The Dresden Green Diamond: A Gem of History, Rarity, and Beauty
Dresden Green Diamond // Gruenes Gewoelbe, Straatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Carlo Boettger
The story of the Dresden Green Diamond is one steeped in history, science, and an aura of fascination that surrounds its existence. Among the pantheon of famous diamonds like the Hope Blue, Koh-i-Noor, and Cullinan, the Dresden Green stands out for its rare color, illustrious ownership history, and inherent gemological and geological features. This article will delve into the significant owners of this gem, its size, carat weight, and metals used in its setting, along with other captivating details that make it one of the most extraordinary diamonds in the world.
King Augustus III of Poland, 1755 // Pietro Antonio Rotari (Italian, 1701–1762). Oil on canvas, 108 x 86 cm. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (99/77). / Public-domain image via Wikimedia Commons
Augustus III of Poland, born Friedrich August II in Dresden, was the son of Augustus II the Strong. His reign spanned from 1734 until his death in 1763. Although he spent much of his reign in Saxony, he was also the elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Like his father, Augustus III was a patron of the arts, and his court was known for its cultural and artistic pursuits. However, his rule was marked by a certain detachment from political responsibilities, as he seemed more engaged with the luxuries and cultural aspects of his role than with its administrative and military obligations.
Augustus III purchased the Dresden Green Diamond in 1741 from a merchant at the Leipzig Fair. Under the ownership of Augustus III, the Dresden Green Diamond became a centerpiece of the Green Vaults in Dresden, a collection initiated by his father. The diamond was maintained as an object of royal pride and cultural significance. Like Augustus II, Augustus III was a collector in his own right, adding to the Wettin family’s trove of jewels, paintings, and sculptures. While his reign may not have been as politically significant as that of his father, he continued the family tradition of being patrons of art and beauty. The Green Vaults flourished under his watch, and the Dresden Green Diamond remained one of its most prized possessions.
Clearly recognizing the diamond's exceptional qualities, Augustus II wasted no time in having it integrated into a badge for the Order of the Golden Fleece, a highly esteemed European chivalric order at the time. This was executed by his court jeweler, Johann Friedrich Dinglinger. Exclusive to Catholic nobility and princes, the Order's insignia bestowed considerable prestige upon its wearers. Being a member, Augustus II had the privilege to commission jeweled renditions of the Order's emblem, which traditionally featured a ram's skin hanging from a bunch of flames.
The Dresden Green Diamond has been linked to the Wettin dynasty, the noble family that ruled the state of Saxony in various capacities for almost a millennium. This gem has graced the collections of a lineage of Electors and Kings, each contributing to its storied history.
Lineage of Saxon Royal Family Owners
Augustus III of Poland (1696–1763) – The son of Augustus II, Augustus III was also King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Under his rule, the diamond became an important part of the Green Vaults, contributing to the cultural richness that characterized the Saxon court.
Frederick Augustus I (1750–1827) – He served as the Elector of Saxony and later became its first king when Saxony was elevated to a kingdom. During his reign, Saxony endured the impact of the Napoleonic Wars, but the diamond remained safely stored.
Anthony of Saxony (1755–1836) – Brother to Frederick Augustus I, Anthony assumed the throne after his elder sibling's death. The diamond remained an important part of the royal collections under his reign.
Frederick Augustus II (1797–1854) – Anthony's successor, Frederick Augustus II, oversaw a period of political and social changes. Nevertheless, the Dresden Green continued to be a symbol of the enduring Saxon cultural legacy.
John of Saxony (1801–1873) – Known for his intellectual pursuits, John maintained the importance of the Green Vaults and the diamond as cultural assets.
Albert of Saxony (1828–1902) – His reign was marked by industrial development, and the cultural heritage, including the diamond, was well preserved.
George of Saxony (1832–1904) – The brother of Albert, he succeeded him as King and the Dresden Green remained under the secure guardianship of the royal family.
Frederick Augustus III (1865–1932) – The last king of Saxony, he abdicated the throne following Germany’s defeat in World War I. However, even during these turbulent times, the diamond remained an untarnished symbol of royal Saxon heritage.
After the abolition of the monarchy, the Dresden Green Diamond became part of the State Art Collections in Dresden, where it was considered a cultural artifact rather than a symbol of royal power. However, the lineage of its Saxon royal owners adds a dimension of historical and cultural richness that elevates it beyond mere gemological interest. Each owner, in preserving the gem, also contributed to the narrative that makes the Dresden Green Diamond one of the most fascinating and storied gems in the world.
Soviet Union and Post-War Period
During World War II, the gem was looted by the Soviet Union. However, it was later returned to Dresden in 1958 and resumed its place as one of the most important artifacts in the Green Vaults.
The Dresden Green Diamond is owned by the State of Saxony, Germany. It is currently on display in the New Green Vault at Dresden Castle.
Size, Carat, and Metals Used
Size and Carat
Dresden Green Diamond // Gruenes Gewoelbe, Straatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Carlo Boettger
The Dresden Green Diamond is an exceptional stone weighing 40.70 carats. It's a Almond-shaped celadon-green diamond, and its dimensions, while not publicly disclosed in exact numbers, are proportionate for its carat weight. It is 160 grains (approx. 41 carats); with two round, brilliant-cut diamonds, one of 24 1/2 grains (approx. 6.28 carats), the other of unknown weight; and 411 medium to small diamonds.
Over the years, the diamond has been set in various types of metal settings. Originally, it was mounted onto the Golden Fleece Badge, a luxurious piece featuring gold and other precious stones. Currently, it is set in an ornate hat ornament made of gold and silver, approximately 5 1/2 x 2 in. (14.1 x 5 cm) in size.
The Story Behind the Diamond
The first written record of the diamond dates back to 1726. The diamond's exact origins are a subject of speculation. However, it is widely believed to have originated from the Golconda Mines in India, a source of some of the world's most famous diamonds, such as the Hope and Koh-i-Noor.
Historic Sale and Transfer
The first official mention of the gemstone in Dresden came through an inventory note, which detailed its purchase by the aforementioned Augustus III, who was a descendant of Johann Casimir through matrimony. The gem was bought from a London-based trader named Delles.
Although no formal documentation of the transaction's value exists, speculation about its cost began to circulate just a year after the acquisition. Frederick II of Prussia, commonly known as Frederick the Great, remarked in correspondence that the King of Poland had declined a request for heavy artillery for the siege of Brünn, the Moravian capital, citing financial constraints. He had recently disbursed 400,000 thaler for a sizeable green diamond, a sum that would have been the equivalent of approximately four tons of gold at that time.
When acquired by Augustus III from Delles, the diamond had already been given its unique cut, which it maintains to this day. The artisan altered a pear-shaped brilliant cut to emphasize its unique green hue, resulting in a gem that is particularly thick at its core.
The Dresden Green Diamond has not only served as a token of wealth and power but has also been used in various scientific studies to examine the properties of natural green diamonds, setting it apart as an object of both beauty and scientific curiosity.
The Dresden Green Diamond has a rare natural green color, which is extremely uncommon in diamonds. The green hue is due to natural radiation exposure over millions of years, which affected the diamond at the atomic level.
Clarity and Cut
The diamond has a Type IIa clarity, meaning it contains little or no nitrogen impurities and no inclusions visible to the naked eye, making it nearly flawless. The almond-shaped cut optimizes its brilliance and showcases its unique color.
Like many diamonds, the Dresden Green was likely formed deep within the Earth's mantle under extreme pressure and temperature. It was then carried towards the Earth's surface through volcanic activity. What sets it apart is its exposure to natural radiation in the Earth's crust, which gave it its unique green hue.
Determining the exact monetary value of the Dresden Green Diamond is difficult due to its historical, scientific, and aesthetic importance. However, it is certainly valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars range, considering similar unique gems' auction prices.
The Dresden Green Diamond is not merely a stone; it is a piece of world history, a scientific marvel, and a symbol of the endless pursuit of beauty and knowledge. From its royal history to its captivating color and perfect clarity, it remains a subject of fascination for gemologists, historians, and admirers of fine jewels alike.
Capturing the essence of this extraordinary gem within the confines of an article is challenging, but it suffices to say that the Dresden Green Diamond has lived multiple lives—as a royal ornament, a war spoil, a scientific subject, and an artifact of immeasurable value—each of which contributes to its awe-inspiring story. Whether housed in the opulent Green Vaults or showcased in exhibitions around the world, it continues to be a testament to the marvels of nature and the heights of human achievement.