The Hope Diamond, also known as “Le Bijou du Roi” (“the King’s Jewel”),”Le bleu de France” (“the French Blue”), is a large, 45.52-carat, deep-blue diamond, now housed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.
It is blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron within its crystal structure, and exhibits red phosphorescence after exposure to ultraviolet light.
It is classified as a Type IIb diamond, and is notorious for supposedly being cursed.
It has a long recorded history with few gaps in which it changed hands numerous times on its way from India to France to Britain and ultimately to the United States.
It has been described as the “most famous diamond in the world”.
The historical record suggests that a French merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier somehow obtained, either by purchase or theft, a large uncut blue diamond stone.
Tavernier brought this large blue stone to Paris where it became known as the Tavernier Blue diamond.
This large uncut diamond was a crudely triangular shaped stone of 115 carats.
Another estimate reflected that it weighed 112.23 carats before it was cut.
Tavernier’s book, the Six Voyages, contains sketches of several large diamonds that he sold to Louis XIV possibly in 1668 or 1669; while the blue diamond is shown among these, Tavernier mentions the mines at “Gani” Kollur as a source of colored diamonds, but made no direct mention of this specific stone.
Historian Richard Kurin builds a highly speculative case for 1653 as the year of acquisition, but the most that can be said with certainty is that Tavernier obtained the blue diamond during one of his five voyages to India between the years 1640 and 1667.
Another report suggested Tavernier took 25 diamonds to Paris, including the large blue diamond rock which became known as the Tavernier Blue, and sold all of them to King Louis XIV.
Still another report suggested that in 1669, Tavernier sold his Tavernier Blue diamond along with approximately one thousand other diamonds to King Louis XIV of France for 220,000 livres, the equivalent of 147 kilograms of pure gold.
In a newly published historical novel, The French Blue, gemologist and historian Richard W. Wise proposed that the patent of nobility granted Tavernier by Louis XIV was a part of the payment for the Tavernier Blue.
According to this theory, during that period Colbert, the king’s Finance Minister, regularly sold offices and noble titles for cash, and an outright patent of nobility, according to Wise, was worth approximately 500,000 livres making a total of 720,000 livres, a price much closer to the true value of the uncut gem.
Blue Diamond of the Crown of France
Thus, in 1678, King Louis XIV of France commissioned his court jeweler, Sieur Pitau, to cut the Tavernier Blue, which resulted in a 67.125-carat stone that royal inventories thereafter listed as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France.
Later English-speaking historians simply called it the French Blue.
Then, according to one report, Louis XIV ordered Pitau to “make him a piece to remember”, and Pitau took two years carefully cutting the blue stone, resulting in a triangular-shaped 69-carat gem about the size of a pigeon’s egg that took ones breath away as the King’s Jewel snared the light, reflecting it back in bluish-grey rays.
The French Blue was then set in gold and supported by a ribbon for the royal neck which was worn by King Louis XIV during formal ceremonies.
King Louis XV
When Louis XIV died September 1, 1715, King Louis XV began his reign.
Then in 1749, King Louis XV, had the French Blue set into a more elaborate pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin.
This assembled piece included a red spinel of 107 carats shaped as a dragon breathing “covetous flames”, as well as 83 red-painted diamonds and 112 yellow-painted diamonds to suggest a fleece shape.
When Louis XV died May 10, 1774 of smallpox, King Louis XVI in turn presented the French Blue pendant to the Queen of France, his wife Marie Antoinette.
The largest stone in the pendant, the French Blue diamond, was removed in 1787 for scientific study by Mathurin Jacques Brisson, a casting made, and returned to its setting soon thereafter.
Then on September 11, 1792, while King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and their family were confined in the Palais des Tuileries near the Place de la Concorde during the early stages of the French Revolution, a group of thieves broke into the Garde-Meuble (Royal Storehouse) and stole most of the Crown Jewels during a five-day looting spree. While many jewels were later recovered, including other pieces of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the French Blue diamond was not among them and it disappeared temporarily from history.
In 1793, King Louis XVI was guillotined in January and Marie was guillotined in October.
The historical record suggests that Queen Marie Antoinette had never worn the Order of the Golden Fleece pendant.
The pendant with the French Blue diamond was “swiftly smuggled to London.”
But the exact diamond stone known as the French Blue was never seen again, since it almost certainly was recut during this decades-long period of anonymity, probably into two pieces, and the larger one became the blue stone we know of as the Hope Diamond.
One report suggested that the cut was a “butchered job” because it sheared off 23.5 carats from the larger rock as well as hurting its “extraordinary lustre.”
It had long been believed that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue diamond when confirmation finally occurred.
A three-dimensional casting of French Blue was rediscovered in the archives of the French Natural History Museum in Paris in 2005. This is from the study Brisson had conducted on French Blue back in 1787.
Previously, the dimensions of the French Blue had been known only from two drawings made in 1749 and 1789; although the model slightly differs from the drawings in some details, these details are identical to features of the Hope Diamond, allowing CAD technology to digitally reconstruct the French Blue around the recut stone.
Today, historians suggest that one robber, Cadet Guillot, took several jewels, including the French Blue and the Côte-de-Bretagne spinel, to Le Havre and then to London, where the French Blue was cut in two pieces.
In 1796, Guillot attempted to resell the Côte-de-Bretagne in France but was forced to relinquish it to fellow thief Lancry de la Loyelle, who put Guillot into debtors’ prison.
In a contrasting report, historian Richard Kurin speculats that the “theft” of the French Crown Jewels was in fact engineered by the revolutionary leader Georges Danton as part of a plan to bribe an opposing military commander, Duke Karl Wilhelm of Brunswick.
When under attack by Napoleon in 1805, Karl Wilhelm may have had the French Blue recut to disguise its identity; in this form, the stone could have come to Britain in 1806, when his family fled there to join his daughter Caroline of Brunswick. Although Caroline was the wife of the Prince Regent George (later George IV of the United Kingdom), she lived apart from her husband, and financial straits sometimes forced her to quietly sell her own jewels to support her household. Caroline’s nephew, Duke Karl Friedrich, was later known to possess a 13.75-carat blue diamond which was widely thought to be another piece of the French Blue. This smaller diamond’s present whereabouts are unknown, and the recent CAD reconstruction of the French Blue fits too tightly around the Hope Diamond to allow for the existence of a sister stone of that size.
A blue diamond with the same shape, size, and color as the Hope Diamond was recorded by John Francillon in the possession of the London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in September 1812, the earliest point when the history of the Hope Diamond can be definitively fixed, although a second less definitive report claims that the Hope Diamond’s “authentic history” can only be traced back to 1830.
The jewel was a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats” and weighed 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat).
It is often pointed out that this date was almost exactly twenty years after the theft of the French Blue, just as the statute of limitations for the crime had taken effect.
There are conflicting reports about what happened to the Blue diamond during these years. Daniel Eliason’s diamond may have been acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom,possibly through Caroline of Brunswick; however, there is no record of the ownership in the Royal Archives at Windsor, although some secondary evidence exists in the form of contemporary writings and artwork, and George IV tended to mix up the Crown property of the Crown Jewels with family heirlooms and his own personal property.
After King George’s death in 1830, it has been alleged that some of his jewels were stolen by George’s last mistress, Lady Conyngham, and some of his personal effects were discreetly liquidated to cover the many debts King George had left behind.
Another report states that the king’s debts were “so enormous” that the diamond was probably sold through “private channels.”
In either case, the blue diamond was not retained by the British royal family.
The stone was later reported to have been acquired by a rich London banker named Thomas Hope, for either $65,000 or $90,000.
It has been suggested that Eliason may have been a “front” for Thomas Hope, acting not as a diamond merchant venturing money on his own account but rather as an agent to acquire the diamond for the banker.
Then in 1839, the Thomas Hope Diamond appeared in a published catalog of the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope, who was a member of the same Anglo-Dutch banking family.
The stone was set in a fairly simple medallion surrounded by many smaller white diamonds, which he sometimes lent to Louisa de la Poer Beresford, the widow of his brother, Thomas Hope, for society balls.
After falling into the ownership of the Hope family, the stone came to be known as the “Hope Diamond”.
Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, the same year as the publication of his collection catalog. His three nephews, the sons of Thomas and Louisa, fought in court for ten years over his inheritance, and ultimately the collection was split up.
The oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight of the most valuable gems, including the Hope Diamond.
It was displayed in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and at the Paris Exhibition Universelle in 1855, but was usually kept in a bank vault.
In 1861, Henry Thomas Hope’s only child, Henrietta, married Henry Pelham-Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (and later Duke of Newcastle).
When Hope died on December 4, 1862, his wife Anne Adele inherited the gem, but she feared that the profligate lifestyle of her son-in-law might cause him to sell the Hope properties. Upon Adele’s death in 1884, the entire Hope estate, including the Hope diamond, was entrusted to Henrietta’s younger son, Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton, on the condition that he add the name of “Hope” to his own surnames when he reached the age of legal majority. As Lord Francis Hope, this grandson received his legacy in 1887.
However, he had only a life interest in his inheritance, meaning that he could not sell any part of it without court permission.
Then in 1894, Lord Francis Hope met the American concert hall singer May Yohé, who has been described as “the sensation of two continents” and they were married the same year; one account suggests that Yohé wore the Hope diamond on at least one occasion.
Yohé later claimed that she had worn it at social gatherings and had an exact replica made for her performances, but her husband claimed otherwise. Lord Francis lived beyond his means, and this eventually caught up with him, leading to marriage troubles and financial reverses, and he found that he had to sell the diamond.
In 1896, his bankruptcy was discharged, but, as he could not sell the Hope Diamond without the court’s permission, he was supported financially by his wife during these intervening years.
In 1901, the financial situation had changed, and after a “long legal fight,” he was given permission to sell the Hope Diamond by an order of the Master in Chancery to “pay off debts”.
But then Yohé ran off with a gentleman friend named Putnam Strong, who was a son of the former New York City mayor William L. Strong. Francis Hope and May Yohé were divorced in 1902.
Lord Francis sold the diamond for £29,000 (£2,563,710 as of 2013), to Adolph Weil, a London jewel merchant.
Weil later sold the Hope Diamond to the diamond dealer Simon Frankel, based in New York who took it to New York.
One report stated that he had paid $250,000. However, in New York it was evaluated to be worth $141,032 (equal to £28,206 at the time).
Accounts vary about what happened to the diamond during the years 1902–1907; one account suggested that it lay in the Frankel safe during these years while the jewelers took it out periodically to show it to wealthy Americans.
Like many jewelry firms, the Frankel business ran into financial difficulties during the depression of 1907 and referred to the gem as the “hoodoo diamond.”
In 1908, Frankel sold the diamond for $400,000 to a Salomon or Selim Habib, a wealthy Turkish diamond collector, reportedly in behalf of Sultan Abdulhamid of Ottoman Empire; however, on June 24, 1909, the stone was included in an auction of Habib’s assets to settle his own debts, and the auction catalog explicitly stated that the Hope Diamond was one of only two gems in the collection which had never been owned by the Sultan.
A contrary report, however, suggested that Sultan Abdul Hamid did own the gem but ordered Habib to sell it when his throne “began to totter.” Habib reportedly sold the stone in Paris in 1909 for $80,000. The Parisian jewel merchant Simon Rosenau bought the Hope Diamond for 400,000 francs and resold it in 1910 to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs. In 1910, it was offered for $150,000, according to one report.
Pierre Cartier tried to sell the Hope Diamond to Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband in 1910. Cartier was a consummate salesman who used an understated presentation to entice Mrs. McLean. He described the gem’s illustrious history to her while keeping it concealed underneath special wrapping paper. The suspense worked: McLean became impatient to the point where she suddenly requested to see the stone. She recalled later that Cartier “held before our eyes the Hope Diamond.” Nevertheless, she initially rejected the offer. Cartier had it reset. She found the stone much more appealing in this new modern style. There were conflicting reports about the sale in the New York Times; one account suggested that the young McLean couple had agreed to purchase the diamond, but after having learned about its unfortunate supposed history, the couple had wanted to back out of the deal since they knew nothing of the “history of misfortunes that have beset its various owners.”
Both Ned McLean and his pretty wife are quite young, and in a way unsophisticated, although they were born and reared in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. All their lives they have known more of jewelry, finery, banquets, automobiles, horses, and other articles of pleasure than they have of books, with their wealth of knowledge.
—report in The New York Times, March 1911
The brouhaha over the diamond’s supposed “ill luck” prompted a worried editor of The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly to write:
No mention of any ill luck having befalled Eliason, Hope, or any of their descendants was ever made. The Frankels surely were very prosperous while the stone was in their possession, as were the dealers who held it in Europe. Habib’s misfortune referred to in the newspaper accounts occurred long after he had sold the stone… As Francis Hope never had the stone and May Yohe probably never saw it … the newspaper accounts at the time mentioned were laughed at, but since then it has been the custom not only to revive these stories every time mention of the stone appears in the public press, but to add to them fictitious incidents of misfortune as to alleged possessors of the stone at various times.
—T. Edgar Willson, in an editorial in The New York Times, 1911
The tenuous deal involved wrangling among attorneys for both Cartier and the McLeans, but finally, in 1911, the couple bought the gem for over $300,000, although there are differing estimates of the sales price at $150,000 and $180,000.
An alternative scenario is that the McLeans may have fabricated concern about the supposed “curse” to generate publicity to increase the value of their investment.
A description was that the gemstone “lay on a bed of white silk and surrounded by many small white diamonds cut pear shaped”. The new setting was the current platinum framework surrounded by a row of sixteen diamonds which alternated between Old Mine Cut and pear-shaped variants. Ms. McLean wore it to a “brilliant reception” in February 1912 when it was reported that it was the first time it had been worn in public since it had “changed owners.” She would “sport the diamond at social events” and wore it numerous social occasions that she had organized.
The Hope Diamond in its original pendant must have looked fantastic at parties circa the 1920s, when it hung around the neck of owner Evalyn Walsh McLean’s Great Dane, Mike.
—report in the The Wall Street Journal, 2010
There were reports that she misplaced it at parties, deliberately and frequently, and then make a children’s game out of “finding the Hope”, and times when she hid the diamond somewhere on her estate during the “lavish parties she threw and invite guests to find it.”
The stone prompted elaborate security precautions:
William Schindele, a former Secret Service man, has been engaged to guard the stone. He in turn will be guarded by Leo Costello and Simeon Blake, private detectives. The stone will be kept at the McLean mansion during the day and each night will be deposited in a safe deposit vault. When Mrs. McLean wears the gem at balls and receptions arrangements have been made to keep the safe deposit building open until after the function that the stone may be safely stored away. A special automobile has been purchased to convey the guards to and from the house to the trust company’s building.
—report in The New York Times, 1911
But the stone was not stolen during their ownership. When Ms. McLean died in 1947, she bequeathed the diamond to her grandchildren through a will which insisted that her former property would remain in the custody of trustees until the eldest child had reached 25 years of age. This requirement would have prevented any sale for the next two decades. However, the trustees gained permission to sell her jewels to settle her debts, and in 1949 sold them to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston. He purchased McLean’s “entire jewelry collection”. Over the next decade, Winston exhibited McLean’s necklace in his “Court of Jewels,” a tour of jewels around the United States, as well as various promotional events and charity balls.
The Hope Diamond appeared on the television quiz show The Name’s the Same, in an episode which first aired on August 16, 1955, when a teenaged contestant with the actual name Hope Diamond was one of the mystery guests, as well as at the August 1958 Canadian National Exhibition. At some point, Winston also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet slightly recut to increase its brilliance.
Smithsonian mineralogist George Switzer is credited with persuading Harry Winston to donate the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for a proposed national gem collection to be housed at the museum.
On November 10, 1958, Winston donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, where it became Specimen #217868, sending it through U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper, insured via registered mail at a cost of $145.29. Winston had never believed in any of the tales about the curse; he donated the diamond with the hope that it would help the United States “establish a gem collection.”
Winston died many years later, in 1978, of a heart attack. Winston’s gift, according to Smithsonian curator Dr. Jeffrey Port, helped spur additional gifts to the museum.
Today, the Hope Diamond is the most popular jewel on display and the collection’s centerpiece.
Now WE know em