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The Hope Diamond

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From the Archives : Originally published June 19th, 2009
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Category : Coins and treasures

 

 

 

 

The Hope Diamond is a large, 45.52 carats (9.10 g), fancy deep-blue diamond, housed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.


It is classified as a Type IIb diamond, and is famous for supposedly being cursed. The original gem was much larger than the present weight of the Hope diamond because the Hope has been cut down at least twice in the past three centuries.

 

 

The 45.52 carat steel blue Hope Diamond was found in India back in remote times as a rough crystal weighing 112 carats. The Hope Diamond is blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron within its crystal structure, but it exhibits red phosphorescence under ultraviolet light. And keeps glowing for up to 5 minutes once it is removed from the UV source.

 

Researchers have discovered that all blue diamonds phosphoresce, and that glow is so unique that a spectroscopic examination can be used to identify each individual blue diamond. It can even be used to separate lab grown blue diamonds from natural blue diamonds.

 

The Hope diamond seen by normal light

 

The Hope diamond seen by Ultra-violet light

 

 

 

Legend has it the diamond (believed to have come from the Kollur mine in Golconda) came from the eye of the idol “Sita” in a temple on the coleroon River in India and that it was stolen by a hindu priest who was then captured and tortured for his troubles. If that is so, one can only conjecture that the eye must have had a mate, but the fate of "the other eye" has never come to light. It would not be the first famous diamond that started it's notoriety in a religious idol. The Idol's Eye and the Orlov both came from idols, according to legend.

Other sources say it was Jean-Baptiste Tavernier himself who stole the diamond in 1642 from the idol but no evidence prove this rumor.

 

The first known precursor to the Hope Diamond is the Tavernier Blue diamond, a crudely cut triangular shaped stone of 115 carats (22.44 g) named for the French merchant-traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who brought it to Europe in 1642. His book, the Six Voyages (Les Six Voyages de...), contains sketches of several large diamonds he sold to Louis XIV in 1669; while the blue diamond is shown among these, Tavernier makes no direct statements about when and where he obtained the stone. The historian Richard Kurin builds a plausible case for 1653 as the year of acquisition, and an origin from the Kollur mine in Guntur district Andhra Pradesh (then a part of the Golconda kingdom), India. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tavernier obtained the blue diamond during one of his five voyages to India between the years 1640 and 1667.

 

Tavernier came back to France in 1668, 26 years after he bought the large, blue diamond. French King Louis XIV, the "Sun King," bought the large blue diamond from Tavernier, who was made a noble and died at he age 84 in Russia where was torn apart by wild dogs. This was the first death attributed to the legend of the Hope diamond’s curse.

 

Tavernier’s drawing of the Hope Diamond 112-carat rough form.

 

In 1673, King Louis XIV decided to re-cut the diamond to enhance its brilliance (the previous cut had been to enhance size and not brilliance). The newly cut gem passed from 112 to 67 1/8 carats. Louis XIV officially named it the "Blue Diamond of the Crown" and would often wear the diamond on a long ribbon around his neck.

 

In 1749, Louis XIV's great-grandson, Louis XV, was king and ordered the crown jeweler to make a decoration for the Order of the Golden Fleece, using the blue diamond and the Cote de Bretagne (a large red spinel thought at the time to be a ruby).

 

When Louis XV died, his grandson, Louis XVI, became king with Marie Antoinette as his queen. According to the legend, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded during the French Revolution because of the blue diamond's curse.

 

Considering that King Louis XIV and King Louis XV had both owned and worn the blue diamond a number of times and have not been set down in legend as tormented by the curse, it is difficult to say that all those who owned or touched the gem would suffer an ill fate. Though it is true that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded, it seems that it had much more to do with their extravagance and the French Revolution than a curse on the diamond. Plus, these two royals were certainly not the only ones beheaded during the Reign of Terror.

 

During the French Revolution, the crown jewels (including the blue diamond) were taken from the royal couple after they attempted to flee France in 1791. The jewels were placed in the Garde-Meuble but were not well guarded.

 

From September 12 to 16, 1791, the Garde-Meuble was repeatedly robbed, without notice from officials until September 17. Though most of the crown jewels were soon recovered, the blue diamond was not.

 

The diamond reemerged in London in 1812 and subsequently became the possession of the british king Georges IV. It was then purchased by Mr.Hope from whom the Hope diamond has taken its name in 1887.

 

 

 

STORY OF THE BLUE DIAMOND’S CURSE: MYSTERY, MISFORTUNE AND DEATH

 

The remarkable gem, said to carry a deadly curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it.

 

An early account of the Hope Diamond's "cursed origins" was a fanciful and anonymously written newspaper article in The Times on June 25, 1909. However, an article entitled "Hope Diamond Has Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It" had appeared in the Washington Post on January 19, 1908.

 

A few months later, this was compounded by the New York Times on November 17, 1909, which wrongly reported that the diamond's former owner, Selim Habib, had drowned in a shipwreck near Singapore; in fact, it was a different person with the same name, not the owner of the diamond. The jeweller Pierre Cartier further embroidered the lurid tales to intrigue Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond in 1911.

 

One likely source of inspiration was Wilkie Collins' 1868 novel The Moonstone, which created a coherent narrative from vague and largely disregarded legends which had been attached to other diamonds such as the Koh-i-Nur and the Orloff diamond.

 

According to these stories, Tavernier stole the diamond from a Hindu temple where it had been set as one of two matching eyes of an idol, and the temple priests then laid a curse on whoever might possess the missing stone. One reason that this is not accepted is the other blue diamond "eye" has never surfaced. Furthermore, the legend claimed that Tavernier died of fever soon after and that his body was torn apart by wolves, but the historical record shows that he actually lived to the age of 84 and died in Russia attacked by wild dogs..

 

The Hope Diamond was also blamed for the unhappy fates of other historical figures vaguely linked to its ownership, such as the falls of Madame Athenais de Montespan and French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet during the reign of Louis XIV of France.The king himself died broke and scorned, his empire in ruins. Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette died beneath the blade of the guillotine. Princess de Lamballe who wore the diamond regularly was raped, mutilated and beaten to death during the French revolution.

 

Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid who had supposedly killed various members of his court for the stone was forced to abdicate.


In 1830, the now historic treasure was purchased by London banker Henry Thomas Hope for $150,000. It proved a mixed blessing. Family fortunes declined rapidly, and one grandson died penniless before another heir finally sold the tainted stone. Over the next 16 years, the Hope diamond went from owner to owner, including Frenchman Jacques Colet, who committed suicide, and Russian Prince Ivan Kannitovitsky, a murder victim. In 1908, Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid paid $400,000 for the diamond and promptly bestowed in on his favorite concubine, Surbaya. But within a year Hamid had stabbed Subaya to death and had been dethroned himself.

 

Even the jewelers who may have handled the Hope Diamond were not spared from its reputed malice: the insanity and suicide of Jacques Colot, who supposedly bought it from Eliason; the financial ruin of the jeweler Simon Frankel, who bought it from the Hope family. But although he is documented as a French diamond dealer of the correct era, Colot has no recorded connection with the stone, and Frankel's misfortunes were in the midst of economic straits that also ruined many of his peers.

 

The legend further includes the deaths of numerous other characters who had been previously unknown: diamond cutter Wilhelm Fals, killed by his son Hendrik, who stole it and later committed suicide; Francois Beaulieu, who received the stone from Hendrik but starved to death after selling it to Daniel Eliason; a Russian prince named Kanitowski, who lent it to French actress Lorens Ladue and promptly shot her dead on the stage, and was himself stabbed to death by revolutionaries Simon Montharides had it next until one evening his carriage overturned, killing him, along with his wife and infant daughter.

 

However, the existence of only a few of these characters has been verified historically, leading researchers to conclude that most of these persons are fictitious.

 

The Hope family is said to have been tainted with the diamond's curse. According to the legend, the once-rich Hopes went bankrupt because of the Hope diamond.

 

Is this true? Henry Philip Hope was one of the heirs of the banking firm Hope & Co. which was sold in 1813. Henry Philip Hope became a collector of fine art and gems, thus he acquired the large blue diamond that was soon to carry his family's name. Since he had never married, Henry Philip Hope left his estate to his three nephews when he died in 1839. The Hope diamond went to the oldest of the nephews, Henry Thomas Hope.

 

Henry Thomas Hope married and had one daughter; his daughter soon grew up, married and had five children. When Henry Thomas Hope died in 1862 at the age of 54, the Hope diamond stayed in the possession of Hope's widow. But when Henry Thomas Hope's widow died, she passed the Hope diamond on to her grandson, the second oldest son, Lord Francis Hope

 

The actress May Yohe made many attempts to capitalize on her identity as the former wife of the last Hope to own the diamond, and sometimes blamed the Hope for her misfortunes.

 

In July 1902, months after Lord Francis divorced her, she told police in Australia that her lover, Putnam Strong, had abandoned her and taken her jewels. Incredibly, the couple reconciled, married later that year, but divorced in 1910. On her third marriage by 1920, she persuaded film producer George Kleine to back a 15-episode serial The Hope Diamond Mystery, which added fictitious characters to the tale. It was not successful.

 

Lord Francis Hope married Olive Muriel Thompson in 1904. They had three children before she died suddenly in 1912, a tragedy that has been attributed to The Curse. Nearly every member of the Hope family is rumored to have died in poverty, which led to the sale of the (officially titled) Hope Diamond in 1901.

 

Shortly thereafter, the famous jeweler Pierre Cartier found a potential buyer in Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean. She was an American mining heiress and socialite who was famous for being the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. She reportedly believed that objects considered “bad luck” always gave her extra goodluck, so Cartier made sure to embellish the history of the haunted Hope Diamond. Despite her confidence, she was struck by one tragedy after another throughout the rest of her years.

 

 

Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope diamond

 

Evalyn’s first born son died in a car crash when he was nine years old, her 25 year old daughter committed suicide, and her husband was institutionalized and declared legally insane and died in an asylum. Despite these facts, Evalyn kept her faith in the Hope Diamond, and she wanted it to stay in the family. Unfortunately, like many of the diamond’s other owners, she was impoverished at the time of her death. She slowly became addicted to morphine and passed away in 1947 leaving the hazardous heritage to six grandchildren. Two years later, the McLean family sold the diamond to Harry Winston, a dealer in precious stones in order to pay-off her debts.

 

In 1958, Winston donated the necklace to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, where it instantly became a premier exhibit. Visitors from around the world can still visit it today, albeit from behind a solid, bulletproof glass safe.

 

Photo from the formal presentation of the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian on September 10th, 1958. From left to right:
Mrs. Harry Winston, wife of the donor; Leonard Carmichael, Secretary of the Smithsonian; Dr. George S. Switzer, Curator of Mineralogy.

 

It still generates plenty of pop culture references - take, for instance, the infamous “Coeur de la Mer” necklace from Titanic. The real Hope Diamond was never on board the fated ship (though it does share a similar supposed curse), but the character of Rose was nonetheless given a “heart of the ocean” necklace that was said to be created from the original blue diamond.

 

However, since the diamond was put in the care of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, there have been no unusual incidents related to it.

Perhaps the curse can't work its misery on institutions the way it did on individuals; or perhaps the terrible disenchantment finally died with Evalyn McLean, one of the six McLean grandchildren, found dead of unapparent cause in her Dallas apartment on December 13, 1967, at the age of 25.

 

 

All famous diamonds 

 

 

 

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