LONDON — It is one of history’s most celebrated diamonds — and one of its most fiercely contested. Taken from an 11-year-old Indian prince in the 1840s and presented to Queen Victoria, the Koh-i-Noor has long been a glittering jewel in British crowns — and, to many, a lingering symbol of British colonial larceny.
With Buckingham Palace dusting off its baubles for the coronation of King Charles III in May, the Koh-i-Noor seemed at risk of kicking off another dispute, this time over whether Camilla, the queen consort, would wear it in her crown.
On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace sidestepped a diplomatic clash with the Indian government by announcing that Camilla would not wear the 105.6-carat Koh-i-Noor, one of the world’s largest cut diamonds.
That diamond is set in a crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, who used it for her coronation in 1937 as queen consort to King George VI, though it had previously been used in other settings. At King Charles’s coronation, the palace said, Camilla will wear a crown that belonged to Queen Mary, the queen consort from 1910 to 1936, which does not feature the Koh-i-Noor.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September, social media accounts in India raised the prospect of the Koh-i-Noor diamond figuring in another coronation ceremony. A spokesman for the political party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Daily Telegraph that the “coronation of Camilla and the use of the crown jewel Koh-i-Noor brings back painful memories of the colonial past.”
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Previous Indian governments have lobbied for the return of the diamond, which is kept, along with other crown jewels, in the Tower of London. Visitors from India and Pakistan are known to mutter about it being stolen as they view it behind glass. But in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that the Koh-i-Noor, which translates as Mountain of Light, would “stay put” in Britain.
Still, Buckingham Palace is showing sensitivity about a range of other issues surrounding the coronation, from the extravagance of the festivities during a cost-of-living crisis, to the role of Charles as the defender of the Church of England when he is interested in protecting freedom of worship for people of many faiths.
“The Koh-i-Noor is a real, serious sticking point,” Lauren Kiehna, a writer and historian on royal jewelry wrote in October on her blog, the Court Jeweller. “I would imagine that Charles and Camilla would be keen to avoid additional criticism when possible, and Charles particularly has always seemed sensitive to the fact that jewels can carry significant symbolism.”
In its announcement, the palace cast the selection of crowns for Camilla in economic, rather than cultural, terms.
“The choice of Queen Mary’s crown by her majesty is the first time in recent history that an existing crown will be used for the coronation of a consort instead of a new commission being made, in the interests of sustainability and efficiency,” the palace said, making no direct reference to the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
Queen Mary’s crown, the palace said, has been removed from the Tower to be refurbished for the coronation. It will be reset with three Cullinan diamonds — somewhat less enormous gems cut from a stone mined in South Africa — that were part of the collection of Queen Elizabeth, who often wore them as brooches.
Even beyond the Koh-i-Noor, relations between Britain and India have been tricky in recent weeks. India recently overtook Britain as the world’s fifth-largest economy. The two governments are in intense negotiations over a trade agreement, which British officials said they hope to conclude in 2023.
But Indian tax authorities recently searched the offices of the BBC in New Delhi and Mumbai, a few weeks after it aired a documentary in Britain that was critical of Mr. Modi. Indian officials condemned the film, which explored Mr. Modi’s role in violence outbreaks in Gujarat Province in 2002, as “hostile propaganda.”