Hope Diamond

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Origin of name

The Hope Diamond gets its name from its one time owner Henry Philip Hope, the brother of the London banker Henry Thomas Hope, who purchased the diamond in 1824, after it re-surfaced in London, more than 20 years after it was stolen from the Garde Meuble in Paris, during the period of the French revolution. Previously, when the stone was with the ruling monarchies of France, it was variously known as the "Blue Diamond of the Crown," the "French Blue," or the "Tavernier Blue."

Characteristics of the diamond

 The Hope diamond is a 45.52-carat, blue diamond of Indian origin. The GIA color grading for the stone is fancy dark grayish blue, and the clarity is VS-1 (very slightly included). The cut of the diamond is described as a cushion antique brilliant, with a faceted girdle and extra facets on the pavilion. The dimensions of the stone are 25.60 x 21.78 x 12.00 mm. A unique feature of the stone is it's ability to show a delayed fluorescence. When the stone is exposed to an ultra-violet light source for sometime, and later the light source cut off, the stone produces a brilliant red phosphorescence.

The Hope diamond is a Type II diamond, being nitrogen-free. Diamonds that contain trace quantities of nitrogen, that impart a yellow color, are known as Type I diamonds. Type II diamonds are again sub-divided into two :- Type IIa and Type IIb.

Type IIa - These diamonds are chemically pure and usually structurally perfect, and therefore they are absolutely colorless. They are known as the "purest of the pure" of all diamonds, and constitute about 1-2 % of all naturally occurring diamonds. However a very small percentage (less than 0.1 %) of these diamonds have structural imperfections, caused at the time of their formation in the earth's mantle or during their subsequent rise to the surface of the earth. These structural imperfections can absorb visible light in different regions of the spectrum, imparting rare fancy colors such as pink, red, purple, orange, and brown to the diamonds.

Type IIb - These diamonds are nitrogen-free, but instead contain trace quantities of boron, which impart a blue color to the diamonds. These diamonds are also semi-conductors, unlike normal diamonds which are non-conductors. However type IIb diamonds are extremely rare, constituting only about 0.1 % of all naturally occurring diamonds.

Thus the Hope diamond is a rare Type IIb diamond. The Hope diamond is also the largest blue diamond in the world. See table below.

 

List of famous blue diamonds in the world

S/N

Name

carat weight

color

1 Hope diamond 45.52 fancy dark grayish blue
2 Tereschenko 42.92 fancy blue
3 Wittelsbach 35.56 fancy intense blue
4 Sultan of Morocco 35.27 fancy grayish blue
5 The Blue Heart 30.82 fancy intense blue
6 The Heart of Eternity 27.64 fancy vivid blue
7 Transvaal Blue 25.00 unknown color grade
8 The Blue Empress 14.00 unknown color grade
9 The Blue Magic 12.02 fancy vivid blue
10 Graff Blue 6.19 fancy blue

 

Early history

The Hope Diamond, that is believed to have been stolen from the eye of the statute of a sacred Hindu Goddess, and consequently had a curse placed placed upon it, seems to have had it's origins from the famous Kollur mines of Golconda, in Southern India, which was the world's first source of exceptional quality blue diamonds, prior to the discovery of the Premier Mines in 1902,  in South Africa, the next important source of blue diamonds in the world. The diamond was purchased by Tavernier in the year 1660. This was the time when the Kollur Mines were in active production, and as Tavernier himself had seen when he visited Golconda around this time, more than 20 mines were being worked employing over 60,000 people.

For an array of world famous owners which included members of the royalty as well as commoners, who had the fortune or rather misfortune of owning this notorious diamond, the stone brought despair and disappointment instead of "hope" and contentment, and should have been appropriately named the "diamond of despair." The reason for all the misfortune that befell the unlucky owners of this stone was supposed to be a curse that had been placed on it by the priests of a Hindu Temple in India, who were annoyed by the loss of the stone from the eye of a statute of the sacred Hindu Goddess Sita, the wife of Rama, the seventh avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu.

According to a legend, the diamond was stolen from an eye of an idol of the Hindu Goddess Sita, the wife of Rama, which belonged to a temple on the Coleroon river, in India. Adornment of sacred shrines and idols with diamonds and other precious stones is a cultural tradition that had been prevalent in India since ancient times, perhaps dating back to thousands of years B. C. This clearly shows, that ancient Indians were not only aware of the extreme rarity of diamonds but also the enhanced value of these precious minerals, which were considered to be more expensive than gold. Thus diamonds first came to be associated with purity and divinity, and subsequently became a symbol of power and glory of the monarchy, who claimed to be divine representatives on earth. Ancient Indians had also mastered the art of cutting and polishing these diamonds. In fact the word diamond is derived from the Sanskrit word "Siyamanta or Diyamanta." Ancient Sanskrit writings refer to a gem named "Siyamantaka" owned by Lord Krishna, which Hindus believe was the same stone, which subsequently came to be known as the "Koh-i-Noor" diamond. With the arrival of the Mogul rulers and later Persian and European travelers in India, there was an unprecedented increase in demand for diamonds. Diamonds mined in India eventually found their way to the courts of the Mogul and Persian rulers and later that of the European Monarchs. The increase in demand was so high that special security precautions had to be taken to prevent pilferage of diamonds adorning the sacred statutes of Hindu Shrines. Besides the Hope diamond, other diamonds that seem to have similar infamous beginnings are the Orlov diamond, and the Idol's Eye diamond. 

The French traveler and jeweler Jean Baptiste Tavernier in one of his several travels to the Indian sub-continent in the 17thcentury, was approached by a slave in the year 1660 who had something very secretive, to be sold to the Frenchman. It transpired that the man had in his possession a dark blue stone, which at first glance appeared to be a large blue sapphire. But on closer examination, Tavernier realized, that the stone was actually an extremely rare blue diamond. Tavernier purchased the crudely cut, triangular shaped stone, weighing 112 carats and later smuggled it to Paris. (see picture for Tavernier's drawing of the crudely cut diamond).

Having safely smuggled the stone to Paris, Tavernier sold it in 1668 to King Louis XIV of France, with whom he had had several business dealings before. King Louis XIV assigned his court jeweler Sieur Pitau, to cut and polish the stone. Pitau transformed the stone into a triangular pear-shaped brilliant weighing 67.50 carats. The stone eventually acquired the name "Blue Diamond of the Crown" or the "French Blue" or the "Tavernier Blue." It was set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon for the King to wear on ceremonial occasions.

Louis XIV was 30 years old at the time he purchased the diamond in 1668. This was also the time that great changes were occurring in his private life. In the year 1667, Marquise de Montespan became Louis' new mistress, replacing Madame de la Valliere. Louis XIV presented the blue diamond to his new mistress Madame de Montespan. But in 1680 she was implicated in the "affair of the poisons" a scandal in which a number of prominent people were accused of sorcery and murder. Fearful of his reputation the King got rid of Madame de Montespan as his mistress. The misfortune that befell Madame Montespan was attributed to the curse place on the diamond.

Likewise, the French Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet's downfall, and arrest for embezzlement and subsequent imprisonment at the fortress of Pignerol, where he died 15 tears later, was also blamed on the curse of the French Blue diamond. Nicolas Fouquet organized a  grand festival in honor of the King, hoping to impress the court. Nicolas planned to borrow the diamond from the King, thinking that it would please the King to have as his Finance Minister, a man of impressively good taste. But, after the party the King got Nicholas arrested for embezzlement and regained the diamond.

Louis the XIV also known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, established himself as the absolute monarch of France, making France the greatest European power at that time, and extending the eastern borders of France after a series of wars between 1667 and 1697. During his long period of rule that lasted 54 years (1661 to  1715), Louis was guided by the concept of dictatorship by divine right, viewing himself as God's representative on earth and considered all disobedience and rebellion to be sinful.

The decline of Louis XIV started with the persecution of Protestants in 1685, and the war between France and a grand alliance of Britain, the Netherlands and Austria, who opposed Louis' expansionism, that lasted from 1688to 1697. Louis was forced to give up part of his territorial acquisitions. Again in the war of Spanish succession that lasted from 1701- 1714, France was opposed by all the great powers of Europe, and the disasters of this war so great that France came close to losing all the advantages gained over the preceding century.

Louis' downfall in the war front was compounded by private griefs in the family. He lost his son, the Grand Dauphin, two of his grandsons, the ducs de Bourgogne, his great grandson, the duc de Bretagne, and the duchesse de Bourgogne, almost simultaneously. Perhaps the curse of the French Blue diamond seemed to be taking it's toll, from the family of it's celebrated owner.

Louis XIV died in 1715, at the age of 77. In spite of his great achievements as the ruler of France for 54 years, Louis had become so unpopular in France, that only lackeys accompanied his funeral carriage, amidst the jeers of the populace to the Sain-Denis Basilica.

After Louis XIV, the French Blue diamond was inherited by his great grandson King Louis XV (1715-1774), who was installed as King at the age of five years. Philippe II, duc d'Orleans was appointed as regent until the King attained the age of 13, in February 1723. In 1749, King Louis XV had the diamond set on his pendant for the order of the Golden Fleece, but after his death it fell into disuse.

When Louis XV died on May 10, 1774, he was succeeded by his grandson Louis-Auguste, duc de Berry, who became Louis XVI. He was the last King of France in the line of Bourbon Monarchs, preceding the revolution of 1789. He married the Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette, daughter of Maria Theresa, and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I.

Louis XVI, who inherited the French Blue diamond, gifted it to his Queen Consort Marie Antoinette, to add to her collection of jewelry. Princess de Lamballe had also worn the jewel on certain occasions. The beheadings of Louis XVI  and Marie Antoinette and the rape, mutilation and beheading of Princesse de Lamballe gives credence to the legendary curse.

While Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were held in prison, during the French revolution, some of the French Crown Jewels were stolen on September 17th, 1792, by six men who broke into the Garde Meuble, the public treasury, that housed the jewels. Cadet Guillot, who was one of the robbers, took the French Blue diamond, along with the Gote de Bretagne Spinel  to Le Havre and later to London, where he tried to sell the jewels, but was not successful. Later in 1796, when Guillot was in serious debt, he handed the jewels to Lancry de la Lovelle, who got Guillot imprisoned.

 

Modern history

The French Blue diamond then disappeared for the next 20years, and reappeared again in September 1812, transformed into a different shape, and weighing only 44.50 carats. The stone was in the possession of a London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason. The cushion-cut steel blue diamond was believed to have been cut from the 67.50-carat triangular pear-shaped French Blue or Tavernier Blue diamond. This fact was verified only recently in the year 2005, using computer-aided geometry research, by the Smithsonian Institution. It is interesting to note that the 44.50-carat unnamed blue diamond came into recorded history almost exactly 20 years after the theft of the French Blue, just as the statute of limitations for the crime has expired.

According to the legend during the period of the diamonds disappearance , it was re-cut by a cutter named Wilhelm Fals, who was killed when his son Hendrick Fals, stole it. Subsequently Hendrick Fals committed suicide after disposing of the diamond to Francois Beaulieu, who in turn suffered from deprivation and starvation after selling the stone to Daniel Eliason.

The French Blue diamond was then acquired by Henry Philip Hope in 1824, who added it to his collection of jewels. The diamond which was previously known as the French Blue or the Tavernier Blue, now acquired the name Hope diamond, after Henry Philip Hope, brother of the London banker Henry Thomas Hope. He got the diamond set in a brooch. Henry Philip Hope sometimes lent the stone to his sister-in-law Louisa Beresford, the wife of his brother Henry Thomas Hope, whenever she hosted society balls. When Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, his three nephews fought in court for ten years over his inheritance, until Henry Hope, acquired the gems, including the Hope diamond.

The Hope diamond was then put on display at the request of the organizers of two different exhibitions, the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 and the Paris Exhibition Universelle held in Paris in 1855.

Henry Hope died in on December 4th, 1862, and after him the Hope diamond was inherited by his wife Adele. After Adele's death on March 31, 1884, the diamond was inherited by her grandson Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton Hope, who was the son of Henrietta, daughter of Henry Hope and Adele. Henrietta's husband Henry Pelham-Clinton, was the sixth duke of Newcastle. Whatever Henry Francis (who later became Lord Francis) inherited, was subject to a life interest and therefore he could not sell any part of it without court permission.

Lord Francis, married his mistress, actress May Yohe, on November 27, 1894. May Yohe then had the privilege of wearing the diamond at social gatherings. It is said that Lord Francis became a victim of the curse, when he became totally bankrupt and was declared insolvent in 1896. Lord Francis was not able to dispose of the Hope diamond, without the permission of the court, and he became totally dependent on his wife. In 1901, he was granted permission to sell the Hope diamond. However, his wife May Yohe, suddenly eloped with her boyfriend Putnam Strong, the son of former New York City mayor, William L. Strong. Lord Francis later divorced her in 1902. The disruption of Lord Francis' personal life was also blamed on the Hope diamond.

The diamond was sold to a London jeweler Adolf Weil for a sum of £ 29,000, who in turn sold it to a U.S. diamond dealer Simon Frankel, who was supposed to have got into financial difficulties after purchasing the stone. Frankel had supposedly sold the stone to Jacques Colot, who later committed suicide. The next owner of the stone was the Russian Prince Kanitowski, who lent the stone to the French actress Lorens Ladue, who was later shot and killed by the Prince himself. The Prince was later killed during the Russian revolution. According to the legend both the Prince and the actress were victims of the curse.

In the meantime Lord Francis Hope had re-married in 1904 and his new wife was Olive Muriel Thompson. The couple were blessed with three children. Muriel Thompson died suddenly in 1912, a tragedy that has been attributed to the curse.

The diamond now became the property of the jeweler Simon Montharides, who it is said was killed with his family. The next owner of the diamond was the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909). Abdul Hamid dismissed parliament, suspended the constitution and became the autocratic ruler of Turkey for 33 years. Abdul Hamid adopted a policy of pan-Islamism to get the support of other Muslim Nations, against the Western Powers. Abdul Hamid paid $ 450,000 to a syndicate of diamond dealers to purchase the Hope diamond. He presented the diamond to one of his favorite wives Subaya, who wore the Hope diamond, and probably came under the influence of it's curse. Subaya started palace intrigues against the Sultan, who found out and had her executed. It was during Sultan Abdul Hamid's rule that Mrs. Evalyn Walsh Mclean attended a Turkish court function, and saw the famous blue diamond. Mrs. Walsh was so impressed by the diamond, that she longed to posses it one day. Years passed, and Abdul Hamid's despotic rule made him very unpopular among his subjects. Abdul Hamid realizing that his days were numbered, smuggled the Hope diamond and other valuable jewels in his collection to Paris, with a view of disposing them, but after sometime he was deposed by a short-lived uprising in April 1909, also blamed on the curse of the diamond. The proceeds of the sale of his jewels, including the hope diamond were seized by Abdul Hamid's successors in Government.

In the meantime May Yohe, who ran away with Putnam Strong, had her share of misfortunes, which she blamed on the Hope diamond. In July 1902, she made a complaint to the Australian Police, that her lover Putnam Strong had abandoned her and taken her jewels. But, by an incredible turn of events, the estranged couple reconciled and married later that year. Eight years after the marriage in 1910, the couple again separated. After her third marriage in 1920, May Yohe persuaded film producer George Kleine to back a 15-episode serial based on the legendary curse of the Hope diamond, titled "The Hope Diamond Mystery," which added more fictitious characters to the tale. However the serial was not successful. Again in 1921, she hired Henry Leyford Gates to help write "The Mystery of the Hope Diamond", in which she starred as Lady Francis Hope. The film fictionalized the character of Tavernier and added a new character called Marat, among the diamonds victims. In the film she wore a replica of the Hope Diamond, trying to generate more publicity to further her career.

Salomon Habib purchased the Hope diamond in Paris for $ 400,000 in 1908, probably after it was smuggled into Paris by Sultan Abdul Hamid's agents. Habib became badly indebted after purchasing the Hope, also thought to be the curse of the diamond, and was forced to sell his collection of jewels. The Hope diamond was presented at an aborted auction on June 24, 1909, alongside other possessions of Habib. Later Habib sold the Hope diamond to the Paris Jeweler Rosenau for the ridiculously low figure of $80,000, suffering a loss of $ 360,000 in the process. Rosenau sold the diamond to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs. Cartier re-set the stone in a platinum and diamond necklace setting in 1911 and sold it to U. S. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, the daughter of Thomas Walsh a close friend and customer of Pierre Cartier, when she visited Paris with her husband Edward Beale Mclean in 1911. The price paid for the diamond was $ 180,000. Evalyn Walsh was well aware of the notorious past of the diamond, yet she decided to purchase it, because she believed that things that were unlucky for everybody else would be lucky for her, because she was an exception.

The diamond necklace set with the Hope, became her favorite piece of jewelry, and she wore it for all occasions such as the frequent lavish parties she threw at her Washington residence, for the elite of  the society, such as politicians, business tycoons, celebrities, and other dignitaries from around the world. She also wore it for her appearances in the latest Paris fashion shows. Her attitude towards high-end jewelry ornaments is clearly reflected in the following extract from her autobiography, "My own preference, generally is for show. It's only when the things I buy creates a show for those around me that I get my money's worth."

But the curse of the Hope diamond seems to catch up with her later in life. She runs short of money, and is compelled to pawn her jewels on many occasions. Her adored first born son, Vinson, was killed in an automobile accident when he was just nine years old. Her husband Ned, then ran off with another woman, and depletes their fortune. Ned became a chronic alcoholic, and he eventually died in a sanatorium. Their family newspaper the Washington Post goes bankrupt, and Evalyn is forced to sell some of her properties. Then in 1946, Evalyn's daughter dies of an overdose of sleeping pills, at the young age of 25. Her series of misfortunes were attributed to the legendary curse of the Hope diamond. But, Evalyn's own views on the purported curse of the diamond was more down to earth. "What tragedies have befallen me, might have occurred had I never seen or touched the Hope diamond. My observations have persuaded me that tragedies, for anyone who lives are not escapable."

Evalyn Walsh died in 1947, and had bequeathed her property including her collection of jewels to her grandchildren, who were still minors. Her estate was to be administered by court appointed trustees until the eldest child reached the legally mature age of 25 years. However, the trustees obtained court permission to sell her jewels, in order to settle her debts. In 1949, the McLean jewel collection that included the Hope diamond, the 94.8-carat Star of the East diamond, the 15-carat Star of the South diamond, the 31-carat McLean diamond, and a 9-carat green diamond, was purchased by the New York jeweler Harry Winston.

Harry Winston exhibited the Hope diamond in his "Court of Jewels Exhibition" that toured the United States, and also at various charity balls held at different times. Again in 1958, the diamond was exhibited at the Canadian National Exhibition. He also had the bottom facet cut to increase the brilliance of the diamond, and finally donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, on November 10, 1958, sending it through U.S. mail in a plain brown paper bag. Harry Winston's primary aim of donating the diamond, was to help the Smithsonian Institution to build up a major national gem collection for the American people. Harry Winston never believed in any of the tales concerning the curse supposedly placed on the diamond and he lived up to the ripe old age of 82, dying a natural death caused by heart attack, on December 28th 1978.

 

Present owners of the diamond

The Hope diamond is now part of the National Gem Collection, in the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, exhibited within the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The Hope diamond has become the most popular jewel on display, probably because of it's notorious past, and the various myths associated with it. After leaving it's permanent home in Washington DC on two occasions in 1962 and 1965 to be exhibited at jewelry shows held in Paris and South Africa, the Hope diamond has now been placed in it's own display room known as the Harry Winston Room, where it rests on a rotating pedestal, covered by a 3-inch thick bullet-proof glass cylinder.

 

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