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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.

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.

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