The Hope Diamond: The Reality and the Fantasy

A Fabled History

While many precious stones and jewels have captured the fancy of kings, queens, and wealthy patrons, few, if any, have ever reached the stature of worldwide fame approaching that of the Hope Diamond. Certainly, none have had the number of books and articles written about them in numbers such as those regaling the history of the Hope. History is interlaced with stories of fact and fancy such as those swirling around this “most famous of diamonds.”

While many have heard the stories of the “Curse of the Hope Diamond,” the question remains as to whether that legend is based on facts or, as is most likely, a clever marketing ploy by one of the world’s greatest jewelers. While there is some degree of question as to the provenance of the iconic stone that now resides in the Smithsonian, there are some generally accepted facts of how the “Blue Majesty” arrived on our shores.

To Washington via India via France via England

If the diamond we now call the Hope Diamond is what it seems, it first came to light circa 1642 from the depths of the Kollur mines located in India. This stone, then described simply as a 112 3/16th carat blue diamond, was purchased by an inveterate traveler and French jeweler, Jean Baptiste Tavernier.

Roughly 26 years later, Tavernier was called to court and appeared before the Sun King, King Louis XIV. The king added the magnificent stone and a number of other jewels purchased from Tavernier to his collection and made the jeweler a noble. In 1673, the diamond was subjected to the first of at least two cuts, reducing it to 67 1/8th carats. It remained a popular ornament for the French royalty and was incorporated into the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1749.

Perhaps the first hint of a curse comes from the events of 1791. The jewel was among many seized from Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette as they sought to flee. Alas, they lost their heads and their jewels. The jewels were placed in the Garde-Meuble and were stolen shortly thereafter.

In 1813, a blue diamond of 44 carats turned up in the hands of a London jeweler. It is widely accepted that this was the now famous blue diamond, cut yet again to provide plausible deniability to its English owner. Eventually, the stone made its way into the hands of another royal estate, that of King George IV. Sold after his death, it finally came into possession of its namesake, Henry Philip Hope, sometimes in the 1930s.

A Curse or Marketing Genius?

It is during the interregnum between King George and the Hopes that the legend of the curse first gains visibility. It seems that Pierre Cartier owned the diamond in 1910. At that time, he attempted to sell it to Evalyn McLean, a long-time customer. Cartier knew that Walsh had a certain idiosyncrasy, believing that items bad luck for others became sources of good luck in her hands. While not certain, all indications are that the master jeweler and salesman emphasized the idea of a curse to close the sale.

While much has been written on this subject of the Curse of the Hope Diamond, and there is considerable tragedy in its history, we’re left to our own imagination as to its role as a magnificent piece of salesmanship or simply is the product of a number of tragic coincidences.

At any rate, the tale ends on a somewhat intriguing note. Harry Winston owned the diamond by 1949, and wanted to see the creation of a national gem collection as a part of his legacy. To spur that concept forward, he simply bundled the now-fabled Hope Diamond in a simple brown box and sent it by registered mail to the Smithsonian. There, this iconic jewel rests today, ready to be viewed by all who are intrigued by its beauty and its legend.

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