About the Braganza: The Largest Diamond Ever Recorded

the Braganza is the largest diamond ever to have been reported at a weight of 1,680 carats and it was found in Brazil where diamond mining was historically a popular industry


The Largest Reported Diamond extant--The Romantic Story of its Discovery--Guarded as a Treasure of Portugal--Another Version of its Strange History--Errors of the Scribes--"Rule of Thumb" in the Old Days--Enormous Value of the Braganza if genuine--Diamond or Topaz?--The Negro and his Supposed Treasure--A Terrible Disappointment.

IF genuine, the Braganza is by far the largest diamond, not only now in existence, but of which there is any record. But its very size, weighing no less than 1,680 carats in the rough, has caused it to be suspected, and no opportunity has hitherto been afforded of examining it with sufficient care to warrant anything like a conclusive judgment as to its true character. It is also to be noticed that even were it ascertained to be a diamond, it might have to be greatly reduced in size, if not cleaved into two or more stones, in the cutter's hands. As a rule the larger the stone the more it proportionately loses in size in the process necessary for the full development of its beauty. The loss is usually reckoned at about one half for moderately large gems. But for one of such large dimensions as the Braganza it could not safely be estimated at perhaps less than two-thirds. This would reduce the finished jewel to about 560 carats; but even so it would still remain exactly twice as large as the Great Mogul, the next largest cut stone of which we have any record. Consequently, pending the decision of the question regarding its real nature, it must stand at the head of our list of great diamonds.

One of the earliest and best accounts we have of this stone is that given by Mawe at p. 242 of his Travels in Brazil. "A few leagues," he writes, "to the north of the Rio Plata is the rivulet named Abaite, celebrated for having produced the largest diamond in the Prince's possession, which was found about twelve years ago. Though this circumstance has been already briefly stated, it may be allowed me in this place to relate the particulars as they were detailed to me during my stay at Tejuco. Three men elsewhere named Antonio de Sousa, Jose Feliz Gomez, and Thomas de Sousa], having been found guilty of high crimes, were banished into the interior, and ordered not to approach any of the capital towns, or to remain in civilized society on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Driven by this hard sentence into the most unfrequented part of the country, they endeavoured to explore new mines or new productions, in the hope that, sooner or later, they might have the good fortune to make some important discovery, which would obtain a reversal of their sentence, and enable them to regain their station in society. They wandered about in this neighbourhood, making frequent searches in its various mines, for more than six years, during which time they were exposed to a double risk, being continually liable to become the prey of the anthropophagi, and in no less danger of being seized by the soldiers of Government. At length they, by hazard, made some trials in the river Abaite, at a time when its waters were so low, in consequence of a long season of drought, that a part of its bed was left exposed. Here, while searching and washing for gold, they had the good fortune to find a diamond nearly an ounce in weight. Elated by this providential discovery, which at first they could scarcely believe to be real, yet hesitating between a dread of the rigorous laws relating to the diamonds, and a hope of regaining their liberty, they consulted a clergyman, who advised them to trust to the mercy of the State, and accompanied them to Villa Rica, where he procured them access to the governor. They threw themselves at his feet, and delivered to him the invaluable gem on which their hopes rested, relating all the circumstances connected with it. The governor, astonished at its magnitude, could not trust the evidence of his senses, but called the officers of the establishment to decide whether it was a diamond, who set the matter beyond all doubt. Being thus by the most strange and unforseen accident put in possession of the largest diamond ever found in America, he thought proper to suspend the sentence of the men as a reward for their having delivered it to him. The gem was sent to Rio de Janeiro, from whence a frigate was dispatched with it to Lisbon, whither the clergyman was also sent to make the proper representations respecting it. The sovereign confirmed the pardon of the delinquents, and bestowed some preferment on the holy father."

This famous stone, which has been valued by Rome Delisle at no less than 300 millions sterling, is said to be about the size of a goose's egg, and its weight is usually estimated at 1,680 carats, which at the rate of 150 carats to the ounce, would make rather over 11 oz. M. Ferry makes it weigh 1,730 carats; and Emanuel as much as 1,880, though this figure may probably be a misprint for 1,680. Still, the lowest of these estimates is immensely in excess of Mawe's calculation that it weighs only "seven-eighths of an ounce." Mawe is here, however, inconsistent with himself, for a stone of this size could not be described as "perhaps the largest diamond in the world."

In his "Memoir on the Diamond," Murray supplies some further interesting particulars. He tells us that "it remains still uncut, but Don John VI. had a hole drilled through it, and it was suspended to his neck on gala days." Murray was not aware whether it was still among the crown jewels given up by Miguel, or had been previously pledged to carry on the war against the French. For this latter report, current in Murray's time, there seems to be no foundation, and according to all recent authorities the stone would appear never to have been removed from the Portuguese treasury, where it is jealously guarded against all inquisitive sight-seers. For obvious financial motives, the Government is naturally anxious that, whatever be its true character, it should continue to be regarded as a genuine diamond. On this point the strongest doubts have always been entertained, and Murray tells us that, "Mr. Mawe, who had attentively examined it, informed me that he considered it to be a 'Nova Mina,' or white topaz, and not a diamond."

This passage presents considerable difficulty, for Mawe nowhere says he had ever even seen, much less examined, the stone; nor is it easy to understand how he could have had the opportunity of doing so. Indeed his description of it as a "white topaz" would seem to imply that he never set eyes on this gem, at least if Barbot is correct in describing it as "d'une couleur jaune fonce."

This is very far from being the only discrepancy in the current accounts of the Braganza. Barbot himself tells us that it was found, not by three banished criminals, but by a slave, who, therefore, received his liberty, and, "une pension viagere pour lui et la famille." He adds that it is the shape of a pea, and, "might be about the size of a hen's egg;" while Liebig reduces its weight to 95 carats. Authorities are equally at variance as to the date of its discovery, which Kluge says was in 1741, Murray about 1764, and others, with Mawe, more correctly, about 1797. In the same way, the locality where it was found is stated by Mawe to have been the bed of the river Abaite, when it had run partly dry; whereas Jones, says that it was extracted from the mine of Caetha Mirim in 1741. Lastly Jones himself splits this very stone into two, one of which he calls the "Braganza," the other the "Abaite," and finds a history for each. Of the former he says that it was extracted from the mine of Caetha Mirim in 1741, and that it was worn by Don Joao VI., who had a passion for precious stones, of which he owned about L 3,000,000 worth. Of the latter he writes that it "was found in 1791, and the circumstances of its discovery was related by Mawe and others. Three men, convicted of capital offences, Antonio de Sousa, Jose Feliz Gomez, and Thomas de Sousa, were exiled to the far west of Minas, and forbidden, under pain of death, to enter a city, wandered about for some six years, braving cannibals and wild beasts, in search of treasure. Whilst washing for gold in the Abaite river, which was then exceptionally dry, they discovered this diamond weighing nearly an ounce (576 grains=144 carats). They trusted to a priest who, despite the severe laws against diamond washers, led them to Villa Rica, and submitted the stone to the governor of Minas, whose doubts were dissipated by a special commission. The priest obtained several privileges, and the malefactors their pardon, no other reward being mentioned."

It will be noticed at once that this story relates not, as here stated, to a diamond weighing 144 carats, but to the stone Jones has already spoken of under the name of Braganza, weighing 1,680 carats. It is obvious that two stories, relating to two distinct gems have got mixed up together by careless writers, copying from each other, each repeating or adding to the errors made by his predecessors, and all carefully avoiding the trouble involved in the consultation of the original authorities. The subjoined passage from Milliet de Saint Adolphe makes it perfectly clear that the Braganza and the Abaite are one and the same stone, and identical with what the writer calls the "Regent," because brought to Lisbon during the regency of John VI. This circumstance also fixes the date of its discovery at about the year 1798; for John was appointed Regent in 1799, when his mother Maria I. lost her reason. Speaking of the river Abaite, which rises in the Mata da Corda mountains, and flows through the province of Minas-Geraes, for 40 leagues north-east to the left bank of the Sao-Francisco, 12 leagues below the mouth of the Andaia, the writer observes: "It was in this river that was found by three convicts, condemned to perpetual exile, the diamond of the Portuguese crown called the 'Regent.' The parish priest of the place to whom the criminals showed it, took it in person to the Governor of Minas-Geraes in 1800, and interceded for those unhappy persons. The governor sent the diamond to Lisbon, and the Prince Regent, afterwards Don Joao VI., pardoned the condemned criminals." The circumstances here briefly recapitulated show conclusively that the writer is speaking of the same diamond that Mawe describes as weighing 1,680 carats. Consequently to this and to no other belongs the story of the three convicts. It also appears from this statement that the "Braganza" and "Regent of Portugal," usually regarded as two distinct gems, are really one and the same stone. Else we shall have to believe that two exceptionally large stones were found in Brazil under exactly similar circumstances, that is by three criminals, banished to perpetual exile, and who thereupon received their pardon.

Murray tells us on the authority of a Mr. Magellan, that "a fragment was broken off from it by the ignorance of the person who found it, having struck it a blow with a hammer." This was the old rough-and-ready method of testing stones, the nature of which was not obvious at first sight. It was supposed that true diamonds resisted the heaviest blows of the hammer, whereas it is now well-ascertained that they are easily split by cleavage. Hence the circumstance here mentioned would not of itself imply that this stone was not a real diamond. At the same time it is not at all certain that Magellan referred to the Abaite stone, which was found not by a person, as here stated, but by three criminals, as in Mawe's account.

With regard to its value, Murray, rejecting Rome Delisle's preposterous estimate of 300 millions sterling, considers that "according to the method of calculation by Jeffries," its value will be, in its present form, L 5,644,800. But no price at all can be set upon a stone which is still in the rough state, and regarding the true character of which the greatest uncertainty prevails.

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