The Hope Diamond: Centuries of Intrigue

With a dazzling natural blue hue and weighing an impressive 45.52cts, the Hope diamond is unrivalled as a rare natural wonder. With impressive provenance and owners including Louis XVI, Pierre Cartier and Harry Winston, stories surrounding the stone have associated it with tragedy and misfortune – a supposed ‘curse’ of the blue diamond.

Originally known as the ‘Tavernier Blue’, the diamond was mined in the Kollur mine in India and was subsequently acquired by French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in the 17th Century. Originally faceted in a rough triangular shape and weighing a staggering 112.23cts, Tavernier sold the diamond to Sun King Louis XIV of France. After acquiring the diamond, the King had the diamond recut to 67.12cts and was said to have worn it on blue ribbon as a necklace.

The Hope diamond on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., U.S.

After inheriting the diamond from his great-grandfather, Louis XV had the stone set into an elaborate pendant in 1749. Court jeweler Andre Jacquemin designed a magnificent piece featuring the diamond along with a carved red spinel and 112 diamonds. By the time ownership of the diamond passed to Louis XVI, it was commonly referred to as the ‘French Blue’.

Following the turmoil of the French revolution, the diamond disappeared, reappearing decades later in London. In 1839, wealthy British banker Henry Philip Hope referred to the impressive blue stone of 45cts in his gem catalogue and the diamond acquired its current name. After Hope’s death, the stone traded hands several times amongst dealers in Europe, eventually appearing at auction in Paris in 1909. Later that year, Pierre Cartier purchased the diamond from French trader Simon Rosenau for 500,000 francs, equating to an estimated $2.2 million USD today. After acquiring the diamond, Cartier had it set into an impressive pendant within a surround of sixteen pear and cushion cut white diamonds and set about finding a wealthy buyer.

Mrs Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope diamond, 1915

Cartier approached American heiress and socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean as she was a well-known collector of significant jewellery pieces. To encourage a sale to McLean, Cartier embellished the 19th Century whispers of misfortune associated with the stone, increasing its mystery and intrigue. The stories included previous owners Princess de Lambale who was beaten to death, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who were beheaded in the revolution. Other holders of the diamond were said to have committed suicide, been murdered or left penniless. The rumours suggested that the misfortune associated with the stone was due to the original owner Tavernier stealing the piece from a Hindu statue of the goddess Sita. The myth perpetuated the notion that Tavernier was killed by wild dogs in Turkey, when in fact he died in Moscow at the age of 84.

This claim of a diamond curse was discussed by historian Richard Kurin at the Smithsonian Institute in the 2010 documentary “Mystery of the Hope diamond.” He said:

“The curse was an invention. The brain child of Pierre Cartier who fabricated the tallest of tales to whet Evalyn Walsh McLean’s appetite for the diamond. Cartier’s brilliant sales pitch had created for the Hope Diamond a legendary mystique that elevated it into one of the world’s most valuable artefacts’’

McLean purchased the piece in 1911 for $180,000USD (an equivalent of an estimated $5 million USD today) and wore it often. She is quoted as saying “I like to pretend the thing brings good luck.” Following her death in 1947, American jeweler Harry Winston purchased McLean’s jewellery estate and eventually donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Currently on view at the National Museum of Natural History, the museum has reported the diamond has brought them “nothing but good luck’’, due to the stream of seven million visitors that come to marvel at the piece each year.

BETHANY MCGOUGAN / Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces

February 2021