Grigory Orlov was a dashing officer from a Russian aristocratic family. The Grand Duchess Catherine Alexeievna fell in love with him. Both mistrusted and beloved by the reigning Empress Elizabeth, neglected by her husband the Grand Duke Peter heir to the throne, isolated in a Court where she knew few people, she was in a dire situation. Situation that only worsened when the Empress died and her husband ascended to the throne. This German Germanophile to the bones, feeble minded, alarmingly incompetent, wanted to divorce her to marry his mistress.
Consequently, Catherine called her lover Grigory to the rescue. All those years, they had entertained a steamy liaison, which had even produced one or two bastards. Grigory did not think twice. Him and his brother Alexis organised a military coup to overthrow Emperor Peter and place Catherine on the throne. This woman of exceptional stature, with limitless intelligence and audacity, was well on her way to become the unforgettable Catherine the Great.
Soon after Catherine’s ascension to the throne, Grigory organised the assassination of former Tsar Peter III, the husband of Catherine. Did Catherine order it as everyone accused her of doing? Not so sure. Thus, Grigory was the all-powerful favourite, but the empress was fickle, she loved handsome men. Grigory was quickly replaced. There was one, two, three, many successors. Of course, the empress covered him in gifts and honours, but he was no longer the favourite.
Then, one day, he got word that in Amsterdam was being sold what was at the time the biggest diamond of the world, 199 carats. Legends on its origin ran wild. It was said to be the eye of an idol in a South Indian temple.
One night, a French deserter would have gotten himself locked in the temple, stolen the diamond, run away and sold it abroad for a laughable amount. The diamond had landed in Amsterdam, the biggest diamond market at the time. Grigory decided to buy it as a gift for the empress in the hopes that this fabulous gift restore him in the queen’s graces. Catherine II received the diamond, was amazed by it, and decided not to wear it but to have it set in the imperial sceptre. She had accepted the present but he had not regained her favour.
The diamonds, which now sparkled on the imperial sceptre, served for the coronation of all the tsars up to the last one. Nowadays, it is exhibited amongst the Jewels of the Crown at the Kremlin.