“Cursed” gemstones, beautiful emblems of famous love affairs, and symbols of dark histories – all these dazzling jewels have intriguing backstories, writes Daisy Woodward.

The iconic Koh-i-Noor diamond is just one of the famous jewels to be in the news recently – at the centre of a story about the upcoming coronation of King Charles. And last month, Kim Kardashian turned heads when she purchased a stand-out crucifix pendant, worn frequently by Diana, Princess of Wales, for the sizeable sum of £163,800. The US reality TV star, who also acquired Jackie Kennedy’s Cartier Tank watch in 2017, is said to be building a collection of jewellery that celebrates the women who have inspired her.

“An illustrious past can add huge value to a jewel, all the more so if that previous owner was extremely glamorous and had built a jewellery collection, like Princess Margaret or Elizabeth Taylor,” Helen Molesworth, curator of jewellery at London’s V&A, tells BBC Culture. Of course, a jewel is primarily valuable for its quality and aesthetic beauty, she notes, adding that “the jeweller who created it can add cachet if they’re a well-known designer”, but it’s most often a piece’s provenance that will define it as truly exceptional. Across time, a number of remarkable gemstones and exceptional jewellery designs have acquired histories that have rendered them indisputably iconic or downright infamous. From emblems of devout love to symbols of colonial conquest, from “cursed” diamonds to emboldened style choices – here we reveal the stories behind 10 of the world’s most legendary pieces of jewellery.

Kardashian’s eye-catching cross, with its square-cut amethysts offset by 5.2-carat diamonds, was created in the 1920s by London jeweller Garrard. The company was a firm favourite of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and the firm most notably designed her engagement ring. Yet the bejewelled pendant never actually belonged to Diana: it was lent to her on several occasions by its namesake Naim Attallah, Diana’s close friend and joint managing director of Asprey & Garrard at the time, who, according to his son, only ever allowed the princess to wear it. In Molesworth’s view, Kardashian is a fitting owner for the piece: “She’s a self-made woman, buying for herself: a great signal for class and gender equality in the commercial collecting world”.

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