The Hope Diamond first appeared into consciousness in the 15th century. It was originally the eye of a sacred idol known as Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, found in an ancient temple.
Much larger than it appears now, it was originally a 112-carat gem. The blue stone was either purchased or taken by force from one of the local Hindu priests by a French adventurer-jewel trader around 1662, Jean Baptiste Tavernier. He procured the stone in Golconda, India for gem trade; he often bought jewels for the nobility. The Hindus believed that diamonds had inherent qualities and the blue color was bad luck. It is also said the priests put a curse on the stone for whoever had owned it.
The Fiery Birth of a Diamond
This stone is thought to be a billion years old. It was forged by time in the Earth’s mantle, a depth of about 1,800 miles (2897 km). The solid rock created pressure for the carbon atoms and then the molten magma pushed it to the surface, carrying the glowing ember where it solidified, washed into volcanic rock in the Cote de Coromandel and finally rested in the river there.
Stone Turns Royal
Not surprisingly, the French Sun King Louis XIV acquired the diamond and christened it, “The French Blue of the Crown." In the process, he actually created a new market of desire for diamonds, as pearls were previously all the rage. Tavernier grew rich, receiving the equivalent in today’s money of $10 million dollars. He also earned himself the title of nobleman and became Baron Au Bonne in the Duchy of Savoy near the city of Geneva.
One legend states that Tavernier was torn apart and eaten by a pack of wolves outside of Moscow because of the curse of the blue diamond. However, all other sources point to the fact that Tavernier died in Moscow in 1689, at the age of eighty-four. He was an inveterate traveler and author.
French Crown Jewels
King Louis XIV acquired the blue stone (Le Bijou du Roi) at his palace in Versailles in 1668 along with about a thousand other diamonds. The king’s master cutter and court jeweler, Sieur Pitau, recut the Tavernier Blue and re-styled the gem to enhance its beauty into 63 new facets that equaled 69 carats. The cutting took two years. It became the world’s most beautiful of French crown jewels and was renamed, the “French Blue." The diamonds were passed on to Louis XV, who wore it as part of his knightly garb where it was christened the Order of the Golden Fleece.
When the Royals, Louis XVI and his party, were imprisoned in the Temple during the French Revolution, the crown jewels were put into the royal warehouse for safekeeping. In 1792, a heist of the jewels took place and, unbelievably, the thieves returned over five days of completing their theft “spree." Rumors had it that French Queen Marie Antoinette wore the necklace to the guillotine at her beheading during the French Revolution. It seems to be just legend as there is no evidence to that effect, and the Golden Fleece pendant was reserved for wearing by the king alone.
Blue Diamond Disappears
For years, the Royal Blue seems to have vanished. Daniel Eliason, a London diamond merchant in the late 18th century had taken possession and recorded a blue diamond similar to the size, shape and color as the Hope Diamond. Another jeweler, John Francillon made a drawing of a super large stone and added notes and color that resembled the French Blue. Some historians speculate that King George IV of England may have acquired the stone, but the Royal Archives at Windsor have no particular object such as that. It also seems that an 1822 portrait of King George IV of England showed him wearing coronation clothes with the stone mounted into the insignia of the Royal Order.
Thomas Hope Onward
Eliason committed suicide, but before he did, he sold his diamond in about 1830 to Henry Philip Hope, and it was seen in a catalogue in 1839. After much litigation, the diamond passed to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope and ultimately to his nephew’s grandson, the extremely wealthy Lord Francis Hope.
Lord Francis Hope had inherited much. He owned land, castles, Dutch and Flemish paintings and more. During colonial times, his family had even helped to finance the Louisiana Purchase. In 1890, Francis Hope married a New York showgirl and concert singer by the name of May Yohé. She proceeded to wear the Hope Diamond at shows. However, over a period of several years, Lord Francis Hope gambled away his entire family fortune ($450-$600 million) as he bet on horses, business enterprises and his American showgirl wife.
In 1901 Lord Francis Hope obtained permission, both from the Court and his sisters, to sell the stone to help pay off his debts. After a number of court cases ran regarding the subject, Francis Hope sold the Hope Diamond to a New York firm, Joseph Frankel’s & Sons of New York City for $2.9 million. They retained the stone until they, as well, needed cash. The diamond was next sold to Selim Habib who put it up for auction in Paris in 1909. It did not sell at auction but was soon picked up by C.H. Rosenau, who then resold it to Pierre Cartier that same year.
The Sale to Walsh-McLean
In 1910, Pierre Cartier wanted to entice rich American Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond. He told her that the stone had been taken from a Hindu idol. He recounted how the Hope’s ancestor Lord Francis had squandered his fortune and that May, his actress wife, had left him for another man. May even made a movie about how they suffered and he sold it to pay off his debts.
In order to push through the deal, this modern folktale about the curse of the stone was made up as a marketing ploy. He also promised Evalyn that if the stone brought her trouble or became a problem anytime in the next 6 months, he would give her the money back: $180,000.00 (over 4 million today). Evalyn and her husband, Ned, bought the diamond.
Evalyn was the daughter of a gold miner. Her home in Washington was a rich property and later became an embassy. Mike, her Great Dane, wore the necklace frequently at parties. Later, she did in fact experience much tragedy. Her 10-year old child, Vinson, was playing near the street and was hit by a car and died. Her marriage fell apart. Her husband left her and wound up in an insane asylum. In addition, the family newspaper, TheWashington Post went bankrupt. The final blow, her daughter committed suicide at 25 years-old by overdosing on drugs.
After Evalyn died, her estate sold the diamond to Harry Winston.
Harry Winston was known as the “King of Diamonds" and used the 45-carat diamond like a celebrity. He felt that countries like France, England and Russia all had crown jewels in their history, and the United States should have an iconic piece of royal jewelry, too.
In the 1950s, Winston set the stone into a setting called the Court of Jewels and the blue diamond was presented at charity events, displayed at cultural performances and showed up on the necks of models at high society events. The Hope anchored tours, raised money for donations and contributed to good causes. The regal diamond brought attention to Harry Winston and was the center of many functions.
Eventually, he decided to donated it to the Smithsonian Museum.
The Smithsonian Signs In
On November 10, 1958, a brown package that held the Hope diamond was delivered from Harry Winston to Dr. Leonard Carmichael at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The postage was a piddling $2.44 with insurance for a million dollars costing $145.29. Since Winston himself was camera-shy, his wife Edna Winston made the presentation.
When the public first got word of the impending donation, many Americans had written letters to both the Smithsonian and President Eisenhower questioning the wisdom of accepting a cursed diamond. Would the American people by association be cursed?
James Todd, the mail carrier who delivered the diamond, was hit by a truck that crushed his leg. His wife died of a heart attack and his house burned down.
Nevertheless, the diamond got a new setting that the public voted on called “Embracing Hope." It was wrapped in platinum with 300 other diamond stones and took eight months to engineer.
The blue diamond had inexplicable properties. In the 1960s it was held under ultraviolet light and, in the dark, it emitted a red glow for at least a minute, which was never before seen with any other gem.
Alan Bronstein, gemologist, wanted to compare it to other blue diamonds. The museum drilled into the diamond to extract its DNA of atoms and unravel the composition using an ion spectrometer in order to test the chemical substances. It blasted a crater into the diamond, which is invisible to the human eye. As it turns out, only a tiny amount of Boron gives the stone its blue color and it is not uniform.
In 2005, the Smithsonian created a mold and found the Hope diamond would fit into the mold that cradled the French Blue.
Ancient Curse, Really?
The Library of Congress study says:
- Tavernier died of old age.
- Marie Antoinette would not have worn it.
- There was no curse until the 1900’s.
- Pierre Cartier fabricated the legend to elevate the diamond’s sale quality.
- May Yohé, (the former Mrs. Hope), and Evalyn kept the curse alive for notoriety. They both claimed the stone had contributed to death, revolutions, bankruptcies and divorce.
- James Todd, the mail carrier, just hit a period of bad luck.
The gem remains in the Harry Winston Gallery at the Smithsonian.
- Kurin, Richard. The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects. New York: Penguin Press, 2013. Book.
- Mystery of the Hope Diamond. Blink Films; Smithsonian Channel 4, in association with National Geographic Channel, ARTE and NHK; producer, Laura Jones; director, Mark Radice. DVD.
- PBS: Hope Diamond Timeline
Image Source: Hope Diamond – By David Bjorgen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Image Source: Toison – Wikimedia Commons (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0)