Family Feud

04.18.13

Whose $40 Million Diamond Is It? An Italian Family Feud

The beautiful pink ‘Princie’ diamond just fetched a record haul at Christie's. The only problem: a squabbling clan of Italians who claim the gem is theirs. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

If you’ve just spent $40 million on a diamond, you probably want to know where the rock has been.

Unfortunately in the case of the 34-carat pink “Princie” diamond, which fetched a record $39,323,750 at a Christie’s auction in New York on Tuesday, the story is nowhere near as clear as the gem itself. So while its anonymous buyer enjoys his new gem, an Italian court is combing through claims of secret sons, a hidden polyandrous marriage, and a mysterious Swiss sale in an effort to find out if the rightful owner has been robbed.

Some facts are clear. The Princie, named after the 14-year-old Prince of Baroda, came from the ancient mines of Golconda, in south central India, some 300 years ago. It was passed down the line of Indian rulers until the 1930s, when it came to Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last nizam of Hyderabad, a powerful ruler who had 149 children and was deemed the richest man in the world at the time. (He famously gave Queen Elizabeth II a collection of lesser diamonds from his jewelry cache as a prenuptial gift.)

In the 1940s, around the time of India’s independence, the nizam ceded power, and his funds grew short. By the next decade, he was selling off assets, including the Princie, through Sotheby’s, where the rare gem was simply listed as “Property of a Gentleman.” An unidentified buyer snapped it up from the Paris jeweler who bought it on the Sotheby’s auction.

That’s where things get sketchy. The diamond practically vanished after leaving Paris, never seen again until it appeared on Christie’s sale bill this month—attached to an anonymous consignor.

Where was the Princie hiding all those years? According to Candida Morvillo, an investigative journalist for the Italian magazine Io Donna, the diamond was in the possession of Renato Angiolillo, a prominent Italian senator and founder of the newspaper Il Tempo. The trouble is that Angiolillo’s heirs say the rock still belongs to them. They also claim not to know how it ended up on the auction block—and now they’re squabbling over the gem amongst themselves, digging up some ugly family skeletons in the process.

Making things difficult is that Angiolillo’s life was quite complicated, and so were the lives of his consorts. His second wife, Maria Girani, became the diamond’s legal owner in 1960 when the two married. Girani was a notable socialite known around Rome as the “queen of the parlor,” with friends including high-ranking politicians, cardinals, and industrialists.

When Girani died in 2009, everyone thought the diamond would be hidden in her belongings—but it wasn’t there.

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His Exalted Highness, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, is pictured in an undated photo wearing his jubilee robes. (AP)
Once Udo Jr. realized his lineage, he also wanted in on the inheritance.

That’s when the family feud heated up. Under the inheritance laws of Italy, Girani, as the second wife, was supposed to hand the family jewels down to the heirs of her husband’s first wife. But, according to Morvillo, she didn’t. Instead, she wanted her own children to have the treasure. She also had her own secrets to keep. When Girani married Angiolillo in 1960, she was still married to Udo Frank de Beurges, whom she divorced officially in 1962, making her polyandrous because she had two husbands at the same time. But Girani’s bigger secret was that she not only had an illegitimate son, Marco Bianchi Milella, from a teenage relationship, but also a secret son, Udo Jr., from another relationship before she married de Beurges. Udo Jr., whose existence was also discovered by Morvillo, lives in South Africa, where he grew up with Girani’s first husband under the assumption that he was an orphan.

Once Udo Jr. realized his lineage, he also wanted in on the inheritance.

Before the Princie showed up on the Christie’s list, Udo Jr., Milella, and the Angiolillo heirs had already filed a complaint over the magnificent diamond in the region of Campobasso in southern Italy. Luigi Iosa, the lawyer for the Angiolillo heirs, petitioned Christie’s before the April 16 sale to try to stop the diamond from being auctioned. “The Angiolillo heirs asked Christie’s the origin of the stone,” Morvillo told The Daily Beast, “and they were answered by letter on April 10 confirming the stone was the same.”

But they weren’t able to halt the sale—Christie’s now says the current consigner of the diamond was not affiliated with the Angiolillo family at all. When contacted by The Daily Beast before the auction on Tuesday, a spokesperson said that as a matter of practice, Christie’s does not disclose the identity of consignors. “However in this particular case and after consultation with our consignor, we can confirm that our consignor is not a member of either branch of the Angiolillo family, as has been suggested in a media report. The consignor is a bona fide purchaser who acquired the pink diamond several years ago in an arm's-length transaction for a significant sum and now maintains full and clear title to the stone.”

So who sold the diamond? Maria Girani may have taken even more secrets to her grave.

Now Fabio Papa, the prosecuting judge investigating the case, is considering what to do. Iosa would like to request that the funds from the sale be sequestered until the inheritance matter is solved under the Italian judicial system, but that could take years. And because the current consignor bought the Princie “in good faith” under a secret deal brokered in Switzerland, there is no proof of wrong doing. But there is still plenty to learn, especially who sold the Angiolillo diamond to the last owner, and where that money went. Movillo is still investigating the trail of the mysterious diamond, and how it went from being an asset in one of Italy’s most important families to an auction block in New York.

Morvillo says Angiolillo’s son Amedeo told her that his father bought the diamond in Paris. “My father bought the diamond in the ‘60s. He had lost a lot of money at the casino in Monte Carlo, about 700 or 800 million  lire,” he told Morvillo. “My father wanted to prove that they are still rich and solid, so he bought that diamond.” 

No doubt the current owner of one of the most important diamonds in the world would also like to know the whole story.