Diamonds belong to a world of romance, love, honeymoons, as much as to that other world of trade and international crookdom. Another strange adventure that came my way during my years in Paris as a broker concerned a pair of lovers and a diamond ring.
Among my clients was a man whom I will call Monsieur Mercier, a jeweler with an important business in the fashionable quarter of the Rue St. Honore. One day he sent for me and asked me to get him a tablet diamond for a special order. Now a “tablet” is a diamond cut after a fashion much in favor in olden days. The stone is split into a thin layer which is made to serve in place of glass to cover a miniature set in a brooch or ring. The few tablets still in existence are prized by curio hunters and lovers of objets d’art, and they are becoming increasingly rare.
“I am afraid you will have some difficulty in finding a suitable stone,” said Monsieur Mercier, “but if you succeed it will be well worth your while. The ring is for one of my wealthiest clients and price is no object.”
The order had in fact been placed by an English baronet who was then in Paris with his beautiful young wife. At the Ritz Hotel where they were staying she had seen one of these antique tablet diamond rings on the hand of an American lady and now nothing would satisfy her but that she must have one like it with her husband’s miniature beneath the diamond.
As it happened, only a week or two earlier I had encountered at the Diamond Club (the rendezvous of the Paris gem trade) an acquaintance of mine, a dealer in gems, who had shown me a strange ring he had just picked up at the Hotel de Ventes (the great Paris auction mart for jewels and antiques). It was an artistic, curiously wrought thing, solid, and of very old workmanship, a circle of small brilliants set round the big tablet diamond which had once held the miniature. The cavity was empty now, though there were still traces of a sticky substance which was evidently all that remained of the original portrait.
I lost no time in getting in touch with my friend, and found that he had not yet sold the ring. As we examined it again I asked him whether he knew anything of its history. “Only of its last owner,” he said. “I bought the ring in with a lot which came from the executors of the Comte de F.—You remember hearing about him?”
“I seem to know the name,” I said.
“He was a very rich young man, inherited a fortune from his American mother. When he married about five years ago he gave his bride some beautiful jewels. But she died suddenly on their honeymoon in Italy, dropped dead from heart failure while she was dressing for dinner. They say he never got over his grief, and as he could not bear to be reminded of her, he had all her jewelry stored. Then he was killed in a motor accident a few months ago and everything went under the hammer.”
I took the ring to Monsieur Mercier, and as I expected, he was delighted and pronounced it perfect.
That evening, to celebrate my success, I dined in state at a restaurant noted for its cuisine and ordered half a bottle of hock. Now, perhaps it was the mellow amber color of the wine or the feel of the long-stemmed, slender glass between my fingers, but for no very definite reason my thoughts turned to Venice and from Venice to the tablet ring. I wondered whether it had come from there, from some little goldsmith’s booth down one of those dark, narrow waterways opening on to the Grand Canal. Very probably, for she had died in Venice, the lovely young woman who had last worn it.
Suddenly a fantastic idea took possession of my mind, crystallized slowly into a terrible suspicion. The ring was poisoned! It was one of those which the Italian nobles of the Renaissance had found so useful in ridding themselves of a rival in love or ambition. The poison, prepared from some secret formula, unknown to modern science, must have been concealed for centuries beneath the diamond covering, ready to be injected into the blood of the victim by means of a tiny spike invisible to the naked eye. With a sensation of horror I remembered that curious sticky substance.
When Monsieur Mercier arrived at his office the next morning, I was already waiting for him after a sleepless night. He burst out laughing when I told him of my suspicions.
“Your trouble,” he said, “is that you have too much imagination. You ought to take up writing detective stories, my boy. But we can’t give way to fancies like that in our line of business. Supposing it is one of those old poison rings, what of it? There must be dozens of them knocking around. The poison, even if the ring ever contained any, which is very doubtful, must have evaporated long ago. As for that poor girl’s death, it was just coincidence. How many people die of heart failure every year? You’ve been filling your head with a lot of nonsense. Besides, the ring has already been sent round to the Ritz Hotel. I told my clerk to have it delivered first thing this morning, as Lady A. , and her husband are leaving Paris tonight.”
But so strong was my conviction that I would not let the matter drop.
“You cannot expose that woman to such a frightful risk until you have had the ring examined by an analyst,” I said. “I tell you that if she wears it she may die, and you and I will be her murderers!”
The little jeweler turned pale at the idea. “But what are we to do about it?” he said helplessly. “She must already have received the ring. Probably it is on her finger at this very moment.
“Then we must get it back,” I firmly stated. “And we cannot afford to lose another minute. We must got to the hotel and explain the whole matter to her.”
And before he had time to utter another word I had bustled him into his overcoat and out into the street.
It did not take us more than couple of minutes to walk round to the Ritz, though Monsieur Mercier was puffing and panting by the time we got there. The head porter, who knew him, told us that Lady A. and her husband had already gone out. He was not certain when they would be back. Perhaps we would like to leave a message?
Monsieur Mercier wavered, but I nudged him. “The fact is we are in an unfortunate predicament,” he said, clearing his throat nervously. “About half an hour ago, my clerk, whom you know by sight, called here with a small package for Lady A., Is it not so?”
“Parfaitement, Monsieur,” answered the porter. “As a matter of fact I have it here on my desk. Lady A. had gone out when it arrived, as I judged its contents to be of value I did not have it sent up to her apartment.”
The jeweler and I exchanged looks of profound relief.
“We have discovered,” continued my companion, “that a mistake has been made and that Lady A., has been sent a ring belonging to another of my clients, a lady who is calling for it this morning and who will be most annoyed if it is not ready for her. Will you, in the circumstances, allow me to take the package back? I will, of course, explain what has happened when Lady A. returns.”
So the parcel was handed over, and a little later, in the seclusion of Monsieur Mercier’s office, we broke the seals and took out the ring. Holding it carefully in a pair of corn tongs I pressed the center stone at various angles. Suddenly a minute spike no bigger than a pinpoint shot out on one side of the bevel.
“There you are!” I exclaimed triumphantly. “Look how cunningly those old goldsmiths hid their diabolical work. That ring could be worn for hours without anyone suspecting it, but sooner or later the wearer would be bound to knock it lightly against something and release the poisoned dart. Even a handclasp would be enough…”
Together we removed the top of the stone and packed up the lower portion with its mysterious contents. Then we dispatched it by a messenger to one of the principal hospitals in Paris with a request for an immediate analysis. In due course back came the report accompanied by a letter from the chief analyst.
“We have not yet been able to discover what particular poison this ring contained,” he wrote, “but a minute portion, the size of a pin-head, dissolved in alcohol and diluted with ten times that quantity of distilled water has proved so potent that single drops of it injected intravenously into rats and guinea-pigs have killed them within an hour.”
Lady A. was disappointed when she had to be told that her pretty tablet ring was being thoroughly cleansed and could not be delivered to her before she left for England. She did not know that, unlike a less-happy bride five years before, she had by a miracle escaped a terrible death. Or is it a miracle that a very young man should have imagination enough to guess even the truth?”
The Jeweled Trail, Louis Kornitzer
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Louis Kornitzer was author of The Pearl Trader, Pearls and Men and other books on the gem and jewellery trade. He was born in Vienna to a family of gem-dealers and spent his life roaming the world in search of perfect pearls. He seems to have had a rather uncanny talent for landing on his feet, as well as a sixth sense about his gem dealings and an appreciation for the “weird magic [jewels] exercise upon those with whom they are brought into contact…[affecting] people’s lives in some mysterious manner.” Mrs Daffodil wishes that she had known about this convenient method of delivering death, which forestalls so many awkward questions.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a treasure-trove of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.
For another tale of a lethal ring, see this previous post on a cursed opal.