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It has been too long since we had a post about mollusks.  Am I running out of material about these exquisite invertebrates?  To make up for the absence here is a short sweet visual post.  This is the Empress Crown of Iran.  It was manufactured in 1967 by the French jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels (who had to send a team to Iran to construct the piece).  The crown is made of jewels from the Iranian treasury (which was apparently full of exquisite Baroque pearls).  To my eye it may be the loveliest extant crown: apparently I am a Van Cleef & Arpels fan—an enthusiasm which has found little to no outlet in my life (Seriously, I thought that was the bad guy in Clint Eastwood moves).  The shapes and colors are exquisitely suited to each other in a way which echoes the best of ancient Persian art (more about Persian art shortly).  In a very real way, however, the crown does not echo ancient Persian thought. Consorts of the Iranian monarch were uncrowned throughout history—up until 1967.  The Shah wanted to make his marriage a part of the so-called “White Revolution”—a series of reforms to break the hold that reactionary clerics and nobles held on society.  One of the main aims of the White Revolution was to enfranchise women—and so the Shah wanted a bride who was more equal than were the wives of Qajar rulers.  Alas, the unexpected and unintended consequences of the White Revolution wound up casting long shadows over Iran.  Historians broadly assert that it upset the wealthy elites without greatly benefiting the poor or providing additional political freedoms and thus paved the way for the mullah’s revolution (as an aside, maybe we are lucky in America that Bernie Sander’s revolution crashed and berned, er, burned). Anyway whatever the case is about agrarian and business reforms, the Shah’s ideas at least led to the creation of this amazing crown for Farah Pahlavi, the first (and last) empress of Iran.

Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

The Noor-ul-Ain is a giant pink diamond which is mounted in a tiara of the same name currently in the possession of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is believed that the Noor-ul-Ain diamond was once part of a vast Indian diamond named “the Great Table” which was embedded in the throne of the greatest Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled India in the middle of the seventeenth century. When the Mughal dynasty withered and came apart a century later, the Persian shah Nāder Shāh Afshār looted and ransacked Dehli. Evidence strongly suggests that the Shah took the Great Table diamond and it was subsequently cut into two giant pink diamonds which became part of the Iranian treasury.

In 1958, the diamond was selected to be made into a wedding tiara for Farah Pahlavi (who became empress of Iran when she was wed to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the famous shah of Iran). The great American jeweler Harry Winston designed this ornate tiara.

A gray-tufted monkey traveled to the edge of space according to Iranian media

A gray-tufted monkey traveled to the edge of space according to Iranian media

Today’s post concerns various contemporary news items regarding outer space.  At first this list may seem like a bit of a mash-up, but it all comes together as a very specific polemical point.

This year has already featured a lot of space news, but, sadly, most of it seems like it could have come from the 1950s. Iran launched a monkey to the edge of outer space. South Korea placed its first satellite in orbit (which seems like a response to North Korea doing the same thing last year).

South Korea's rocket lifts off from its launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea

South Korea’s rocket lifts off from its launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea

In US space news, the 27th anniversary of the Challenger disaster came and went (that was an epically bad day in 6th grade–which was hardly a picnic anyway).  Additionally, America announced that its biggest space plans for the near future include landing a redundant lander on Mars which was not exactly what NASA wanted but it fit the budget and was politically expedient.  Our not-very-exciting work on our not-very-exciting next generation rockets continues slowly.


Finally, in other space-related news, paleontologists discovered that a massive space event apparently bombarded the Earth with Gamma rays in the 8th century.  Astronomers speculate that two neutron stars might have collided!  Also on February 15th a 50 meter asteroid will narrowly miss the Earth (flying by closer than many of our communication satellites).

All of this paints a rather alarming picture of a turbulent and dangerous universe where catastrophic events can occur with little notice.  Meanwhile on Earth dangerous rogue nations (not you, South Korea, we like your style) are venturing into strategically important low Earth orbit.  NASA’s current large-scale projects are lackluster (although its robotic exploration of the solar system continues to be exemplary).  Are we discarding our leadership position in space because of debt, political paralysis, and complacency?  It certainly seems like it…

The Pahlavi Crown

The Pahlavi Crown was the crown of the Shahs of Iran.  It is a particularly opulent and over-the-top crown crafted for the coronation of Reza Shah on 25 April 1926. To quote Wikipedia, “A staggering 3,380 diamonds, totaling 1,144 carats (229 g), are set into the object. The largest of these is a 60-carat (12 g) yellow brilliant which is centrally placed in a sunburst of white diamonds. Found in three rows are 369 nearly identical natural white pearls. The crown also contains five sizable emeralds (totaling 200 carats (40 g)), the largest of which is approximately 100 carats.”

The Pahlavi Crown was based on the already fairly gaudy Kiani Crown which had served as the coronation crown for the rulers of the supplanted Qajar dynasty (who ruled Iran from 1796–1925).  Both crowns are based on headresses from the pre-Islamic Sassanid Empire.  They were also both made out of jewels already in the royal collection—the majority of which was obtained by the great plundering conquerors of the Safavid dynasty (1502 to 1736 AD).

The Kiani Crown

The first Pahlavi shah transferred ownership of the crown jewels from the throne to the state.  The treasures have since been used by the Central Bank of Iran to back the national monetary system.  Although the crown jewels could be said to undermine the current Islamist revolutionary government of Iran–by providing unmistakable evidence of the splendor and wealth of Iran’s monarchical past–the revolutionary government has been displaying the most valuable pieces to the public since the 1990s.  This is probably because the jewels, obtained by ancient conquerors, still provide a crucial underpinning to the moneys circulated by the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A standard bearer of the Safavid army proudly holds his flag while keeping an eye open for plunder.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

June 2023