Nelson’s Lost Jewel: book launch and talk about the Ottoman Sultan’s diamond Chelengk

On Thursday 21 February, the Yunus Emre Institute London is hosting a book launch and talk by Martyn Downer, a historian, author and expert on Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.

Downer’s new book Nelson’s Lost Jewel delves into the history behind one of Lord Nelson’s most treasured possessions: a diamond Chelengk (‘Çelenk’), gifted to him by Ottoman Sultan Selim III in 1798 after repelling a French force that had invaded Ottoman Egypt.

In the summer of 1798, the British naval commander won an extraordinary naval victory when he destroyed a French fleet anchored at the mouth of the Nile River. The defeat cut off a French army commanded by General Napoleon Bonaparte seeking to conquer Egypt.

To reward Nelson for defeating his enemy and ‘outstanding services to the state’, Sultan Selim III sent an Ottoman military decoration called a Çelenk or ‛Plume of Triumph’.

The admiral’s Çelenk was made of diamonds with thirteen rays to represent the French ships captured or destroyed in battle. A wreath of enamelled flower heads surrounded a diamond star that rotated like clockwork.

Nelson was thrilled with his glittering Ottoman ‘Chelengk’― the first awarded to a non-Muslim recipient ― and wore it on his naval hat like a turban jewel. It was his most precious possession and after Nelson’s death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the jewel passed down his family until it was purchased for the National Maritime Museum in 1937 by which time many of its fragile elements such as the enamelled flowers and clockwork movement had been stripped off. Stolen from the museum in 1951, the famous jewel is now lost, presumed destroyed.

Portrait of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott, with a Chelengk in his hat. Image courtesy of the National Maritime Museum


In his talk, Martyn Downer will tell the remarkable story of Nelson’s lost jewel and how it was recently recreated in a London workshop.

About the author

Martyn Downer is a historian, author and specialist dealer in objects, papers and artefacts relating to Admiral Lord Nelson. A former director of jewellery at Sotheby’s London, he is author of four books including Nelson’s Purse (2004) and Nelson’s Lost Jewel (2017).

Event Details

Title: Admiral Lord Nelson and the Ottoman Sultan’s Diamond Chelengk

Date: Thursday 21 February 2019 to Saturday 30 March 2019

Time: 7pm to 9pm

Venue: Yunus Emre Institute, 10 Maple Street, London W1T 5HA

Admission: the event is free, but prior registration is needed. Register here.