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The Most Creative (and Outrageous) Products Made with Diamonds - Diamond Headphones

Read all about who made a diamond headphone and who were the celebs who wore it. 

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Jules Porgès - SettingThe Diamond Industry On Tracks

In the past, during the early days of the modern diamond industry, financing was mainly about developing the core of the industry – diamond exploration, mine development, and consolidation. Another major difference is that key financing came from financiers. One such financier who played a pivotal role in setting the diamond industry on the tracks it is still running on was Jules Porgès.
There is no diamond industry without financing, an issue that is at the core of diamond trading activity today. The difficulties associated with financing today center mainly on bank-client relations. In the past, during the early days of the modern diamond industry, financing was mainly about developing the core of the industry – diamond exploration, mine development, and consolidation. Another major difference is that key financing came from financiers. One such financier who played a pivotal role in setting the diamond industry on the tracks it is still running on was Jules Porgès.

Very little is known about Porgès' early years, although he became a very prominent social and economic figure. Possibly, this is by his own design. He was born on May 25, 1839, in Vienna as Yehuda Porgès, the son of a master jeweler and a descendent of a prominent Austro-Hungarian family, probably Jewish. His father's jewelry activities were mainly in Prague, where Porgès grew up, probably with the name Julius Porgès. He moved to Paris in the 1860s, where he changed his name to Jules and became a prominent diamond trader.

According to one account, he was the leading diamond merchant of the day, although it is worth remembering that at the time, diamond mining in Brazil was slowing down, and the diamond findings in South Africa were just starting. In addition to a thriving and successful diamond trading company, Jules Porgès & Co., he also owned a polishing facility in Amsterdam. This made him interested in having good access to sourcing rough diamonds.

The combination of reduced availability of rough diamonds from one region with the discovery of promising resources in another, a need to ensure access to rough diamonds, and a thriving diamond operation are all what made his role so pivotal at that junction in time. While he may not have realized how transformative his role would be, at the very least, he realized that an unusual opportunity was at hand.

Upon learning about the development of the Kimberley mine in South Africa, Porgès sought ways to source rough diamonds from it and establish a buying office on site. For that, he teamed up with Alfred Beit. Beit was a former diamond sorter and valuator who developed his diamond skills in Amsterdam's diamond center before making the trip to South Africa to work as a buyer at Kimberley. Porgès made Beit his sole representative and buyer at the mine, becoming a major buyer of the Kimberley goods. At the time, Kimberley was a collection of many small diamond mining claims, with many diggers, limited knowledge about diamonds or how to price them. It was a great opportunity waiting to happen.

In 1876, Porgès traveled to South Africa to take a more active role in diamond mining. Once he arrived in Kimberley, he started purchasing rough diamonds in large quantities, becoming an important buyer. In addition, Porgès started buying diamond claims, not limiting himself to Kimberley, looking to buy stakes in the other large diamond mine in the region, De Beers, as well as the two other smaller diamond mines in the region, Bultfontein, and Dutoitspan. Yet, his main focus was on Kimberley, the most promising of the four resources.

With Porgès' encouragement, Beit continued his partnership with Porgès as well as his own activities that stretched beyond rough diamond buying. It did not take long for Beit to understand that for diamond mining in the region to evolve, a consolidation of claims was needed. Such a move would give him better access to diamonds, reduce mining costs, and resolve issues such as adjacent claims collapsing over each other. It was around this time that he met Cecile Rhodes, who, like Beit and Barney Barnato, had a similar idea about the future of the mine. It was not long before Beit and Rhodes became close friends.

Porgès established a publicly traded company in South Africa, Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance, with an initial capital of 14 million francs and started to buy diamond claims in Kimberley whenever the opportunity arose. Now engaging directly in diamond mining, Porgès became the first person with a large vertically integrated diamond operation that included diamond mining in South Africa, diamond polishing in Amsterdam, and polished diamond wholesaling in France, making him a model for the diamond industry in years to come.

Porgès was not alone in the claim consolidation process. Beit used his own savings to acquire diamond claims, as did Rhodes and Barnato. During a period of about five years, between 1872 and 1877, the claims at the Kimberley diamond mine were sold by individual claim holders to smart players that purchased claims at every opportunity, resulting in a claims consolidation process. By 1877, the number of claim holders in the Kimberley diamond mine dropped from 1,600 to only 300. Of the 300, 20 of them jointly owned more than half the mine.

Porgès took an aggressive approach to roping in diamond claims at the mine, landing him a quarter of the diamond claims. The consolidation process continued, and over the next two years, the number of claim holders continued to fall. In 1879, three-quarters of the claims were in the hands of just 12 companies. Taking control of claims required capital, and Beit had easier access to financing than Rhodes or Barnato, who competed for control of the diamond mines. Beit's friendship with Rhodes led him to align with Rhodes in his effort to take over as many claims as possible and form a consolidated diamond mining firm.

In 1880, Porgès returned to Europe as the competition to take over diamond claims became fiercer and the stakes higher, probably driving up the price of each claim that became available on the market. As a major claim holder, Porgès' collective holdings were especially attractive, worth much more than the sum of claims he held. It was during this time that the battle between Rhodes and Barnato to achieve full control of Kimberley reached a new peak. As part of this battle, each sold diamonds at very low prices in an effort to drain the other of capital and undermine their claim buying abilities. It was then that Rhodes turned to Porgès with an offer to buy Porgès' stake in Kimberley.

Aware of this, Porgès' was open for an offer. After years of financing Beit's diamond buying operation and financing claims purchases, the situation at Kimberley came to a boiling point. It was either a matter of taking control of the mine and consolidating all of the claims to form the first large diamond mining company or sell his stake to the highest bidder and make a fortune. Today, we know that selling was the practical choice. Beit was closely aligned with Rhodes, advising him on many of his moves, especially on the financing side of the takeover.

From Rhodes' perspective, buying Porgès' claims would be his last effort to gain control of a majority of the claims at Kimberley. Rhodes offered to buy the Porgès' stake for £1.4 million, about £150 million in today's value. While contemplating the offer, Barnato, who heard of the offer, also approached Porgès and made a counteroffer of £1.75 million. Fearing he could lose out, Rhodes presented Barnato with an interesting offer: withdraw the higher bid, Rhodes would buy out Porgès' claims at his original bid price, and, in return, Rhodes would sell it to Barnato for just £300,000 plus a 20% holding in Barnato's publicly traded company, Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company.

It was a bold and calculated move. Rhodes, for one, did not have the capital necessary to complete the deal, even if Barnato were to agree to the offer. Porgès decided to help him out and reached out to Rudolphe Kann, a Parisian financier, and together they succeeded in interesting N M Rothschild & Sons Limited to provide the capital that Rhodes needed to buy Kimberley Central's shares and pay for Porgès' stake in the mine. In addition, and probably unknowingly, Porgès became involved in an elaborate ploy, a multistage scheme, to become the leading stakeholder of the consolidated holding. Once Barnato agreed to Cecil Rhodes' offer, it was discovered that Rhodes had secretly purchased shares in Barnato's Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company. By the time they concluded the deal, Rhodes had already held a large stake in Barnato's company. Together with the additional 20% holding, Rhodes was close to gaining control of the company.

The combination of the three main stakeholding companies in the diamond mine, Porgès' Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap de Bonne Espérance, with Barnato's Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, and Rhodes' own stakeholding, Barnato and Rhodes merged to form the De Beers Consolidated Mining Company in 1888. It was named after the De Beers brothers, who owned the farm where diamonds had been discovered in 1871, around the same time that the Kimberley resource was discovered, and the site of the De Beers diamond mine.

Porgès was out of diamond mining, but he was not out of the diamond trade or resource mining in South Africa. With the discovery of gold at Barberton in Northeast South Africa in 1881, he had renewed interest in the country. When Witwatersrand was discovered in 1886, a gold rush swept the region, and a new era began for the country, bringing back Porgès, who was quick to buy gold mining claims. The battles over the diamond fields repeated themselves in Witwatersrand, resulting in the rise of the Randlords, a group of people who became gold magnates.

For Porgès, it was another great opportunity. Learning from his experience in the diamond fields, he decided to offer financing of gold claim buying on top of his own claim-buying activities. He recruited several of his partners in diamonds, among them Beit, Julius Wernher, who started his career working for Porgès in Paris and was sent by him to South Africa, and a partner in De Beers Consolidated Mines, Hermann Eckstein and Eduard Lippert. Together they formed the Corner House, a financing group named after the location of their offices, on a corner of the Market Square in Johannesburg.

In 1890, Porgès decided that he had enough. Although just 51 years old, he wanted to return to Paris to live a comfortable life with his wife, daughter and art collection. The man who played a tricky, if not cunning, role in the consolidation of the Kimberley diamond claims, a major financier of the world's greatest diamond and gold mines, left it behind with no fanfare.

Jules Porgès died on September 20, 1921, outliving his younger partners Rhodes, Barnato, and Beit. He is a much lesser-known figure in the formation of the modern diamond industry, but a central one nonetheless. One diamond trader who made a point of immortalizing Porgès was Harry Winston. In 1962, Winston bought a 78.53-carat, Asscher-cut, SI1 clarity, fancy yellow diamond and named it the 78.53-carat Porgès.

Photo: Jules Porgès in Prague 1875, Wikipedia 

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Diamond Portraits – Lodewyk van Bercken

The invention of the scaif, is credited to the legendary Lodewyk van Bercken. His invention gave cutters a practical tool to begin faceting diamonds, unlocking their hidden beauty. Today's modern polishing still uses the same concept van Bercken developed more than 500 years ago.

Exactly when humans discovered that diamonds were the only material that could be used to polish other diamonds is in dispute. However, we do know that early attempts to polish diamonds were crude, and often relied on simple tools. Hand driven bow drills and leather straps dipped in diamond powder were the only tools available, and the time-consuming effort of polishing a diamond was often a task given to slaves and servants. Not surprisingly, the earliest examples of diamond jewelry mostly featured rough diamonds, perhaps with just a small amount of polishing to smooth out surface imperfections. This all changed with the invention of the scaif, credited to the legendary Lodewyk van Bercken. His invention gave cutters a practical tool to begin faceting diamonds, unlocking their hidden beauty. Today's modern polishing still uses the same concept van Bercken developed more than 500 years ago.
The earliest scaif consisted of a metal wheel that was rotated using a foot pedal. The wheel was coated in olive oil, and a fine diamond powder that was held in suspension by the oil. Van Bercken quickly figured out that applying more or less diamond powder at different radiuses of the wheel allowed him to achieve the ability to both grind the stone, and apply a smooth polish as needed.
Van Bercken was born in Bruges, Belgium, about 80 kilometers west of Antwerp, and studied diamond cutting in Paris. By the mid-1400s, Bruges had become an important early trading center for diamonds. It was at the end of the trading route running from Venice. As word of his invention spread across Europe, van Bercken became inundated with requests from European nobility to manufacture diamonds for them. He quickly found that neighboring Antwerp was a more suitable location, as Antwerp's inland water port made it easier to receive his visitors and goods. At the time, Antwerp's port processed 40 percent of the world's trade, making it the transportation hub of Europe. His presence there, and success in establishing a diamond polishing trade, is a primary reason that Antwerp developed into the center of the world's diamond business, and he is still celebrated in the city today.
As his reputation grew, he was given access to larger and larger quantities of rough diamonds, with the goal of experimenting and developing new cut varieties. He was the first to develop the concept of absolute symmetry in the placement of facets on a stone. He was meticulous in his work, and studied light refraction from the surface of a diamond, although he perhaps failed to fully understand the dynamic of light refraction from within the stone.
His work culminated in the invention of numerous new diamond cuts, including the pear shape. He was also the first to cut a diamond into a briolette, after observing other precious gems with a similar shape coming from India. His work led to the earliest predecessors of the modern round brilliant cut. While no one could doubt that his new diamond shapes were much more beautiful than anything else available, not everyone was happy with the outcome. Before the sophisticated laser saws and computer-aided planning software of today, his new cuts resulted in a much higher degree of diamond waste that reduced the size of the finished gem. His customers did not always warmly receive this.
Van Bercken was Jewish, and at the time, Jews were restricted from doing certain jobs and holding certain positions in the community. Diamond cutting had no such obstacles, and he began training and teaching other Jewish students to cut diamonds. He would later establish a sort of skilled workers guild for diamond cutters in Antwerp. It was also a dangerous time for any non-Christians, and van Bercken received protection from Jacques Coeur, who was made master of the mint in France by Charles VII. Coeur was an important and influential trader of his day, and helped introduce Van Bercken to much of the nobility that requested his diamond polishing services. Van Bercken is responsible for establishing the Jewish traditions in the diamond industry that continue to this today.
Van Bercken's best-known assignment was to cut three large stones commissioned by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in the 1470s. The most famous of these stones is the Florentine Diamond, a nine-sided, 126-facet double rose cut of 137.27 carats, which has a long and storied history. It is believed to have been in Charles' possession when he was killed at the battle of Nancy in 1477. The stone was stolen in 1918 and smuggled to South America, where it was likely re-cut. The second stone weighed 14 carats, and was given to the Duke by Pope Sixtus IV. Van Bercken faceted the stone and set it in a gold ring to be used by the Pope during sacred functions. The third stone was apparently misshapen, but van Bercken cleverly cut it into a triangular shape, and set it into the center of two clasped hands in a friendship ring for the Duke. Van Bercken is also believed to have cut other important stones, including the Sancy and Beau Sancy, which were named long after van Bercken's death in honor of Nicolas De Hardy, Lord of Sancy.

A statue of van Bercken still stands in the Antwerp port area, depicting him in his work attire holding a diamond. Another statue of him is found at the entrance to the 'Meir' shopping area in Antwerp, just a short walk from the city's diamond district. He remains one of history's few working-class men to receive such an honor. There is even a diamond jewelry retail brand in Australia that bears his name. 

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The True Story Behind The Bulgari Diamond Industry

The diamond industry has always lent itself to well-told stories. The beauty, wealth, and even power associated with this fantastic creation of Earth easily captures the imagination. Those involved in the trade of diamonds and the creation of jewelry were often unusual people, who, thanks to their tendency to do things in their own unique way, succeeded in their endeavors. Such person was Sotirio Voulgaris/ His name is virtually unknown, although his eponymous brand is well known, his geographic origin is different than other central players in the industry, and the route he took was uniquely his, leaving a sublime legacy behind him. Who later became a part of one of the biggest names in the industry - Bulgari.

The diamond industry has always lent itself to well-told stories. The beauty, wealth, and even power associated with this fantastic creation of Earth easily captures the imagination. Those involved in the trade of diamonds and the creation of jewelry were often unusual people, who, thanks to their tendency to do things in their own unique way, succeeded in their endeavors. Of the many people whose stories have been told here over the past year or so, Sotirio Voulgaris holds a unique place. His name is virtually unknown, and although his eponymous brand is well known, his geographic origin is different than other central players in the industry, and the route he took was uniquely his, leaving a sublime legacy behind him.

Sotirio Voulgaris was born in a small village in the Pindhos mountain range in Epirus, Greece on March 18, 1857. His chances of surviving childhood or even infancy were very slim. He was one of 11 children born to his parents; all ten of his siblings died, leaving him as the sole survivor. The area where he was born and raised has a history of jewelry making and is known for its silversmith art. Traditionally, since ancient times, jewelry design, making, knowledge, and skills were passed down from father to son. Sotirio's father, Giorgio, was no different, passing to his son generations of accumulated understanding of how to turn the hard, cold metal into wonderful creations of desire.

The Voulgaris family specializes in unique silver earrings, belt buckles, and sword sheaths. And in this same tradition, Voulgaris was trained in his ancestors' craft. His grandfather used to sell his jewelry as a street vendor, but Sotirio and his father, Giorgio decided to open a small store in their village.

During that period, the region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and the decades-old hatred between Greeks and Turks had many ugly manifestations. One was a series of fires set by Turks that targeted Greek establishments, aimed to hurt them financially. In 1873, one of the stores set on fire was that owned by the Voulgaris family when a decision was made to burn down their home village of Paramythia in order to rebuild it from the ground up. The security and safety of the local Greeks did not improve, and in 1876 Sotirio was a victim of an attempted robbery.

Those events led Sotirio's father, Giorgio, to the decision to immigrate. With a desire for safety and a more peaceful life, the family left its ancestral land and moved to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu in 1877. There they opened a small jewelry store. A few years later, Sotirio met Demetrios Kremos, a Macedonian silversmith. They became good friends and decided to try and reach further with their dreams. They left Corfu and sailed to Brindisi and then traveled to Naples, where they opened a small gold jewelry shop together in Piazza dei Martiri in 1880. Sotirio may have immigrated to distance himself from violence and crime, but at times, that bad luck kept following him around. Not long after they opened their store, it was looted. Naples suffered from a serious crime wave, and their store was broken into and robbed several more times. The two partners decided to try their luck in another place and left Naples for Rome in 1881.

A Greek merchant who lived in Rome offered Sotirio and Demetrios the opportunity to display their jewelry in his store, making room in one of the store's windows. Rome was going through a modernization and growth spurt, and the two jewelry makers did well. However, disagreements between them developed to the point that they decided to part ways.

Honing and perfecting his innate silversmith skills, Sotirio Voulgaris set up his first shop on his own in 1884 at 85 Via Sistina, just down the street from his previous location. As he was getting ready to open the store, he made an important business decision: to Italianize his name. He changed his name to Bulgari, the phonetic version of his Greek name, and adopted Bulgari as his company name.

Enamored with the history of ancient Rome, Bulgari developed a jewelry design style that incorporated the symbolism of the city into his designs, which were no longer limited to silver, adopting gold as his metal of choice. His designs were bold, large, incorporated semi-precious gems, and characterized by long soft lines that added grace to the large jewelry items. As a further tribute to Roman history, Bulgari replaced the 'U' in his store name with 'V'V, the Latin letter for U. Sotirio knew that great design would serve him well, and he trusted his workmanship to construct high-quality jewelry as well but to really succeed, he needed a little more. In 1894, he moved the store to a new location, 28 Via Dei Condotti. Street traffic was good, and his business continued to grow, but when he found out that he could clench a store up the street at number 10 Via Dei Condotti, just by Piazza di Spagna, he grabbed the opportunity.

In 1905, Bulgari opened the second store with the help of his two sons, Costantino and Giorgio. Bulgari wanted to attract British and American tourists heading to the Spanish Stairs Fontana della Barcaccia, famous tourist destinations. This location later became the Bulgari flagship store of today.

In 1932, Sotirio Bulgari died, leaving behind a legacy of fine jewelry design. That legacy lived despite a very challenging period. During the 1930s, Italy went through a turbulent time. The Fascist party was in power, and Benito Mussolini was the head of state that led the country into financial ruin and eventually into World War II as part of the Axis forces. This put a chokehold on tourist traffic to Italy. Under German influence, Italy started adopting laws that fit the Nazi doctrines of economy during wartime as well as focused on eliminating Italy's Jewish communities. In response to a raid of the Roman ghetto in October 1943, Sotirio's older son Costantino Bulgari, together with his wife Laura, hid three Jewish women in their home in Rome. For that act of bravery, Costantino and Laura Bulgari were awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Costantino's younger brother Giorgio took the helm and managed the company until his death in 1966. It is said that the founders build, the sons maintain, and the grandchildren destroy. That was not the case for the Bulgari family. Giorgio's son Gianni, a member of the third generation in the family business, sat in the CEO seat and drove the company into new markets, opening stores all over Europe and the US.

Over the years, the company went public, grew to some 150 stores, added watches and perfumes to its line of products, and annual revenues exceeded $1 billion. Today, the business is fully owned by LVMH, which bought the company in 2011 for $4.3 billion. At the time, the company was managed by Sotirio's great-grandson, Francesco Trapani. A few members of the Bulgari family are still involved with the company that bears their name. 

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The first Diamond engagement ring? The story of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy

In the 15th century, one royal couple had a significant impact on the diamond industry, playing a pivotal, arguably even a crucial role in the development of diamonds in modern culture.

Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy were not diamond people in any way. They were not geologists who found diamond resources. They were not diamond mining magnates who built huge conglomerates; they were not jewelers who set their creations with diamonds, and they clearly were not diamond traders renowned for their quick thinking. Yet this 15th-century royal couple had a significant impact on the diamond industry, playing a pivotal, arguably even a crucial role in the development of diamonds in modern culture.
Maximilian I, also known as Archduke Maximilian of Austria, was King of the Romans for 33 years, from 1486 through his death in 1519. He was born outside of Vienna to Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor of the House of Habsburg. As a child, he lived under siege and suffered from starvation. Despite that episode in his life, he was one of the most powerful kings to rule in Europe, creating an empire that stretched from Netherlands in the north to Italy in the south, extending from Spain in the west to Poland in the east – although the empire in this form was never a single, uninterrupted land mass.
The young royal served uncharacteristically as co-king with his father, who went to war against Hungary. In 1493, upon his father's death, Maximilian was also Holy Roman Emperor.
Mary of Burgundy was born in Brussels, the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Isabella of Bourbon. Her father was a wealthy royal with his own set of ambitions. He controlled Burgundy and most of the Low Countries – namely today's Belgium and Netherlands. As the sole child and heir apparent of her father's vast and prosperous reign, Mary was considered a prized wife. Among her many suitors were princes from all of Europe's noble families, particularly those whose fathers felt that the lands Mary would one day control would make for a good addition to their existing domains.
Among them were the future King Ferdinand II of Aragon, when she was just five years old, and Charles the Duke of Berry and younger brother of King Louis XI of France. King Louis XI was especially anxious that she marry his son after her father died in a battle in 1477. At this point, and just shy of her 20th birthday, Mary understood that to protect herself and her duchy; she must marry. Probably turned off by the French and their pressing pursuit, she turned to the other leading power of the time, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Their union was a typical for royals at the time- a marriage of political convenience, a means to meet a strategic end. Regardless, her decision to wed then Prince Maximilian resulted in an event that is etched in history to this day for a very different reason than political history. Maximilian gave Mary a diamond engagement ring. Although this is the earliest documented use of a diamond set in an engagement ring, it is believed that a good number of couples preceded them, though no direct and explicit documentation of such exists anymore, only hints of it.
Nevertheless, due to the great wealth and importance of this marriage, the betrothal with the diamond engagement ring at the imperial court of Vienna in 1477 was documented in writing and painting, as was the lavish wedding, which took place in Ghent on August 16 of that year. Their public standing had a social impact very similar to that of celebrities today: imitation. Mary's diamond engagement ring inspired other wealthy couples of her era. Diamond engagement rings became a trend among them.
According to documentation from the time, engagement rings were not typically set at all. Engagement rings given by Europe's wealthy were made of gold. The European trend of setting engagement rings with a gem apparently started around that time. Due to their extreme rarity – diamonds were mined in India, and only some of them were transported to Europe – diamonds were very high priced, and very few could afford them. This may have strengthened diamonds' status as exceptionally special. Over the centuries, diamonds slowly became more available following the discovery of diamonds in Brazil and later in Africa. The growing availability of diamonds did not harm the desire for diamond-set engagement rings. Instead, thanks to De Beers' "a diamond is forever" marketing campaign, it became more prevalent, to the point that most engagement rings in the US and China are set with diamonds.
Mary and Maximillian had no way of knowing how well-etched in history their engagement would become or even what economic impact it would have, although much of the drive behind their marriage was economic in nature. The marriage between the Burgundy heiress and the Habsburgs started an era of dispute between them and France that lasted until the early 18th century.
Mary saw very little of that. Although she sought to bring greater freedoms to those under her rule, she died after a hunting accident at the age of 25. Like many rulers of the era, Maximilian was a supporter of the arts and sciences. As a proponent of war as a method to achieve greater power, he also had a passion for armor, functional as well as an art form.
In 1496, Maximilian expelled all Jews from large parts of today's Austria, and in 1509 he passed the Imperial Confiscation Mandate, which ordered the destruction of all Jewish literature apart from the Bible.

Maximillian's political legacy shaped much of European history. After his death in 1519, at the age of 59, the Habsburg Empire later morphed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which lasted another 400 years. Among his descendants is Queen Elizabeth II, one of the world's greatest diamond collectors 

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