You do not have to be a jeweler to have heard of the infamous Hope Diamond. To many who know of it, this gem strikes an emotion that is quite the opposite of its name. But how did such a beautiful piece of jewelry become a dreaded object? Let us look into its history to find out.
An accursed theft
The legend of the Hope Diamond is said to start with a theft. Over 450 years ago, a Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier went to India where he acquired a large, blue diamond. Although it supposedly came from a mine in Golconda, many suspected that the diamond stolen was from the head of a statue of Sita, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and happiness. Unhappy with the theft, the gods were said to curse the diamond.
A royal jewelry
A couple of decades after Tavernier got the diamond, the “Sun King” Louis XIV of France, bought it from Tavernier, along with hundreds of other gems. He had the diamond re-cut to boost its brilliance. It was named the “Blue Diamond of the Crown” and the king often wore it around his neck on a long ribbon.
It was passed down to the Sun King’s great-grandson, Louis XV, who had it incorporated as an ornament for the Order of the Golden Fleece. His grandson, Louis XVI, inherited the jewel.
During the French Revolution, the beheading of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, is said to be a result of the diamond’s curse. The crown jewels, including the blue diamond, were stolen several times. Most of them were soon recovered, but the diamond was not.
The diamond in London
The blue diamond resurfaced in London and was owned by a jeweler named Daniel Eliason in 1823. Some evidence shows that King George IV of England purchased it from Eliason, but it was sold to pay off debts after the king’s death.
The Hope Diamond
By 1839, the jewel was owned by Henry Philip Hope, from whom the diamond got its name. It was passed down for several generations until it reached his great-grand nephew, Lord Francis Hope. The curse of the Hope Diamond was said to cause his bankruptcy, which drove him to sell the jewel to pay his debts.
The diamond in America
In 1901, American jeweler Simon Frankel brought the Hope Diamond to the United States. It changed ownership for several years until it ended up with Pierre Cartier.
Cartier believed he found a buyer in the affluent Evalyn Walsh McLean, who saw the diamond when she visited Paris in 1910. She told the jeweler that objects that are considered as bad luck usually turn into good luck for her, so Cartier emphasized the jewel’s negative history to Mrs. McLean. She did not like its mounting at the time, and refused to buy it.
A few months later, Cartier had to go on a trip and left the jewel with Mrs. McLean over the weekend, hoping that she would grow attached and buy it. He was successful, and Evalyn McLean bought the Hope Diamond.
However, the diamond’s curse seemed to have stricken the McLean. Her firstborn son died in a car crash at age nine, her daughter committed suicide at 25, and her husband was declared insane and locked up in a mental institution until his death. Although Mrs. McLean wanted her descendants to inherit her jewelry, it was sold two years after her death to settle debts
The Hope Diamond was bought by New York jeweler, Harry Winston in 1949. He offered to have it worn at balls as a fundraiser for charity, but some believed Winston did this to rid himself of the curse
In 1958, Winston donated the jewel to the Smithsonian Institution to inspire others to donate and help create a national jewel collection. It is displayed there to this day.
Not everyone who owned the Hope Diamond was cursed, which leads many to question the superstition. Did it really cause its former owners’ historical beheadings and family deaths? Or was it just a marketing ploy by clever jewelers? Either way, its haunted fame makes the Hope Diamond even more lustrous.