The famous blue Hope Diamond, weighing 44.52 carats, is said to be the most famous diamond in the world and is reputed to be very unlucky for its owner. The Hope Diamond is on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution.
The gem apparently originated in India, in the Kollur mine, in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh (which at the time had been part of the Golconda kingdom), in the seventeenth century. It is unclear who had initially owned the gemstone, whether it had been found, by whom, and in what condition.
It was said that a curse rested on the diamond, for a thief was reputed to have stolen the diamond from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, wife of Rama. However, this is unproven.
A French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier obtained the stone and he brought it to Paris which was the first known precursor to the Hope Diamond. This large stone became known as the Tavernier Blue diamond. It was a crudely cut triangular shaped stone of 115 carats (23 g).
According to historians, in 1669, Tavernier sold this large blue diamond along with approximately one thousand other diamonds to King Louis XIV of France. He sold the large Blue Diamond for approximately $1.8 million dollars and as part of this deal also became a Baron. According to the theory, during that period Colbert, the king’s Finance Minister, regularly sold offices and noble titles for cash, and an outright patent of nobility thus was part of the sale of this Diamond.
Upon Tavernier’s return to India, he apparently was killed by wild dogs as a result of the “curse” connected with the blue diamond.
In 1678, Louis XIV commissioned the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, to recut the Tavernier Blue, resulting in a 67-carat (13g) stone which royal inventories thereafter listed as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France, later more simply called the French Blue. Though the diamond was cut down drastically, the value of the diamond increased to approximately $3.8 million dollars (almost double what King Louis bought it for).
In 1749, Louis’ descendant, King Louis XV, had the French Blue set into a more elaborate jewelled pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin. The assembled piece included a red spinel of 107 carats shaped as a dragon breathing “covetous flames”, as well as 83 red-painted diamonds and 112 yellow-painted diamonds to suggest a fleece shape. But the piece fell into disuse after the death of Louis XV.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette inherited the French Blue, as it was popularly known. In 1792, about the time of their executions, the French Blue was stolen from the Garde-Meuble together with all of the French crown jewels. Some of the gems taken in this robbery were recovered, but not the Blue Diamond of the Crown. The French Blue fell off the map and was lost for nearly 2 decades.
It is believed that there was actually a conspiracy behind the theft of these jewels along with the French Blue by the leader of the French revolution.
In 1800 a gem resembling the Hope was worn by Queen Maria Louisa of Spain in a portrait painted by Goya in 1800. There are reports that the stolen French Blue was recut to its present size by Wilhelm Fals, a Dutch diamond cutter. Fals is said to have died of grief after his son, Hendrick stole the gem from him. Hendrick, in turn, committed suicide.
In 1812 a 44 carat blue diamond was documented in London, in the possession of Daniel Eliason. George IV purchased the blue diamond from Daniel and wore it in a golden fleece. It was later renamed the George IV Blue.
When George IV died in 1830 his last mistress (Lady Conyngham) stole a lot of his jewelry and the Duke of Wellington ordered her executed if she did not return it. She did comply and ended up returning the Diamond along with the rest of the stolen gems.
The Duke sold the Diamond to a banker in England – Thomas Hope. This was in an effort to pay off debt that George IV has accumulated. The Diamond was then renamed The Hope Diamond.
It was also noted around 1878 that a gentleman by the name of Charles, Duke of Brunswick from Germany, had his own large collection of diamonds and had in his possession a 13 carat blue diamond. There is speculation that this may be a piece cut off the original 112 carat Tavernier blue diamond.
The Hope Diamond was later passed on to Lord Francis Hope who was extremely wealthy. In 1890 Francis Hope married a show girl by the name of May Yohe, a show girl in New York. She proceeded to where the Hope Diamond at shows. However, over a period of several years, Lord Francis Hope gambled away his entire family fortune ($450 – $600 million).
In 1901 after a number of court cases regarding the subject, Francis Hope sold the Hope Diamond to a New York firm, Joseph Frankel’s & Sons for $2.9 million.
The very first appearance and accusation of this alleged “curse” of the Hope Diamond appeared in the papers in New York a few years after Frankel’s purchase of the Diamond when the company started to become financially unstable and was going bankrupt since the diamond had been in their possession in their safe. The papers went on to state that the diamond has brought harm and back luck to each of its owners. This was a fabricated story and was not based on evidence of any kind.
In 1909 Cartier, a Paris Firm, purchased the Diamond.
Evalyn Walsh McLean, a wealthy and eccentric American social figure, bought the Hope diamond in 1911 from Pierre Cartier after being told the story of the curse behind this Diamond. Evalyn felt that the curse did not apply to her because she had been born into wealth or riches. She purchased the Diamond for $3.9 million.
Just a few years later, Evalyn’s son died after being hit by a car near his home. This made headline news with the statement “Another tragedy in wake of the Hope Diamond”. Later Evalyn’s husband became an alcoholic and died in a mental hospital and her daughter committed suicide in 1946.
Evalyn died in 1947 and a jeweler named Harry Winston bought all of her jewelry including the Hope Diamond in 1949. He used the diamond to interest Americans in buying diamonds after WW II and used in his “Court of Jewels” tour.
Smithsonian mineralogist George Switzer later persuaded Harry Winston to donate the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for a proposed national gem collection to be housed at the museum.
On November 10, 1958, Winston donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution sending it through U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper, insured via registered mail at a cost of $145.29.
Winston had never believed in any of the tales about the curse; he donated the diamond with the hope that it would help the United States “establish a gem collection.” Winston died many years later, in 1978, of a heart attack. Winston’s gift, according to Smithsonian curator Dr. Jeffrey Port, helped spur additional gifts to the museum.
The Hope Diamond has remained on display in the Smithsonian Institute and is the subject of millions of tourists over the world.