As the diamond trade and industry grew alongside humanity, we’ve come across some iconic stones that marked our history. Over the years, we’ve heard interesting stories about some incredibly large gems which commanded staggering prices and left a mark in the trade’s records. One of such stones is the Hope Diamond, an impressive gemstone that commands respect and nostalgia upon the mention of its name. But while most people revere its magnificence and beauty, they may not be quite certain if it belongs to anyone.
Here, we’ll explore the ownership history of the Hope Diamond and talk about its physical and gemological properties. We’ll highlight why this gigantic gem is so important and how its trade and claim have shaped the history of some places and people. So, if you’re familiar with the Hope Diamond but aren’t informed about how it has passed from vault to vault, you may want to keep reading.
What Is The Hope Diamond?
If we’re being plain, we can say the Hope Diamond is a diamond, just like any other, but this would be far from true. Yes, it does carry the general physical features of every other diamond, but it also displays certain distinctions that earned it a unique definition. So, to do justice to it, we can say the Hope Diamond is one of the Golconda diamonds renowned for its incredible size and fascinating blue color. But this stone’s impressive physical and gemological attributes are also worthy of mention.
The gem weighs 45.52 carats, according to the laboratory report tendered by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 1988. And in some situations, a visual comparison between it and a pigeon’s egg has been made. Also, because such a size is rare for diamonds, the stone has shone a light on the possibility of such, thus changing what the scientific community believed about a diamond’s formation.
Its unique dark blue color is due to trace amounts of boron in its crystal, and the diamond features a VS1 clarity rating. And the gem exhibits brilliant red phosphorescence when observed under ultra-violet light. The diamond was cut in a sophisticated manner, providing a brilliant antique cushion featuring a faceted girdle plus extra facets on its pavilion. And while traces of boron are responsible for its hue, its chemical composition also includes hydrogen and probably nitrogen.
History Of The Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond has passed through several channels, explaining why it has such a relevant place in human history. And here, we’ll trace its journey to its current home from where it was first mined.
The Hope Diamond was first found in the Kollur mine or India, in a district of Andhra Pradesh called Guntur in 1666. When it was discovered, the region belonged to the Golconda kingdom, which explains why the stone is still referred to as one of the Golconda diamonds. According to certain accounts, the stone was obtained by a French merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who got it through theft. And at the time, the gem was massive, with a triangular shape and at an estimated size of 112.28 carats. The uncut stone became known as the Tavernier Blue after the merchant brought it to Paris
After the Tavernier Blue was brought
to Paris, the merchant sold it to King Louise XIV of France in 1668, along with several other diamonds. But the gem’s size was huge and too big to fit into any jewelry, so the king ordered his court jeweler to recut it. The result was a triangular-shaped 67.123 carat stone set on a royal cravat pin made of gold. It was also renamed Diamant bleu de la Couronne de France(the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France), or the French Blue, according to English-speaking historians.
The stone won’t hold this design for longer as in 1749, the king’s grandson, Louis XV, ordered the French Blue to be set on a ceremonial pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece. But after his death, the piece went into disuse and became the property of his grandson Louis XVI. The new king was married to the famous Marie Antoinette, renowned for displaying numerous French Crown jewelry for personal adornment. Surprisingly, the queen never wore the pendant containing the French Blue during its time on the pendant though it remained as one of her prospective personal adornment jewelry. But in 1792, a revolution took place, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned. During the raid, the Crown Jewels were stolen by a group of looters, and the French Blue disappeared from history for two decades.
After numerous investigations, the French Blue was traced down to London in possession of one of the burglars of the palace. And in 1812, John Francillion described a deep blue diamond documented to be owned by a London merchant named Daniel Eliason. The stone was indeed cut from the French Blue, which was reported to have been initially cut into two stones. And it was from this stone found in Eliason’s possession; we would have what we know today as the Hope Diamond.
After this, the diamond was reportedly sold to King George IV, who owned the stone until he died in 1830. Afterward, the gem was likely sold through private channels, a suggestion made necessary by the king’s humongous debts. Numerous properties of his were liquidated along with most of his jewelery to balance the books. In 1839, the diamond was mentioned in the gem catalog of Henry Philip Hope, a renowned member of an Anglo-Dutch baking family. And after his death in the same year, his nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, inherited the stone through much litigation. The Hope Diamond (a name now adopted from its latest owners) eventually ended up with Lord Francis Hope, grandson of Henry Thomas Hope, and in 1901, passed from him to a London dealer as a sale to clear off his debts.
Lord Francis Hope sold the Hope Diamond to a London jewel merchant named Adolph Well, who sold the stone to a New York-based diamond dealer named Simon Frankel. Simon kept the diamond in his possession until 1908 when he sold it to a wealthy Turkish diamond collector named SelimHabib. The diamond collector put the stone up for auction in Paris in 1909, but it didn’t sell. Later, he finds a buyer, C.H. Rosenau, who also sold the stone to Pierre Cartier in the same year.
In 1910, the Hope Diamond was later exhibited by Cartier to an American socialite named Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean in Paris. But Evalyn didn’t like the setting, so Cartier had it reset and taken to the U.S. Cartier left the diamond in Mrs. MacLean’s possession for a weekend to convince her to buy, and it worked. The Hope Diamond became Mrs. MacLean’s property in 1911 and was mounted on a three-tiered circle of large white diamonds as a headpiece. It was also later redesigned into a pendant and fitted on a diamond necklace- the style we know it to be today.
The Hope Diamond moved into the ownership of Harry Winston Inc. of New York City in 1949 after he purchased Mrs. MacLean’s complete jewelry collection upon her death. And for ten years, Winston displayed the jewelry containing the stone in his exhibition tour ‘Court of Jewels’and at balls and charitable events across the U.S. But by 1958, the company donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, under the persuasion of George Switzer, a mineralogist of the institution.
While the Hope Diamond has been in the Smithsonian to date, it has left the institute on four occasions. First, it was taken to the Louvre in Paris in 1962. There, it stayed for a month as part of the ‘Ten Centuries of French Jewelry’ exhibition. Then, it was moved again in 1965 to South Africa to join the Rand Easter Show exhibit in Johannesburg. The third time was in 1984 when Harry Winston Inc. borrowed the stone as a part of its 50th Anniversary in New York. And finally, in 1996, the Hope Diamond returned to New York’s Harry Winston Inc., where it was subjected to minor restoration and cleaning.
Is The Hope Diamond Cursed?
Over time, the Hope Diamond has been trailed by superstition and earned a mythological reputation. Historians and prospective clients often have tied the stone to a ‘curse,’ claiming that it causes misfortune to those who own it. This belief was etched in the claim that those who have possessed the gem had died of ill manners And promulgators of this idea cited claimed cases like;
- Tavernier (mauled by dogs)
- Jacques Colot (suicide)
- Nicholas Fouquet (disgraced and imprisoned)
- Prince Ivan Kanitovski (murdered)
- Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (imprisoned and executed)
- Mile Ladue (murdered)
- Simon Mencharides (murdered)
- Abu Sabir (imprisoned and tortured)
- SelimHabib (drowned)
- KulubBey, a stone guardian (hanged)
- Hehver Agha (hanged)
Though more cases were tied to the Hope Diamond to prove its ill-luck aura, they were later debunked as speculation. Marketers of the stone were fond of using these stories to increase public interest and awareness and the stone’s value. Another story was proposed to sell this belief when claims rose in the 19th and early 20th centuries about the Hope Diamond’s mythological source. It was claimed then that the stone was stolen from the eye of a goddess statue named Sita, who, according to myth, is the wife of Rama- the seventh avatar of Vishnu.
Eventually, investigations were carried out on behalf of the diamond, and most of these stories were debunked. And while some owners of the Hope diamond did die, I wasn’t directly connected to it and rarely was from ill means. For instance, Simon Frankel was said to go bankrupt after owning the stone, but his case was, like every other, related to the economic strife of his time. Also, prominent figures like Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were said to have met ill luck because of the Hope Diamond, but in truth, Marie Antoinette never wore the stone while her husband owned it.
Also, many other people who claimed to have been affected by the ‘curse’ were finally discovered to be mistaken identities (like SelimHabib, who happened to be a different person with the same name). And in other cases, it was ruled that the stories were concocted and blown out of proportion, like Tavernier’s ill fate with dogs and Colot’s suicide. It was later discovered that the latter had no recorded connection with the Hope diamond and most likely never came across it. And though many owners did die, they were mostly from natural causes and at a ripe old age. They include Tavernier, Kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, George IV, Thomas Hope, Lord Francis Hope, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Pierre Cartier, and Harry Winston.
The Hope Diamond’s Worth & Ownership
The Hope Diamond has undergone numerous ownerships through which its value has also grown. When Jean-Baptiste Tavernier first brought the rough uncut stone to France, he sold it around 1653 at 220,000 to 720,000 livres. Tavernier also received a Patent of Nobility as part of his payment, valued at around 450,000 livres.
The stone would later go through bequeathing from 1668 to 1715 before being stolen numerous times from 1775 to 1792. But in 1812, Daniel Eliason purchased the stone and sold it to King George IV, from which the stone was passed at his death to Thomas Hope for $65,000 to $90,000. The Hope family owned this stone from 1830 to 1884, when Francis Hope sold the stone for £29,000 (estimated at £3.22 million today) to Adolph Weil. Weil would pass the stone to Simon Frankel for $250,000 (approximately $7.8 million today), who later took it to New York, valued at precisely $141,032 ($4.39 million today).
Frankel sold the Hope Diamond to SelimHabib, who purchased it on behalf of Sultan Abdul Hamid for $400,000 ($11.52 million today) in 1908. Habib later marketed the stone in Paris a year later, where he fetched $80,000 for it ($2.3 million today). Simon Rosenau would then buy the Hope Diamond for 400,000 francs and resell it to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs in 1910. And by 1911, after numerous negotiations and convincing, Cartier sold the Hope Diamond to the MacLeans family of Washington D.C. for more than $300,000 (over $8.3 million currently).
Mrs. McLean bequeathed the diamond to her grandchildren upon her death, but the trustees acquired permission to sell her jewels as a debt settlement scheme. Harry Winston became the new owner of the Hope Diamond in 1949 and would own it for over a decade before George Switzer convinced him to donate it to the Smithsonian Institute in the United States. Today, the Hope Diamond remains the institute’s property and is considered ‘priceless,’ though it was insured for $250 million as of 2011.
The Hope Diamond is undoubtedly a marvelous gem and holds its place in man’s history. Plus, it’s also a major contender in the market and has made its mark on the diamond industry and trade. And though it sits in the Smithsonian today, the stone has passed through prestigious ownerships, shaping its history and increasing in relevance. So, when next you come across the name, look upon it with awe and fascination because the Hope Diamond is a stone with a fascinating list of patrons.