Cursed Jewels: The Hope Diamond

At 45.52 carats, the Hope diamond is a heart-stopping, blue-tinged sparkler extracted from the Kollur Mine in India in the 17th century. For the scientific community, the Hope diamond has facilitated a rare study of the formation of diamonds, thanks to its enormous size.

The Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian

The diamond’s beauty was revered for centuries, following its purchase by French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1666. Originally known as the Tavernier Blue, the enormous gemstone initially weighed in at 113 3/16 carats and was described as having perfect clarity. This incredibly rare specimen was not to remain in this original, raw state. The stone was re-cut and sold to King Louis XIV in 1668 where it was set into elaborate works alongside hundreds of other smaller diamonds. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette enjoyed the diamond as part of their opulent lifestyle until they lost their heads at the dawn of the French Revolution when the Hope diamond was passed on once more.

Image via Only Natural Diamonds

The gemstone was later stolen in 1792 and re-cut, shrinking in size once again before it re-appeared in a gem catalogue for the Hope Banking Family in 1839.

But why should a massive diamond be of any interest to the world outside the super-rich? Well, if its history and legends are to be believed – the diamond is not only priceless, but CURSED.

Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France

The Hope diamond has been blamed for a wealth (pardon the pun) of horrible accidents and misfortune, not limited to murder, madness, stabbings and suicide. Most myths and legends surrounding the diamond are untraceable before the late 19th/early 20th century. One such origin story is that the Hope diamond was originally stolen from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, unleashing an ancient curse in the process. However, the chance that this was anything other than a Victorian work of fiction is incredibly unlikely. Nonetheless, newspapers and magazines picked up the story of the cursed stone with eagerness and spread these tales worldwide.

By 1908, the Washington Post was claiming that the Hope diamond ‘Has Brought Trouble to all Who Have Owned It’ and followed up with several similar articles, heightening the bizarre and macabre stories attached to the precious jewel. In 1911, the New York Times printed a fascinating and completely unsubstantiated list of the fates of the stone’s previous owners, which (thanks to our old friend Wikipedia) makes for unsettling reading:

Evalyn Walsh McLean
  • ·  Jacques Colet bought the Hope Diamond from Simon Frankel and committed suicide.
  • ·  Prince Ivan Kanitovski bought it from Colet but was killed by Russian revolutionists.
  • ·  Kanitovski loaned it to Mlle Ladue who was “murdered by her sweetheart.”
  • ·  Simon Mencharides, who had once sold it to the Turkish sultan, was thrown from a precipice along with his wife and young child.
  • ·  Sultan Hamid gave it to Abu Sabir to “polish” but later Sabir was imprisoned and tortured.
  • ·  Stone guardian Kulub Bey was hanged by a mob in Turkey.
  • ·  A Turkish attendant named Hehver Agha was hanged for having it in his possession.
  • ·  Tavernier, who brought the stone from India to Paris was “torn to pieces by wild dogs in Constantinople.”
  • ·  King Louis gave it to Madame de Montespan whom he later abandoned.
  • ·  Nicholas Fouquet, an “Intendant of France”, borrowed it temporarily to wear it but was “disgraced and died in prison.”
  • ·  A temporary wearer, Princess de Lamballe, was “torn to pieces by a French mob.”
  • ·  Jeweler William Fals who recut the stone “died a ruined man.”
  • ·  William Fals’ son Hendrik stole the jewel from his father and later died by suicide.
  • ·  Some years (after Hendrik) “it was sold to Francis Deaulieu, who died in misery and want.”

It was this proliferation of mystery that hindered Pierre Cartier when trying woo socialite and mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean into purchasing the gemstone in 1911. Indeed, newspapers went on to blame the difficulties with purchase on the curse itself.

Evalyn was to be the diamond’s last private owner. While she entertained her well-to-do guests by letting them try on the stone (including president Warren G. Harding), after purchasing the diamond, her life took a distinctly grim turn. Her daughter died of an overdose, her son died in a car crash and her husband left her for another woman. After her death, the trustees of her estate were taking no risks and sold the Hope diamond to Harry Winston who went on to donate the stone to the Smithsonian museum.

The diamond remains on display at the Smithsonian where you can admire it in person. The curse, however, appears to have grown dormant since its installation in the museum and has boosted visitor numbers, rather than killed off the staff.


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