The Curious History of the Hope Diamond

Evelyn Walsh McLean donning The Hope Diamond. Image by © CORBIS

On September 11th, 1792, chaos ruled in the streets of Paris. The French Revolution had begun and the royal family hid away from the rioting crowds. It was on this day, in the midst of mass turmoil and confusion, that the crown jewels vanished. Most precious among them was “The Blue Diamond” or “The French Blue,” a stunning feat of nature and prize of the French crown. It was described as being “of a faire violet” hue, at times appearing deep sapphire blue and in certain light possessing a rosy glow. In addition to its remarkable size (almost 70 carats), this unique coloring rendered the French Blue truly one of a kind. Indeed, only 1 in 100,000 diamonds are colored diamonds, and blue and pink are the most rare among them.

King Louis XIV bought the original diamond, “The Tavernier Diamond”, from Jean-Baptise Tavernier, a prolific explorer and trader of exotic goods. The original diamond was even larger—a stupefying 112 carats. But King Louis XIV had it cut down and set within the Order of the Golden Fleece emblem, in which form it served not as an article of jewelry but rather as a symbol of the king’s supreme power. After that fateful September day, however, the Blue Diamond of France was never seen again. Historians suspect that after being stolen, it was cut again, forming what is now famously known as the Hope Diamond. A close comparison of the Hope Diamond with historical documentation of the faceting, coloring, and dimensions of the French Blue does indeed lend credence to their proposed relation. It is speculated that the Hope Diamond was purchased in the early 19th century by King George IV, who is depicted in an 1822 portrait wearing a magnificent gem greatly resembling the Hope Diamond. In 1839, a London banker named Henry Phillip Hope purchased the rare stone under unknown conditions and gave it the name which it bears today. Hope described the diamond as follows:

“A most magnificent and rare brilliant, of a deep sapphire blue, of the greatest purity, and most beautifully cut; it is of true proportions, not too thick, nor too spread. This matchless gem combines the beautiful colour of the sapphire with the prismatic fire and brilliancy of the diamond, and, on account of its extraordinary colour, size, and other fine qualities, it certainly may be called unique; as we may presume there exists no cabinet, nor any of jewels in the world, which can boast of the possession of so curious and fine a gem as the one we are now describing…”

The Hope Diamond remained within the Hope Family’s possession for the next 63 years before being sold to various jewelers. It curiously never seemed to stay in the same place for very long. In fact over the years, it developed a reputation for being cursed. The origins of the Tavernier Diamond are unknown, but it is believed that Tavernier brought it back from one of his trips to the diamond mines of India. One legend claims that Tavernier stole the diamond from a Hindu temple, where it resided in the eye of a sacred icon; it follows that this blasphemous offense resulted in a curse upon all who wore or possessed the gem. It is true that misfortune was visited upon many of the bearers of the Hope Diamond. A New York jeweler who owned the gem briefly called it a “hoodoo” diamond, claiming that it brought him bad luck. It then passed into the hands of a Turkish sultan, jeweler Pierre Cartier, and various others before being donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 1958, where it resides to this day.

The rare physical qualities of this gemstone in conjunction with its mysterious and turbulent past render the Hope Diamond the most famous jewel in the world. It now enjoys an era of relative stability, housed within the secure confines of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Here it receives the millions into its regal company, enriching all with a glimpse at one of nature’s most exquisite works of art.



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