The Curse of the Hope Diamond
CHENNAI: We have all heard of the famous Kohinoor diamond. But have you heard of the famous and sinister Hope diamond? Even if you are not superstitious and are the most rational person, the story of the Hope diamond will make you wonder if there exists some unexplained mysterious force on our planet.
It all began when the French merchant traveller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, purchased a 112-carat diamond which was most likely mined from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India. Somewhat triangular in shape and crudely cut, its colour was described by Tavernier as a “beautiful violet”. In 1668, Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France and in 1673 the court jeweller recut the stone, resulting in a 67-carat stone. Described as an intense steely blue, the stone became known as the ‘Blue Diamond of the Crown,’ or the ‘French Blue’. Legend has it that a curse befell the diamond because Tavernier had stolen it from the forehead of a Hindu goddess. The curse foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for anyone who dared to touch it. Tavernier was supposedly torn apart by wild dogs on a trip to Russia, which was the first terrible death attributed to the curse.
The stone was set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon that the king wore on ceremonial occasions. After the French revolution erupted in 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette attempted to flee France and the jewels of the French Royal Treasury were turned over to the government. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded during the French Revolution and the next grisly deaths were attributed to the blue diamond’s curse. Following a week-long looting of the crown jewels in September of 1792, the French Blue was stolen.
In 1812 a deep blue diamond weighing 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat) was documented as being in the possession of London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason. There was strong evidence that this stone was the recut French Blue, known today as the Hope diamond. It is believed that it was acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom. On his demise in 1830, the king’s debts were so enormous that the blue diamond was most likely sold through private channels. Mademoiselle Ledue was an actress in the Folies Bergere, who was lent the Hope diamond by the Russian Prince Kanitovsky and was subsequently shot by him the first time she appeared on stage with it, while he was killed during the revolution.
The Hope family was the next to be tainted with the diamond’s curse when this once wealthy family went bankrupt. Henry Philip Hope was one of the heirs of the banking firm Hope & Co and being a collector of fine art and gems, he acquired the large blue diamond that was soon to carry his family’s name. A bachelor, he left his estate to his three nephews when he died in 1839. The Hope diamond came into the possession of the oldest of the nephews, Henry Thomas Hope.
Henry Thomas Hope’s descendant Lord Francis Hope came into the possession of the diamond but because of his gambling and high spending, he requested the court in 1898 to permit him to sell the Hope diamond. But his request was denied. Francis Hope’s siblings opposed the sale of the diamond. In 1901, following an appeal to the House of Lords, he was finally granted permission to sell the diamond. Simon Frankel, an American jeweller bought the Hope diamond in 1901 and brought it to the United States. It changed hands several times during the next several years, ending with Pierre Cartier.
Cartier found a buyer in the rich Evalyn Walsh McLean who was so enamoured of the diamond that she wore it all the time. Though Mclean wore the Hope diamond as a good luck charm, it didn’t seem to do her any good. McLean’s first born son, Vinson, died in a car crash when he was only nine and her daughter committed suicide at 25. Finally, McLean’s husband was declared insane and confined to a mental institution until his death in 1941. Though McLean had wanted to bequeath her jewellry to her grandchildren when they were older, the diamond was put on sale in 1949, two years after her death, in order to settle debts from her estate.
The diamond was bought by Harry Winston, a New York jeweller who offered the diamond, on numerous occasions, to be worn at balls to raise money for charity but finally donated it in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institution to be the focal point of a newly established gem collection. Some believe that Winston donated the Hope diamond to rid himself of the curse but he really donated it because he had long believed in creating a national jewel collection. The Hope diamond is today on display as part of the National Gem and Mineral Collection in the National Museum of Natural History.
Reference: Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Susanne Steinem Patch