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According to the legend, a curse befell the large, blue diamond when it was plucked (i.e. stolen) from an idol in India - a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it.
Whether or not you believe in the curse, the Hope diamond has intrigued people for centuries. Its perfect quality, its large size, and its rare color make it strikingly unique and beautiful. Add to this a varied history which includes being owned by King Louis XIV, stolen during the French Revolution, sold to earn money for gambling, worn to raise money for charity, and then finally donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The Hope diamond is truly unique.
Is there really a curse? Where has the Hope diamond been? Why was such a valuable gem donated to the Smithsonian?
Taken From the Forehead of an Idol
The legend is said to begin with a theft. Several centuries ago, a man named Tavernier made a trip to India. While there, he stole a large, blue diamond from the forehead (or eye) of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita.
For this transgression, according to the legend, Tavernier was torn apart by wild dogs on a trip to Russia (after he had sold the diamond). This was the first horrible death attributed to the curse.
How much of this is true? In 1642, a man by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French jeweler who traveled extensively, visited India and bought a 112 3/16 carat blue diamond. (This diamond was much larger than the present weight of the Hope diamond because the Hope has been cut down at least twice in the past three centuries.) The diamond is believed to have come from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India.
Tavernier continued to travel and arrived back in France in 1668, 26 years after he bought the large, blue diamond. French King Louis XIV, the "Sun King," ordered Tavernier presented at court. From Tavernier, Louis XIV bought the large, blue diamond as well as 44 large diamonds and 1,122 smaller diamonds.
Tavernier was made a noble and died at the age 84 in Russia (it is not known how he died).1
According to Susanne Patch, author of Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Diamond, the shape of the diamond was unlikely to have been an eye (or on the forehead) of an idol.2
Worn by Kings
In 1673, King Louis XIV decided to re-cut the diamond to enhance its brilliance (the previous cut had been to enhance size and not brilliance). The newly cut gem was 67 1/8 carats. Louis XIV officially named it the "Blue Diamond of the Crown" and would often wear the diamond on a long ribbon around his neck.
In 1749, Louis XIV's great-grandson, Louis XV, was king and ordered the crown jeweler to make a decoration for the Order of the Golden Fleece, using the blue diamond and the Cote de Bretagne (a large red spinel thought at the time to be a ruby).3 The resulting decoration was extremely ornate and large.
The Hope Diamond Was Stolen
When Louis XV died, his grandson, Louis XVI, became king with Marie Antoinette as his queen. According to the legend, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded during the French Revolution because of the blue diamond's curse.
Considering that King Louis XIV and King Louis XV had both owned and worn the blue diamond a number of times and have not been set down in legend as tormented by the curse, it is difficult to say that all those who owned or touched the gem would suffer an ill fate.
Though it is true that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded, it seems that it had much more to do with their extravagance and the French Revolution than a curse on the diamond. Plus, these two royals were certainly not the only ones beheaded during the Reign of Terror.
During the French Revolution, the crown jewels (including the blue diamond) were taken from the royal couple after they attempted to flee France in 1791. The jewels were placed in the Garde-Meuble but were not well guarded.
From September 12 to September 16, 1791, the Garde-Meuble was repeatedly robbed, without notice from officials until September 17. Though most of the crown jewels were soon recovered, the blue diamond was not.
The Blue Diamond Resurfaces
There is some evidence that the blue diamond resurfaced in London by 1813 and was owned by jeweler Daniel Eliason by 1823.4
No one is sure that the blue diamond in London was the same one stolen from the Garde-Meuble because the one in London was of a different cut. Yet, most people feel the rarity and perfectness of the French blue diamond and the blue diamond that appeared in London makes it likely that someone re-cut the French blue diamond in the hopes of hiding its origin. The blue diamond that surfaced in London was estimated at 44 carats.
There is some evidence that shows King George IV of England bought the blue diamond from Daniel Eliason and upon King George's death, the diamond was sold to pay off debts.
Why Is It Called the "Hope Diamond"?
By 1939, possibly earlier, the blue diamond was in the possession of Henry Philip Hope, from whom the Hope diamond has taken its name.
The Hope family is said to have been tainted with the diamond's curse. According to the legend, the once-rich Hopes went bankrupt because of the Hope diamond.
Is this true? Henry Philip Hope was one of the heirs of the banking firm Hope & Co. which was sold in 1813. Henry Philip Hope became a collector of fine art and gems, thus he acquired the large blue diamond that was soon to carry his family's name.
Since he had never married, Henry Philip Hope left his estate to his three nephews when he died in 1839. The Hope diamond went to the oldest of the nephews, Henry Thomas Hope.
Henry Thomas Hope married and had one daughter; his daughter soon grew up, married and had five children. When Henry Thomas Hope died in 1862 at the age of 54, the Hope diamond stayed in the possession of Hope's widow. But when Henry Thomas Hope's widow died, she passed the Hope diamond on to her grandson, the second oldest son, Lord Francis Hope (he took the name Hope in 1887).
Because of gambling and high spending, Francis Hope requested from the court in 1898 for him to sell the Hope diamond (Francis was only given access to the life interest on his grandmother's estate). His request was denied.
In 1899, an appeal case was heard and again his request was denied. In both cases, Francis Hope's siblings opposed selling the diamond. In 1901, on an appeal to the House of Lords, Francis Hope was finally granted permission to sell the diamond.
As for the curse, three generations of Hopes went untainted by the curse and it was most likely Francis Hope's gambling, rather than the curse, that caused his bankruptcy.
The Hope Diamond as a Good Luck Charm
It was Simon Frankel, an American jeweler, who bought the Hope diamond in 1901 and who brought the diamond to the United States.
The diamond changed hands several times during the next several years, ending with Pierre Cartier.
Pierre Cartier believed he had found a buyer in the rich Evalyn Walsh McLean. Evalyn first saw the Hope diamond in 1910 while visiting Paris with her husband.
Since Mrs. McLean had previously told Pierre Cartier that objects usually considered bad luck turned into good luck for her, Cartier made sure to emphasize the Hope diamond's negative history. However, since Mrs. McLean did not like the diamond in its current mounting, she did not buy it.
A few months later, Pierre Cartier arrived in the U.S. and asked Mrs. McLean to keep the Hope diamond for the weekend. Having reset the Hope diamond into a new mounting, Carter hoped she would grow attached to it over the weekend. He was right and Evalyn McLean bought the Hope diamond.
Susanne Patch, in her book on the Hope diamond, wonders if perhaps Pierre Cartier didn't start the concept of a curse. According to Patch's research, the legend and concept of a curse attached to the diamond did not appear in print until the 20th century.5
The Curse Hits Evalyn McLean
Evalyn McLean wore the diamond all the time. According to one story, it took a lot of persuading by Mrs. McLean's doctor to get her to take off the necklace even for a goiter operation.6
Though Evalyn McLean wore the Hope diamond as a good luck charm, others saw the curse strike her too. McLean's firstborn son, Vinson, died in a car crash when he was only nine. McLean suffered another major loss when her daughter committed suicide at age 25.
In addition to all this, Evalyn McLean's husband was declared insane and confined to a mental institution until his death in 1941.
Whether this was part of a curse is hard to say, though it does seem like a lot for one person to suffer.
Though Evalyn McLean had wanted her jewelry to go to her grandchildren when they were older, her jewelry was put on sale in 1949, two years after her death, in order to settle debts from her estate.
The Hope Diamond Is Donated
When the Hope diamond went on sale in 1949, it was bought by Harry Winston, a New York jeweler. Winston offered the diamond, on numerous occasions, to be worn at balls to raise money for charity.
Though some believe that Winston donated the Hope diamond to rid himself of the curse, Winston donated the diamond because he had long believed in creating a national jewel collection. Winston donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958 to be the focal point of a newly established gem collection as well as to inspire others to donate.
On November 10, 1958, the Hope diamond traveled in a plain brown box, by registered mail, and was met by a large group of people at the Smithsonian who celebrated its arrival.
The Hope diamond is currently on display as part of the National Gem and Mineral Collection in the National Museum of Natural History for all to see.
1. Susanne Steinem Patch, Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Diamond (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976) 55.
2. Patch, Blue Mystery 55, 44.
3. Patch, Blue Mystery 46.
4. Patch, Blue Mystery 18.
5. Patch, Blue Mystery 58.
6. Patch, Blue Mystery 30.