Dazzling and Dangerous? Examining the History of the Exquisite Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond is one of the most well-known diamonds in the world. This famous diamond has been on exhibition in the National Museum of Natural History (which is administered by the Smithsonian Institution), in Washington D.C., since 1958. Nevertheless, the history of the Hope Diamond can be traced back several centuries, and a number of notable historical figures are involved in it.
It is widely believed that the Hope Diamond is cursed, as bad luck has (supposedly) befallen a number of people who were connected to the diamond. A counter-claim also exists, which states that there is no evidence to support this popular belief, and that the curse was fabricated solely to arouse interest in the diamond.
The Rise of the Diamond
The Hope Diamond is believed to have been formed deep beneath the earth’s surface, and was then carried upward by a volcanic eruption more than a billion years ago. Unlike ordinary diamonds, which are colorless, the Hope Diamond has a deep-blue color, as a result of trace amounts of an element known as boron within its crystal structure. Only one out of several hundred thousand diamonds have this deep-blue color. The diamond weighs 45.52 carats, and is the largest known deep-blue diamond.
The Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
According to one version of the origin story of the Hope Diamond, this diamond once adorned an idol in a Hindu temple in India. One day, the diamond was stolen by a Hindu priest, who was punished with a slow and agonizing death for his crime. Somehow, the diamond is said to have ended up in a mine by the Krishna River in southwest India.
Another version of the story has its first European owner, a French merchant by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, as the sacrilegious thief. Additionally, it is claimed that Tavernier was struck by the ‘curse’, coming down with a raging fever shortly after stealing the diamond, dying, and his corpse being ravaged by wolves. However, this appears to be a legend - Tavernier is recorded to have lived until a ripe old age of 84, returned to France, sold the diamond to the French king, retired to Russia, and died peacefully many years later.
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The Disappearance of the Diamond
A more plausible story is that Tavernier had acquired the diamond from the Kollur Mine in Golconda, India. At this point of time, the diamond was crudely cut, and was possibly 115 carats or 112 3/16 carats in weight.
After acquiring the diamond, Tavernier returned to France, and sold the diamond to the French king, Louis XIV, in 1668, along with 14 other large diamonds and several other smaller ones. In 1673, the diamond was recut by the court jeweler, Sieur Pitau, into a 67 1/8 carat stone, which was known as the diamant bleu de la Couronne de France (‘Blue Diamond of the Crown of France’ or more simply as the ‘French Blue’). The diamond remained in possession of the French monarchy until the French Revolution, when it was stolen in 1792.
The Hope Diamond disappeared for a while, and re-emerged in London in 1812. A diamond similar to the French Blue is documented to have been in the possession of a London diamond merchant by the name of Daniel Eliason.
It is strongly believed that this diamond was the French Blue, but that it had been recut during its disappearance from France. It has been speculated that the diamond was purchased by George IV of the United Kingdom. The king’s debts were so enormous that at his death in 1830 the diamond was sold, perhaps through private channels.
King George IV. ( Public Domain )
The diamond next appears to be in the possession of Henry Philip Hope, after whom the diamond is now named. There is no record, however, as to the person Hope had purchased the diamond from, or the price that he paid for it. The diamond remained in Hope’s family until 1901, when it was sold to pay off the debts of Lord Francis Hope, the grandson of Henry Philip Hope’s nephew. During the next 9 years, the diamond changed hands several times. The Hope Diamond’s next known owner was Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, who bought the diamond in 1911, and kept it until her death in 1947.
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Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years. ( Public Domain )
Mrs. McLean’s jewelry collection, which included the Hope Diamond, was purchased by Harry Winston Inc. of New York. The Hope Diamond was shown at many exhibitions and charitable events, before being donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. The diamond is thought to have left the museum only four times throughout this part of its history.
Featured image: The Tereshchenko and Hope Diamonds, two rare, blue, and world famous diamonds. Source: CC BY-SA 4.0
By Wu Mingren
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