Curse of the 'Eye of Brahma' comes to London

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The Independent Online

The so-called Black Orlov or "Eye of Brahma" stone is taking its place alongside other world-famous gems including the De Beers Millennium Star and the Steinmetz Pink in an exhibition on diamonds at the Natural History Museum in London.

The show has provoked controversy after claimsthat Kalahari Bushmen in Botswana were being forcibly removed from their lands for diamond mining. De Beers, the diamond giant which is sponsoring the exhibition, has denied the allegations.

The Black Orlov is being lent as a late addition to the exhibition by Dennis Petimezas, a diamond dealer from Pennsylvania, who bought it for an unspecified sum last year. "I saw an image of the Black Orlov about 30 years ago in California, where I was studying. It was the first time I had seen a black diamond and I became enamoured of it. I was captivated by it," he said.

"I always read anything about it when its name cropped up and about a year and a half ago, I was visiting a colleague and, lo and behold, it was on his desk." He persuaded his friend to contact the owner who, after six months of negotiations, agreed to sell.

The diamond was discovered in India in the early 1800s, when it weighed 195 carats. It was allegedly cursed - as were all its future owners - when a monk removed the gem from the eye of the idol of Brahma at a shrine near Pondicherry in India.

At least three former owners have apparently killed themselves. In 1932, J W Paris, the diamond dealer who imported the stone to the United States, jumped to his death from one of New York's tallest buildings shortly after concluding the sale of the jewel. And 15 years later, a pair ofRussian princesses, Nadia Vyegin-Orlov and Leonila Galitsine-Bariatinsky, leapt to their deaths within a month of each other.

In an attempt to escape the curse, the diamond was re-cut into three separate stones, which have since been in the possession of a succession of private owners. The 67.5car stone known today as the Black Orlov is set in a 108-diamond brooch suspended from a 124-diamond necklace. When the diamonds exhibition closes in February, the necklace will travel to California where a star, whom Mr Petimezas refused to name, will wear it to the 2006 Oscars ceremony.

Mr Petimezassaid yesterday he had never felt nervous about owning the stone as there had been no trouble associated with it for half a century. "I've spent the past year trying to discover everything I can about the stone's melodramatic history and I'm pretty confident that the curse is broken."

Black diamonds are very rare and get their colour from the presence of tiny mineral traces, mainly the iron-oxide minerals magnetite and haematite. Only one in 10,000 diamonds mined is coloured.

But the diamond business attracts controversy, not least because the expensive stones are mined in some of the world's poorest countries. Although the protest group Survival International has claimed that Kalahari Bushmen are being moved to allow mining to proceed, some non-governmental organisations in Africa have questioned its right to speak for the Bushmen.