Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Hope This Diamond Isn’t Cursed.

Written By: Tracy - Feb• 12•18

 

Hope diamond

The Hope Diamond.

 

According to the Smithsonian Museum, one of their most popular exhibits (other than their pair of Ruby Slippers from The Wizard Of Oz) is the Hope Diamond.  

The Hope Diamond is a 45 and-slightly-over-a-half-carat phosphorescent blue diamond with a long, sordid history, and (legends say) a curse attached to it.  This makes it among the most famous diamonds in the world. James Cameron even based the Heart Of The Ocean diamond necklace from his film Titanic on it. 
 
The Tavernier Blue
 
The diamond’s history begins in India, where some of the world’s largest, most famous gems originate.  In 1666, a French gem dealer and merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased a 116 carat stone from the Kollur Mine.  (This mine also produced the Koh-I-Noor diamond that is part of the British Crown Jewels).
 

The French Blue overlaid on a drawing of the Tavernier Blue Diamond.


Tavernier described the stone as deep violet (which was, at the time, synonymous with blue).  It weighed 112 carats, and was cut in a rough, triangular shape.  He called the stone the Tavernier Blue Diamond. 
 
Tavernier took the stone, along with a cache of other big stones back to France where he sold them to the French Nobility, including Louis XIV, the Sun King. (A frequent favorite subject on this blog and podcast.)
 
The French Blue
 
Five years later, King Louis had the diamond recut and shaped.  The now smaller (68 carat) stone was christened the Blue Diamond Of The Crown Of France, or more simply, the French Blue.  
 
This new cut had a low-angled back, unlike today’s brilliant cut stones.  This made the diamond’s center appear clear, causing the entire stone to have a window-like appearance.  When mounted on a golden backing, the stone would appear to have a sunburst in the center. It was then mounted on a stick pin, so it could have been worn in a cravat.  It was also said to have been supported by a ribbon to help hold up its immense weight. (It was said to have been the size of a pigeon’s egg). 
The French Blue
The Sun King’s colors were blue and gold, so having a blue diamond with a gold sun at it’s center was a potent symbol of The King’s power.  Records show that the Sun King kept it in his cabinet of curios to show off to important guests. He may have also worn it during important ceremonies that didn’t call for the Crown Jewels. 
 
A fragment of the diamond remnant from the Tavernier Blue was said to have been gifted in a ring to Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Paul I Of Russia.  The stone in question is on display near St. Petersburg, though some dispute that it came from the Tavernier stone. 
 
Golden Fleece

An artist’s rendition of Louis XV’s Order Of The Golden Fleece pendant with the French Blue Diamond.


After Louis XIV’s death, his successor and great-grandson, Louis XV had the stone set in an elaborate pendant for his Order Of the Golden Fleece, along with the 32 carat Bazu Diamond, the 105 carat Côte de Bretagne dragonwhich is a red crystal carved in the shape of a dragon and more than 500 lesser diamonds in varying colors.
 
The French Blue joined the Crown Jewels at that point where it continued to serve as an element of the King’s power. 
 
The French Blue, along with the rest of the Crown Jewels, was confiscated from the royal family when they tried to flee France in 1791 to escape the French Revolution.  The jewels were put on display for the public, where they no doubt stirred sentiment against the nobility. 
 
Then, on the nights of September 11-17, thieves crawled into the second story window of the building where the Crown Jewels were being kept.  Each night the thieves took some of the jewels.  The theft was not discovered because the room’s seal remained intact, no guard was posted inside the sealed room and the guards just didn’t check on the jewels.But on the 17th, the thieves grew careless and the guards heard them.  
 
France was able to reclaim most of the jewels as they were found, but the French Blue as the world knew it disappeared forever. 
 
The Diamond Resurfaces
 
20 years later (Just two days after the statute of limitations for crimes committed during the French Revolution had passed), the stone that would become known as the Hope Diamond surfaced in London in the possession of London diamond merchant  Daniel Eliason.  Because the gem had been recut (it was now a 45 carat brilliant-cut stone), it would not be recognized as the French Blue for another 40 years.
 
Eliason makes no mention of where he got the stone.  But the timing of the new, smaller stone’s appearance is suspicious.  
 
Circumstantial evidence points to the idea that at least one of the jewel thieves made it to England.  They or whomever they passed the stone to then recut the stone.  At least one gemological historian has suggested that whomever recut the stone did a poor job, since they sheared away 23 carats and damaged the stone’s luster. 
 
But the shape and cut of the French blue was so distinctive, it may not have been possible to disguise the stone in any other way than to carve something new and (needs must) smaller out of the old stone, thereby completely changing it’s nature. 
 
For a time, there was speculation that the additional 23 carats had been cut into a second stone.  But experts had no idea how the cuts were made, or how the French Blue “fit around” the new stone.  Then in 2005, a three dimensional model made of lead was discovered in France’s Museum Of Natural History.  
 
Hope diamond

An illustration of how the Hope Diamond was cut from the French Blue.


Using Computer Aided Design technology, scientists and historians were able to fit the newer stone into the French Blue.  With this knowledge, they were able to rule out several large candidates as “sister stones.”  There are no current candidates for potential sister stones cut from the remaining 23 carats today. 
 
There are rumors that King George IV Of The United Kingdom next purchased the stone.  If he did, the stone was part of his private collection, not one of the Crown Jewels. Sources at the Smithsonian claim that there are secondary accounts of George IV owning the stone.  However there are no primary records that the stone was ever in his hands. 
 
If George IV did own the new stone, it may have been stolen by his mistress, or quietly sold to cover personal debts after his death.  
 
The stone’s next known owner was London banker Henry Phillip Hope, for whom the diamond acquired it’s current name “The Hope Diamond.” 
 
The Hope Diamond
 

Henry Phillip Hope had at the time one of the world’s most important gem collections. Consisting of over 700 gems, including the Hope diamond and the Hope Pearl, which was at the time the world’s largest baroque pearl.


The diamond was still in the Hope family when it was displayed at the London Exhibition in 1851, and then again in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Shortly after this, people began linking the Hope Diamond to the French Blue. 
 
In 1876, Lord Francis Hope, grandson of Henry Thomas, inherited the stone along with most of the Hope fortune.  But due to his extravagant lifestyle, he eventually sold the diamond to pay off his debts. 
 
The diamond changed hands several times, landing in the safe of jewelry merchant Simon Frankel.  From 1902-1907, Frankel may have tried to sell the stone unsuccessfully.  He may have entered into several deals to sell the stone, only to have the deals fall through.  Or he may have sold the stone, only to have to take it back from the buyers due to their failing to pay.  Whatever the case, the stone fell out of the public eye at this time. 
 
During the depression of 1907, Frankel, in financial trouble and unable to sell the diamond, referred to it as the hoodoo diamond. This may be where rumors of the Hope Diamond Curse come from.  It doesn’t help that the diamond has  phosphorescent properties that cause it to glow red under ultraviolet light. 
 
In 1908 the stone was sold to a Turkish diamond collector, who sold it again a year later to cover his debts (rumor said that the stone was actually bought and then sold on behalf of an Ottoman sultan). 
 
The gem once again changed hands, this time returning to France.  Or at least to Famed French jeweler Cartier. Cartier was known for presenting his Jewels in a flamboyant manner and exaggerating the stories associated with them.  Cartier wildly inflated the curse associated with the Hope Diamond as he showcased the gem to potential buyers. 
 
Shortly after purchasing the diamond, Cartier earmarked it for potential sale to American couple Edward and Evalyn Walsh McLean.  Edward was the publisher of the Washington Post.  Evalyn was heiress to a vast fortune made from Colorado mining interests.
 
Intrigued by the stories of the Hope Diamond Curse, Evalyn told Cartier that she believed that objects that brought misfortune to others would bring good luck to her.  However, she disliked the diamond’s setting, and refused to purchase the stone.  
 
Undaunted, Cartier had the stone set in a different setting – the one visible in the Smithsonian today. After seeing the Hope Diamond a second time, the McLeans purchased the gem. 
 

Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope Diamond in the setting Cartier had made for her.


From that day forward the diamond became Evalyn’s signature piece.  She wore the jewel to every major event she attended, sometimes placing another massive diamond, her 100 carat, pear-shaped Star Of The East on the same pendant hanging below the Hope Diamond. At times she even placed the Hope Diamond around the neck of her Great Dane.  Some reports say that she would misplace, or even deliberately hide the necklace and then make a game of having everyone find it. 
 
Though Evalyn refused to believe the stone was cursed, she did suffer numerous misfortunes in her life.  Edward became entangled in the Teapot Dome bribery scandal during the Harding Presidential Administration.  The couple’s first son was killed in a car accident. After which Edward fell into alcoholism and took a mistress, prompting Evalyn to divorce him. 
 
Eventually Edward was declared legally insane and confined to a sanitarium, where he died.  The Washington Post went bankrupt, forcing the family to sell the newspaper off. 
 
Still later, Evalyn and Edward’s daughter died of a drug overdose.  Shortly afterward, Evalyn died of pneumonia.  
 
Throughout her life, Evalyn maintained that her misfortunes had nothing to do with a curse.  She continued to wear the diamond.  After she died, her will stipulated that her jewels be held in trust until her oldest grandchild turned 25, at which time the jewels were to be divided up between the grandchildren.  However, the trustees gained permission to sell her jewels to pay her debts. 
 
The Hope Diamond was then sold to diamond merchant Harry Winston.  Winston had the bottom facet slightly recut to increase the stone’s brilliance.   He exhibited the Hope Diamond until 1958. At which point he donated the stone to the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of Natural History. 
 
Other than four worldwide tours (none of which were on the Titanic), the diamond has remained on display in the Smithsonian ever since.  Today it remains the centerpiece of the National Gem Collection. Officials say that if there is a curse, it appears to have gone dormant. 

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