Diamonds have attracted mankind for centuries, and it is not surprising that some of them are surrounded by numerous evil stories. One of the most spectacular gemstones in the world is the Hope Diamond, a beautiful blue gemstone infamous for attracting bad luck to its owners.
The Hope Diamond and The French Royal Treasury
The Hope Diamond is believed to be mined from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India. Its history traces back to the 17th century when the crudely cut diamond was first purchased in its original triangular shape and weight of 112.19 carats by the French merchant traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and was named “Travenier Blue” after its first owner.
In 1668, Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France, also known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, together with 14 other large diamonds and several small stones.
The diamond was recut and yielded by the court jeweller Sieur Pitau, resulting in a 67.12-carat stone. In the royal records, the colour of the diamond was described as an intense steely-blue and became known as the “Blue Diamond of the Crown” or the “French Blue”. The blue diamond was set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon which King Louis XIV wore on ceremonial occasions.
Later in 1749, the stone was reset by court jeweller Andre Jacquemin in a piece of ceremonial jewellery for the Order of the Golden Fleece by order of King Louis XV.
In 1791, after King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette’s attempt to flee France all the jewels of the French Royal Treasury passed to the government and during week-long looting of the crown jewels, the blue diamond, along with other famous gems, such as the Sancy Diamond, was stolen in September 1792.
The Hope Diamond and Curse of Debt
After being stolen during the French revolution the Hope Diamond surfaced in London in 1812 as a smaller recut gem. The blue diamond was documented as being in the possession of a London diamond merchant, Daniel Eliason.
According to some references the French Blue was owned by King George IV but was sold through private channels to settle his enormous debts after his death in 1830.
The next reference to the diamond’s owner is found in the 1839 entry of Henry Philip Hope gem collection catalogue, from whom the stone takes its name.
Following the death of Henry Philip Hope in 1839, the mysterious diamond passed down to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope and then to the nephew’s grandson Lord Francis Hope who was forced to sell it in 1901 to pay off his debts.
The diamond was sold to a London dealer Adolf Weil, who quickly resold it to Joseph Frankel’s Sons & Co. of New York who, in turn, retained the stone until they needed cash. The Hope Diamond was sold to Selim Habib who put it up for auction in 1909. Although the diamond was not bought at the auction, it was sold soon after to C.H. Rosenau and then resold to Pierre Cartier the same year.
In 1910 the Hope Diamond was shown to an American mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean at Cartier’s in Paris. To make the sale Cartier had to reset the diamond into a headpiece on a three-tiered circle of large white diamonds as McLean did not like the initial setting. Later it became a pendant on a diamond necklace as we know it today. After purchasing the Hope McLean had many misfortunes: her son died in a car accident, her daughter died of a drug overdose, then her husband passed away and the family was forced to sell their newspaper, the Washington Post, after their bankruptcy.
The Hope Diamond’s New Home
In 1949, after McLean’s death, Harry Winston purchased her entire jewellery collection, including the Hope Diamond. For the next 10 years, the blue diamond was shown at many exhibitions worldwide by Harry Winston Inc.
On November 10, 1958, Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remained on the permanent exhibition and left it only four times.
For many years the weight of the Hope Diamond was reported to be 44.50 carats. However, in 1974 it was removed from its setting and found to weight 45.52 carats.
The dark greyish-blue gem is classified as type IIb diamond, which is usually phosphorescence. It also glows a strong red colour under ultraviolet light. The diamond’s extraordinary colour is caused by the mineral boron. While most natural blue diamonds contain tiny particles of boron, usually less than 0.5 parts per million (ppm), the Hope Diamond has as many as 8ppm.
The Hope Diamond curse story is more a morality fable about the cardinal sin of greed since nearly everyone has something bad or tragic happen to him or her.
According to the legend the diamond sparkled in the brow of an Indian temple until it was plucked out by a thief, whose punishment for this act was a slow and agonizing death. It was believed that only a person with a pure heart could escape the same fate. In this case, a “pure heart” meant someone who did not try to sell the gem but instead gave it away. Thus the curse ended when Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Natural Museum of Natural History.
Cover image credit: Smithsonian Institution