus IV. and another to Louis XI. of France. This latter diamond was set heart-shaped in a ring between clasped hands, a symbol of truth and faithfulness, and as such was a singularly inappropriate gift to one of the most perfidious monarchs who ever sat on a throne.

The third stone the Duke kept for himself and wore it on his finger. This is the one writers have been pleased to call the Sanci, but they agree in no other detail of its history. The description of the Sanci--an almond-shaped stone covered all over with facets--does not agree with the description of the Duke's diamond; but this awkward fact has been easily got over by not mentioning it. Still on making the Sanci belong to Charles the Bold a history had to be furnished for it. Accordingly we learn that it was lost at the battle of Morat in 1476--and also at Nancy in the following year; that it was found by a Swiss soldier under a cart--and that it was taken from the frozen finger of the corpse of Charles; that it was sold for two francs to a priest--and that it was sold to a French nobleman; and so on through a maze of absurdity and contradiction.

The diamond known as the Sanci and once an ornament of the crown of France never belonged to Charles the Bold. It is an Indian-cut diamond, and it was first brought to Western Europe in the reign of Henry III. of France by his ambassador at Constantinople, the Seigneur de Sanci. This person deserves a word or two.

Nicholas Harlay de Sanci was born in 1546 and filled many posts of importance during the reigns of Henry III. and Henry IV. He was a Huguenot, but being immensely wealthy he was held in favor even by the son of Catherine de Medici. His magnificence and his jewels were the admiration and envy of his contemporaries. He changed his religion backward and forward three or four times and finally under Henry IV. settled into Catholicism. For this reason, if for none other, he was hated most cordially by Sully who mentions him with dislike in his Memoirs. According to Sully he was clever but arrogant; not very clear-headed for business, yet sometimes hit upon expedients which would escape more phlegmatic minds. We shall see further on how this estimate was borne out.

Henry III. in a state of chronic war and equally chronic poverty turned in his distress to his wealthy subject, and de Sanci responded as a wealthy and loyal subject should. The King needed troops to enable him to cope with the League. They must be faithful--therefore they must be Swiss, who would only come upon certain payment of their wages. In order to raise the money for these troops de Sanci offered to pledge a great diamond, worth twenty thousand crowns, which he had bought from the Portuguese Pretender, Dom Antonio, who on flying from Lisbon had carried off the crown jewels. The King gratefully accepted the offer and the diamond was sent for. A trusty valet was the person deputed to carry the precious freight, but the valet was waylaid and murdered.

Dismayed at the probable consequences of this disaster, the King roundly abused de Sanci for having trusted his diamond to a servant, but the latter persistently declared his belief that the diamond was not irretrievably lost. After much difficulty and a considerable lapse of time the body of the murdered valet was found, upon which de Sanci ordered it to be dissected, when the missing diamond was discovered in the body. This must have been one of those happy expedients which de Sanci's ready wit enabled him to hit upon. Few "phlegmatic" people would have thought of looking for a diamond in such a concealment in the days when de Sanci lived.

In our enlightened times diamond-swallowing is largely practised by the thieves who infest the mining regions of South Africa. The police accordingly are supplied with emetics and purgatives as well as rifles and ball cartridges. Quite recently a notorious thief was captured and put under medical treatment. The first day's doctoring produced three diamonds, the second brought to light eight more, and the third day gave fourteen; and after all the debilitated patient triumphantly declared, "There's plenty more to come, Baas."

It has been thought advisable to give in detail the story of de Sanci's valet and the diamond because the adventure is usually attributed to the diamond which forms the subject of this article. Upon careful examination it has appeared to us probable that it really happened to the diamond bought from Dom Antonio and that this diamond was a distinct stone from the Sanci proper. Both gems however seem to have had the same fortunes and their histories for a century and a half run in parallel lines.


De Sanci, whose extravagance was unbounded, gradually became embarrassed and from time to time no doubt disposed of his gems in order to raise money. The date of the purchase of the Sanci is fixed about 1595, when Elizabeth who was inordinately fond of jewels added it to the Crown of England. In 1605, Sully received an order from Henry IV. to buy up all the jewels of Monsieur de Sanci, whose affairs had come to a crisis. Neither the Sanci nor the Portuguese diamond were among these valuables thus bought in for Henry.

In the reign of James I. of England there appears amongst his Majesty's personal jewels one of particular note called the "Portugal" whose name does not appear in previous inventories of the English jewels, and this we are inclined to believe was the diamond which de Sanci purchased from Dom Antonio, and which had so many adventures. In the absence of direct proof however this identification should be accepted only provisionally. Shortly after his accession James caused a number of jewels to be reset, and one ornament, known as the "Mirror of Great Britain," was considered to be the master-piece.

It is thus described in the official inventory of 1605:

"A greate and riche jewell of golde, called the Myrror of Greate Brytagne, contayninge one verie fayre table diamonde, one verie fayre table rubye, twoe other lardge dyamondes cut lozengewyse, the one of them called the stone of the letter H of Scotlande garnyshed wyth small dyamondes, twoe rounde perles fixed, and one fayre dyamonde cutt in fawcettes bought of Sancey."

That this was the diamond subsequently known as the Sanci there can be no doubt. The description "cut in facets" almost establishes the fact without the mention of the name of its recent owner.

The diamond called the "Stone of the letter H" belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, and was greatly valued by her. It was a present from Henry VIII. to his sister Margaret on her marriage with James IV. of Scotland. In her will the Queen of Scots bequeaths it to the Crown, declaring that it should belong to the Queen's successors, but should not be alienated.

When in 1623 Charles, the Prince of Wales, went on his love-trip to Madrid along with Buckingham to woo the Infanta, he had an enormous amount of jewels sent out to him in order to make friends for himself at court. As was already mentioned in the paper about the Pelegrina, these magnificent gifts were valued at no less a figure than one and a half millions of dollars. Buckingham, who did not lack for audacity, had the impudence to write to King James asking for the "Portugal" itself; but the over-indulgent monarch, though he scarcely ever refused anything to his beloved favorite, did not comply with this request. The Spanish marriage fell through, and Charles and Buckingham returned to England.

A couple of years afterwards, Charles being King, the stately Duke was sent to Paris to bring back the king's bride, Henrietta. On this occasion Buckingham seems to have exceeded himself in splendor. He was provided, says Madame de Motteville, with all the diamonds of the Crown and used them to deck himself. Possibly this may be merely an expression to indicate the profusion of Buckingham's jewels, and diamonds should not be read literally. Be this as it may, it is a fact that the Duke appeared at a ball at the Louvre in a suit of uncut white velvet, sewn all over with diamonds. These diamonds moreover, were sewn on very loosely, so that whenever the wearer passed a group of ladies he particularly wished to honor, he shook himself, and a few of the diamonds fell off. This senseless extravagance was resorted to in rivalry of the Duke of Chevreuse, the most profuse of the French nobles, who at the ceremony of the betrothal had appeared in a suit embroidered with pearls and diamonds, it being contrary to a sumptuary law to embroider with gold or silver.

Charles did not long enjoy the tranquil possession of his diamonds. By the time he and Henrietta had ceased to quarrel he and his Parliament had begun to do so. The Queen pledged a large number of the crown jewels in Holland in order to raise funds for her husband, but these consisted mostly of pearls and did not include either the Sanci or the Portugal whose connection with the Crown of England was not yet to be severed.

In 1669 the court jeweler of France, Robert de Berquen, whose writings have already been alluded to, says:

"The present Queen of England has the diamond which the late Monsieur de Sanci brought back from the Levant. It is almond-shaped, cut in facets on both sides, perfectly white and clean, and it weighs fifty-four carats."

Berquen was likely to be well-informed both from his profession and from his position. His book is highly interesting and contains some very quaint passages. Thus, when writing of diamonds he assumes a critical attitude in surveying past writers and their deductions, and rejects with scorn and as utterly unworthy of belief the statement that a lady, having two large diamonds, put them away in a box and found, on again examining the box, that they had produced several young ones.

The expression "the present Queen of England" has considerably puzzled many writers, since at that date there were two queens of England, namely the dowager Henrietta and the consort of Charles II., Catherine of Braganza. It seems most probable that the expression refers to the latter, for some years previous to the Restoration we find Henrietta disposing of the diamond to the Earl of Worcester. The following letter is in her hand:

"We Henrietta Moria of Bourbon, Queen of Great Britain, have by command of our much honored lord and master the King caused to be handed to our dear and well-beloved cousin Edward Somerset, Count and Earl of Worcester, a ruby necklace containing ten large rubies, and one hundred and sixty pearls set and strung together in gold. Among the said rubies are also two large diamonds called the 'Sanci' and the 'Portugal,'" etc.

After the Restoration Charles II. made strenuous endeavors to collect the scattered jewels of his Crown. How or when he recovered the Sanci and the Portugal we cannot now tell. It would be very like the devoted Worcester who ruined himself for the Stuarts to have given them back to Charles without stipulation, and it would be very like a Stuart to have accepted them and never to have paid for them. Worcester died in 1677 and two years later, as we have seen, the Sanci was in the hands of the "present Queen of England."

Along with the Crown, the Sanci descended to James II., and no doubt figured at the extraordinarily fine coronation which inaugurated his disastrous reign. The Queen had a million's worth of jewels on her gown alone, and "shone like an angel," says a contemporary, who was so dazzled by her splendor that he could scarcely look at her. When James lost his crown he managed to keep hold of the Sanci and also, presumably, of the Portugal. Indeed the jewels of England for a long time served to keep the famished court of the Stuarts around James and his son. Gradually they were sold to meet the exigencies of the various Pretenders till nothing of value was left for the last Stuart, the Cardinal of York, to bequeath to the English King. Among the first to go was the Sanci which James II. sold to Louis XIV. for twenty-five thousand pounds about the year 1695.

From this date for one hundred years the Sanci ranked third among the French jewels, being valued at one million of francs ($200,000). The first and second on the list were respectively the Regent, valued at twelve millions, and the Blue, at three millions.

At the coronation of Louis XV. in 1723, the Sanci bore a distinguished part.

The little King, aged thirteen years and a half, was crowned at Rheims with all the splendor and tediousness of ceremonial for which the French court had become renowned. Louis, previous to the imposition of the Crown, was dressed in a long petticoat garment of silver brocade which reached to his shoes, also of silver. On his head he wore a black velvet cap surmounted on one side by a stately plume of white ostrich feathers crested with black heron's feathers. This nodding head-dress was confined at the base by an aigrette of diamonds, among which the Sanci was chief.

At the coronation of Louis XVI. in 1775, the Sanci had the honor of surmounting the royal Crown in a fleur-de-lis, which was united to the rest of the diadem by eight gold branches. Just beneath the Sanci blazed the royal Regent with the Portugal, the Sanci's old companion and fellow diamond. Pity that a head once so gorgeously bonneted should roll in the bloody sawdust of the guillotine!

The Sanci shared the fate of the Regent in being stolen in 1792, but it did not share its luck in being found again. As early as February in that eventful year rumors began to circulate of the intention of the royalists to lay violent hands upon the Crown Jewels, but the commissioners ordered to make the inventory for the National Assembly declared such rumors devoid of truth. The fact remains however that all the diamonds were stolen, and all, except the Regent, disappeared completely for many years.

In 1828 the Sanci comes to light once more. A respectable French merchant sold it in that year to Prince Demidoff, Grand Huntsman to the Czar, for a large sum, apparently one hundred and eighty thousand dollars. One would like to know where the above respectable merchant got the diamond, but unfortunately he seems not to have furnished any history with it--perhaps because it might have made him appear less respectable.

Four years later the Sanci went to law. Prince Demidoff, it seems, agreed to sell it to a Monsieur Levrat, director of Forges and Mines in the Grisons, for one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, and Monsieur Levrat agreed to pay the price. Afterwards he contended that the diamond had been spoiled by being re-cut, which was very likely, and that it was worth only twenty-five thousand dollars. To this remarkable reduction in price Prince Demidoff seems to have assented, and he delivered over the stone to Monsieur Levrat who was to pay by instalments. Instead of paying, he pawned the stone, and the defrauded Prince sued him, won his case, and got back the diamond. This was all the more lucky for the Demidoffs, since in 1865 they were able to sell it for one hundred thousand dollars.

While in the hands of Prince Demidoff the Sanci is reported to have had some strange adventures of which the following is an example:

It was in the shawl of the Princess one day, when, finding it hot, she handed the shawl to a friend to carry for her. The friend was a very absent-minded scientific personage; he put the Sanci pin into his waistcoat pocket for safety and forgot all about it when returning the shawl to the Princess. She forgot the pin also (a likely incident this). Next day the Sanci was missing. Consternation! Scientific friend hurriedly interviewed. He remembered the incident. Where was the waistcoat? Gone to the wash (of course). O, horror! Washerwoman frantically sought. Where was the waistcoat?--in the tub? Was there anything found in the pocket? Yes; a glass pin. Where was it? Had given it to her little boy to play with (of course). Where was the boy? Playing in the gutter! Despair! The little fable ends nicely, as a little fable should, and there is joy all around.

The person who gave the Demidoffs one hundred thousand dollars for the Sanci was Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy the great Bombay merchant and millionaire. And thus after many wanderings the Sanci at length returned to the Orient whence, to judge from its cutting, it had originally come. However its stay in India was but brief. It came back to Paris for the Exhibition of 1867, where it found itself once more beneath the same roof as the Regent. It was nevertheless not in the same show-case as that imperial exhibit, for it belonged to Messrs. Bapst who were willing to sell it for the sum of one million of francs, the exact amount at which it had been valued previous to the Revolution.

Some one rich enough to buy it and fond enough of diamonds to spend such a sum on a jewel was found again in India. This time it was a Prince. The Maharajah of Puttiala became its owner. When on the first of January, 1876, the Prince of Wales held a Grand Chapter of the Star of India at Calcutta, he beheld, in the turban of one of the Rajahs, the diamond of his ancestors. The Maharajah, says the London Times correspondent, wore five hundred thousand dollars worth of the Empress Eugénie's diamonds on his white turban, and the Great Sanci as pendant. These were supplemented by emeralds, pearls and rubies on his neck and breast.

Of all the diamonds whose history we have followed this one certainly carries off the palm for the variety of its adventures. The Koh-i-Nûr is an older stone and has belonged to many kings, but the different countries in Asia are, to our minds at least, much less clearly distinguished from one another than our European states. For a diamond to pass from the hands of an Afghan chief to a Persian Shah seems less of a change than for it to go from the treasure-room of the Tower of London to the Garde Meable of Paris.

Now that the Sanci has been found and is so widely known it is to be hoped that it will be kept always in view. Diamonds and heads are often unaccountably lost in the seraglios of Asiatic princes, but we must only hope that oriental potentates are now sufficiently enlightened to understand that we, of the Western World, wish to be informed of everything that happens, whether it be the fall of a dynasty, or the sale of a diamond.