What the Koh-i-noor Really Represents

As South Asians worldwide clamor for the diamond’s return, they risk losing something far more critical.

Sanchita Kedia

September 19, 2022

What the Koh-i-noor Really Represents
The Crown Of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1937) made of platinum and containing the famous Koh-i-noor diamond. (Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Throughout its long and storied history, many desired the Koh-i-noor diamond, but according to ancient Hindu texts, the treasure came with a curse: “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only a God, or a woman, may wear it with impunity.” Many sovereigns — including Shah Jahan, Nader Shah, and Ranjit Singh — have worn the stone and later lost their territory and their lives. Since at least 1887, various female members of the British royal family have worn the feted diamond, which currently features in The Queen Mother’s Crown, a crown that often makes an appearance during coronations.

The Koh-i-noor — one of the world’s largest and the most expensive diamond — demands attention. Even when set amid clusters of diamonds and placed atop royalty, the 105.6-carat shallow oval sparkles as if it has its own spotlight. The estimated value of the diamond is anywhere from $200 million to $591 million. But the Koh-i-noor’s value goes beyond dollars. 

The Crown Jewels, part of the Royal Collection, are “the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy.” With shifting attitudes toward the royal family and Britain’s colonial past, these riches, and specifically the Koh-i-noor, have come to symbolize the wealth the British stole from its colonies. Within hours of Queen Elizabeth II’s death on September 8, several social media users demanded the British return the Koh-i-noor to its rightful owners — but who that is remains a heated source of debate.