Queen Consort Camilla rejects controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond for crown

Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort visit Brick Lane in east London, Wednesday Feb. 8, 2023
Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort visit Brick Lane in east London, Wednesday Feb. 8, 2023   -  Copyright  Eddie Mulholland/AP
By Saskia O'Donoghue

The Queen Consort Camilla has avoided a potential diplomatic row over a contentious diamond, which has been a staple of the British Crown Jewels for nearly 175 years.

She is set to be crowned alongside her husband, King Charles III on 6 May, but the diamond - the Koh-i-Noor - has been plagued with disputed ownership claims and is seen by some as a spoil of Britain’s often controversial colonialist past.

The diamond was first found in India’s Kollur mine and was mentioned as early as the 14th century, in a diary entry made by Alauddin Khalji, an emperor who ruled over the Delhi Sultanate.

The Koh-i-Noor, one of the largest diamonds in the world, weighing in at 21.12 grams, has been owned by multiple Indian emperors, but was acquired by the British Empire as a result of the conquest of India. It was surrendered to Queen Victoria in 1849 and has remained a significant part of the British Crown Jewels since then.

The Koh-i-noor, or "mountain of light," diamond, set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown made for Britain's late Queen Mother ElizabethALASTAIR GRANT/AP1952

After Queen Elizabeth II’s death last September, the Indian government raised concerns over the British monarchy’s use of the diamond, saying some Indians associate it with oppressive rule and called on Camilla not to use the Koh-i-Noor at the coronation.

While India remains an important part of the British commonwealth, the political association is a pressing issue for Charles III. In 2021, Barbados removed the Queen as its head of state and left the Commonwealth. Other Caribbean nations are believed to be considering doing the same.

The controversial diamond was first put into the coronation crown of Queen Elizabeth’s mother in 1937 but Camilla will instead wear Queen Mary’s headpiece; which she wore in 1911 at the coronation of her husband King George V, who was Charles’ great-grandfather.

Camilla is breaking with the tradition of recent queen consorts by not choosing to have a new crown made especially for her coronation. The reasons given for this decision were said to be of efficiency and sustainability.

Buckingham Palace says Queen Mary’s crown has been removed from display at the Tower of London, home of the Crown Jewels, and will be reset with diamonds from Queen Elizabeth’s personal collection, including the Cullinan III, IV and V. The palace says the crown will reflect Camilla’s ‘individual style’.

Although it’s thought Queen Elizabeth never wore the diamond during her 70-year reign, there have been calls for the gem to be restored to India since the country became independent in 1947. However, as recently as 2016, the country’s former Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said he believed that Britain’s ownership of the diamond is legitimate - a point that drew criticism from Indian leaders - so the future of the Koh-i-Noor is still very much up for discussion.