The Orlov, a rare rose-cut gem, described by some as being shaped like half of a pigeon’s egg, has been the target of thieves for centuries. It is also the fourth in our Famous Diamonds series.

There is very little known about the origin of the famous gem, other than it may have originated in India before arriving at its current resting place–the Imperial Scepter, part of the crown jewels of Russia.

According to one legend recounted by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the diamond was taken from the temple of Srirangam in Mysore. Some stories say that it had been stolen from the temple by a deserter of the French army in the 1700s. Others contend that it belonged to Nader Shah, king of Persia, and was stolen following his assassination in 1747.

The Orlov was said to have been pried from the eye of an idol in India in the 1700s by a deserter from the French army. - M. Nachinkin, courtesy RIA Novosti

The Orlov was said to have been pried from the eye of an idol in India in the 1700s by a deserter from the French army. – M. Nachinkin, courtesy RIA Novosti

Its documented history begins in 1774 when it was purchased by Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov as a gift for his lover, Empress Catherine II, otherwise known as Catherine the Great. While the gift was unsuccessful in maintaining Catherine’s affection for him, his name will forever be associated with one of the greatest diamonds in the world.

Because the diamond is mounted, it has not been accurately weighed. It is thought to be approximately 190 carats, and is now the centerpiece of the Imperial Scepter. As part of Russia’s Diamond Fund (which contains the tsarist regalia) in Moscow, it is one of the few crown jewels of Russia not sold off to support the country’s struggling economy post-1929.
Learn about the The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, Cullinan II, and Koh-i-noor, all part of our famous diamonds series.