Under the Mahratta Power--"Gifts of the gods"--A Present to the East India Company--Reminiscences of a Royal Birthday--Re-cut by Order of the Marquis of Westminster.
The town of Nassak, variously written Nassac, Nassik, Nasik, Nessuck, &c., lies on the Upper Godavery, 95 miles by rail north-east of Bombay. In the neighbourhood are some famous cave-temples, and in the days of the Mahratta ascendancy, this town was a noted place of pilgrimage, annually resorted to by thousands of devotees. The offerings of these worshippers of Shiva, the presiding genius of the district, caused here, as elsewhere, throughout the peninsula, a gradual accumulation of vast treasures in the local shrines. While the Mahratta power flourished, these treasures were respected, but when they fell upon evil days, the Peishwas, nominal heads of the great confederacy, helped themselves freely to the "gifts of the gods," thereby acquiring the means to carry on their incessant wars against rival chiefs, and finally against the all-absorbing "Company Bahadur." When Bajerow, the last independent Peishwa, surrendered to the British in the last Mahratta war of 1818, his baggage became the "loot" of the conquerors. Amongst the prizes of war seized on that occasion, was this diamond, which the Peishwa had already taken from the temple of Shiva, in Nassak, and which was thence known as the "Nassak" Diamond. It had been concealed by his orders, but was brought to light by Colonel J. Briggs, who forthwith handed it over to the Marquis of Hastings, under whom the combined operations against the Peishwa had been conducted. By him it was presented to the East India Company, but was ultimately given up, and formed part of the booty, being at the time valued at pound 30,000. It was thus brought to the London market, in the year 1818, and soon afterwards sold by the East India Company to Messrs. Rundell and Bridge. Mawe, who had the opportunity of seeing it, describes it as "a diamond of great purity, but of a bad form." He gives its weight as 79 carats and 2 grains, (the 79 being an obvious misprint for 89), and adds that "its form is triangular, and it is cut and polished, so as to retain the greatest possible weight. But it exhibits none of the qualities which it would so proudly display, if it had been well proportioned."
When it reached Europe the "Nassak," which had been badly cut in India, presented very much the form and appearance of the "Koh-i-Nur," the native cutter having, as usual, sacrificed everything to size. Hence, when Messrs. Rundell became the owners, they found it desirable to have it re-cut, and in doing so they pursued a very wise course. By instructing the artist to keep as closely as possible to the traces of the Hindu cutter, "amending his defects, and accommodating the pattern to the exigencies of the subject matter, they transformed the rudely-facetted, lustreless mass into a diamond of perfect brilliancy, at the sacrifice of no more than 10 per cent. of its original weight."
The thread of the history is then taken up by Murray, who tells us that "it has remained for ten years in the possession of Rundell & Bridge, and was disposed of by public sale in London in July, 1831, for the sum of pound 7,200 to Emanuel Brothers. Its weight is stated to be 89 3/4 carats. The amount realized by the sale of the 'Nassak' diamond scarcely amounted to one-third of its previously estimated amount."
It was in the month of August, 1837, that the "Nassak" and a number of other costly gems were put up to sale, by Messrs. Emanuel in Willis's Lower Room, King Street, St. James's. The "Nassak," and the diamond earrings, presented by the Nabob of Arcot to Queen Charlotte, together with the brilliant brooch purchased by Emanuel from Bevis Marks, were knocked down to the Marquis of Westminster, who presented the earrings and brooch to the Marchioness as a birthday present.
At the Drawing Room on Queen Victoria's birthday, immediately succeeding her accession to the British throne, the Marquis of Westminster wore the "Nassak" diamond on the hilt of his sword, and, "the Marchioness intended on the same occasion to have worn the 'Arcot' diamonds, but indisposition prevented her attendance."
We have seen that the "original weight" was 89 3/4 carats, and this was now reduced to 78 5/8 carats, a very slight sacrifice compared with the loss suffered by the "Koh-i-Nur', and some other Indian stones when re-cut in London or Amsterdam. Kluge says the re-cutting was executed "by order of the Marquis of Westminster." But this must be a mistake; for the operation, as already stated, was performed by Messrs. Rundell before the stone was put up to sale in July, 1837, and consequently before the Marquis had any control over it.
It gained so much in the lapidary's hands that this gem is now reputed to be worth from pound 25,000 to pound 30,000, and it must not be forgotten that the stone was sold when times were very bad and money scarce.
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Precious Stones Guide Vol 10
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