Tower of London’s Crown Jewels: colonial diamonds overshadow reopened exhibition’s most interesting objects

The Tower of London’s Crown Jewel exhibition, which reopened in May, is a turning point in the museum’s narrative. As British institutions have increasingly made moves to investigate their connections to slavery, there has been a gradual acceptance of the complicated nature of the nation’s history, which does not sit comfortably in the binaries of good and bad, just and unjust or barbaric and kind.

The Crown Jewel exhibition showcases the effect of these changing narratives in its display of the Koh-i-noor and Cullinan diamonds.

Displayed as part of the museum’s larger collections of crowns, coronation regalia and other royal jewels dating from the middle ages, the two controversial diamonds are the key attractions of the exhibition. It explains how they originated in the colonies, travelled to Britain and were cut to be added to royal crowns.

The Koh-i-noor diamond has been the source of controversy for a long time, as south Asian nations, including India and Afghanistan, have demanded its reparation. This display marks the first time the Tower of London has explained the origins of the Koh-i-noor diamond, which is now presented as a “symbol of conquest”.

Because of its chequered path, mystery has surrounded the diamond for a long time and the exhibition attempts to dispel this, particularly the fact that the Koh-i-noor has sometimes been misrepresented as a gift.

The new Jewel House exhibition the Tower of London. Historic Royal Palaces

The History of the Koh-i-noor

Mined in Golconda, India, the Koh-i-noor has had many possessors, ranging from Mughals and Persians to Afghans and Sikhs. In 1849, the East India Company took the diamond from the treasury of the defeated ten-year-old king maharaja Duleep Singh. He had become the emperor of the Sikh empire in the Punjab after the demise of his father, Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The exhibition label now explains that “the 1849 Treaty ….

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