History of the Hope Diamond
1668-1669: Tavernier's Diamond
King Louis XIV was fond of beautiful and rare gems, especially diamonds. In December of 1668, the explorer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier met with the king to share a collection of diamonds collected on his recently completed trip to India. In February of 1669, King Louis XIV purchased the lot of diamonds, including a large blue diamond weighing 112 3⁄16 old French carats (approximately 115 modern metric carats) for 220,000 livres (Bapst 1889). In recognition of this transaction, the king honored Tavernier with the rank of nobleman (Morel 1988).
It is commonly assumed that Tavernier acquired the diamond on his last journey to India (1664-1668) and that it came from the Kollur Mine of the Golconda region. However, evidence for both source and timing is circumstantial, as Tavernier makes no mention of the acquisition of the diamond in the published accounts of his journeys. The Kollur Mine is considered a likely source because it was known for producing large and colored diamonds (Post and Farges 2014), but there were several diamond mines throughout India during the time of Tavernier’s voyages, and the diamond could have come from any one of them. The diamond must at least have originated in India, as India was the only commercial source of diamonds in Tavernier's time.
1669-1672: Cutting the French Blue
King Louis XIV ordered one of his court jewelers, Jean Pittan the Younger, to supervise the recutting of the 115-carat blue diamond. The king likely ordered the stone recut because of differences between Indian and European tastes in diamonds: Indian gems were cut to retain size and weight, while Europeans prized luster, symmetry and brilliance. It is not known who actually cut the diamond, but the job took about two years to complete. The result was an approximately 69-carat heart-shaped diamond referred to as “the great violet diamond of His Majesty” in the historic royal archives. At that time, “violet” meant a shade of blue. Today, the diamond is most commonly known as the “French Blue” (Post and Farges 2014).
An inventory of the French Crown Jewels from 1691 reveals that the French Blue was “set into gold and mounted on a stick.” In 2012, a computer simulation revealed that eight central facets on the pavilion of the French Blue were cut so as to be visible when one looked through the face of the gem (Farges et al. 2012). When the stone was set in gold, the effect would be the appearance of a gold sun in the center of the blue diamond. Post and Farges (2014) proposed that the stone was cut this way to show the colors of the French monarchy, blue and gold, symbolizing the divine standing and power of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. The diamond was not worn as a piece of jewelry or kept with the French Crown Jewels, but rather was stored in the King’s cabinet of curiosities at Versailles, where he could show it to special guests.
1749: The Order of the Golden Fleece
Louis XIV's great-grandson, Louis XV, inherited the royal jewels when he ascended to the throne. Around 1749, King Louis XV tasked the Parisian jeweler Pierre-André Jacqumin with creating an emblem of knighthood of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The finished emblem featured a number of spectacular gems, including the French Blue Diamond, the 107-carat Côte de Bretagne spinel (carved into the shape of a dragon and originally thought to be a ruby), and several other diamonds. It was rarely worn, functioning instead as a symbol of the king's power (Post and Farges 2014).
1791: The Capture of Louis XVI
Amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette attempted to escape France, but were apprehended and returned to Paris. The French Crown Jewels, including the French Blue Diamond in the Order of the Golden Fleece, were turned over to the revolutionary government and moved to the Garde-Meuble, the Royal Storehouse, where they were put on view for the public once a week until 1792. On visiting days, the doors of the armoires would be opened and a selection of mounted and unmounted jewels could be viewed in special display cases.
1792: The Theft of the French Crown Jewels
On the night of September 11th, 1792, a group of thieves climbed through the first-floor windows of the Garde-Meuble into the room where the French Crown Jewels were stored and escaped with some of the jewels. At the time, no one in the storehouse even realized that a theft had taken place: The seal on the door to the room had not been broken, and no guards were stationed inside of the room. The thieves returned over the following nights to steal more of the jewels. By the evening of September 17th, the group of thieves had grown to about fifty. Acting loudly and carelessly, they attracted the attention of the patrol, putting an end to one of the most curious thefts in history (Morel 1988).
By then, the Order of the Golden Fleece was gone. The French Blue Diamond has not been seen since.
1812: A blue diamond appears in London
It is now clear that the French Blue resurfaced in London nearly 20 years later, although no one seems to have recognized it at the time. It had by then been recut to a smaller (though still spectacular) gem, which we know today as the Hope Diamond.
The first reference to this diamond is a sketch and description made in 1812 by the London jeweler John Francillon:
The above drawing is the exact size and shape of a very curious superfine deep blue Diamond. Brilliant cut, and equal to a fine deep blue Sapphire. It is beauty full and all perfection without specks or flaws, and the color even and perfect all over the Diamond. I traced it round the diamond with a pencil by leave of Mr. Daniel Eliason and it is as finely cut as I have ever seen in a Diamond. The color of the Drawing is as near the color of the Diamond as possible.
Francillon does not mention where the diamond came from or who had cut it, nor does he connect it to the French Blue.
Intriguingly, the Francillon Memo is dated just two days after the twenty-year statute of limitations for crimes committed during the French Revolution had passed. The diamond may have resurfaced at this time because the possibility of prosecution and of France reclaiming the diamond was eliminated, making the owner comfortable enough to share the diamond with others (Winters and White 1991).
1813-1823: Mr. Eliason's Diamond
Several other British naturalists and gem experts made note of a large blue diamond in London in the years following Francillon's memo. In the 1813 and 1815 editions of his book, A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones, mineralogist and gem connoisseur John Mawe writes that “there is at this time a superlatively fine blue diamond, of above 44 carats, in possession of an individual in London, which may be considered as matchless, and of course of arbitrary value.” Similarly, James Sowerby, a naturalist known for his illustrations of minerals and other objects, wrote that “Daniel Eliason, Esq. has in London, a nearly perfect blue Brilliant, of 44½ carats, that is superior to any other coloured diamond known” (Sowerby 1817).
By 1823, the diamond was no longer in Eliason's possession. Mawe returned to the subject of the blue diamond in the 1823 edition of his book, writing that:
A superlatively fine blue diamond weighing 44 carats and valued at £30,000, formerly the property of Mr. Eliason, an eminent diamond merchant, is now said to be in the possession of our most gracious sovereign… The unrivaled gem is of a deep sapphire blue, and from its rarity and color, might have been estimated at a higher sum. It has found its most worthy destination in passing into the possession of a monarch, whose refined taste has ever been conspicuous in the highest degree” (Mawe 1823)
According to Mawe, then, Eliason had parted with the diamond and it had come into the possession of George IV, the King of England. However, no evidence linking the Hope Diamond to the king has been found in the British royal archives, and we do not know whether George IV ever possessed it as either owner or borrower (Post and Farges 2014).
1839: Henry Philip Hope's gem collection
Philip Hope (1774-1839) was a wealthy British banker with an affinity for fine art and precious gems. An 1839 catalogue of his gem collection mentions a large blue diamond weighing 45.5 carats. The diamond would take his name, becoming known as “Hope’s Diamond” or the “Hope Diamond.” The catalogue describes the diamond as “a most magnificent and rare brilliant, of a deep sapphire blue, of the greatest purity, and most beautifully cut” (Hertz 1839). It was set in a medallion with smaller, rose-cut, colorless diamonds surrounding it and a pearl that dropped from the bottom of the medallion as a pendant. Unfortunately, Hope does not record when or where he acquired the diamond in his 1839 catalogue.
Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, leaving his possessions to his three nephews: Henry Thomas, Adrian, and Alexander. In his will, Henry Philip Hope divided his money and property amongst the brothers, but did not leave instructions for the division of his gem collection. Given the immense value of his collection, the Hope brothers argued for years over who would inherit it. In 1849, after ten years of dispute, the brothers reached an agreement: the property went to Adrian, the Hope Pearl and around 700 precious gemstones went to Alexander, and the Hope Diamond and seven other gems went to Henry Thomas (Kurin 2006).
1851: The Great London Exhibition
Henry Thomas Hope loaned the Hope Diamond for display at the Crystal Palace during the Great London Exhibition. According to a catalogue from the exhibition, 28 diamonds from the Henry Philip Hope Collection were exhibited. This suggests that the brother of Henry Thomas, Alexander, must have contributed diamonds to the display effort since Henry Thomas had only inherited eight gems from his uncle and Alexander had inherited the rest (Kurin 2006).
1852: The French Blue Connection
Today, we are certain that the Hope Diamond is the recut French Blue. However, it took 46 years after Francillon described the modern Hope for someone to connect the two diamonds. The French gemologist Charles Barbot was first, speculating in his 1858 book, Traité Complet de Pierres Précieuses, that the Hope Diamond was cut from the French Blue (Post and Farges 2014).
Later authors continued in this track. In 1870, Charles W. King wrote about a likely connection between the two blue diamonds in his book, The Natural History of the Precious Stones and of the Precious Metals. On the subject of “Hope’s Blue Diamond” King writes “suspected to be that of the French Regalia (stolen in 1792), and then weighing 67 car., and afterwards re-cut as a brilliant to its present weight of 44½ carat.”
In 1882, Edwin Streeter wrote about the diamond’s provenance in his book, The Great Diamonds of the World: Their History and Romance:
The disappearance of Tavernier’s rough blue from the French regalia, followed by the unexplained appearance of a cut gem of precisely the same delicate blue tint, and answering in size to the original after due allowance made for loss in cutting, leaves little or no room for doubting the identity of the two stones… It thus appears that the rough un-cut Tavernier, the French “Blue,” lost in 1792, and the “Hope,” are one and the same stone. (Streeter 1882, p. 214).
1887: The extravagant life of Lord Francis Hope
Henry Thomas Hope left his possessions, including the Hope Diamond, to his wife Anne Adéle Hope when he passed away in 1862. Anne, in turn, decided to leave the family treasures not to her daughter, Henrietta (whose husband was careless with money and often on the verge of bankruptcy) but to her grandson, Francis Hope. In her 1876 will, Anne named Francis as heir to the family treasures, stipulating that the estates and heirlooms were to be used during his lifetime and then passed on to another Hope descendant. Anne passed away in 1884, and Francis Hope claimed his inheritance when he turned 21, three years later (Kurin 2006).
Lord Francis Hope was less prudent than his grandmother might have hoped. He lived extravagantly, quickly spending his inheritance on traveling, entertainment, and gambling and sinking into tremendous debt. In 1892, he met a showgirl in New York City named May Yohé, a glamorous and charming actress from Pennsylvania. Hope and Yohé married in 1894 and continued to live well beyond their means. To avoid bankruptcy, Hope appealed to his relatives for permission to sell a portion of the family art collection, claiming that he could no longer afford to care for the paintings. After years of litigation, the family finally agreed to allow Hope to sell a selection of the paintings, but the sale was not enough to save him from financial crisis. In 1901, after more litigation with his family, Lord Francis offered the Hope Diamond for sale (Patch 1999).
1901-1907: Crossing the Atlantic
In 1901, Lord Francis Hope sold the Hope Diamond to London diamond merchant Adolf Weil, who sold the diamond to Joseph Frankel's Sons & Co. of New York shortly thereafter. Simon Frankel sailed to London from New York to finalize the purchase. One source reported that Frankel paid $250,000 (~6.7 million 2014 dollars) for the diamond (Patch 1999).
Frankel brought the Hope Diamond back to New York to try to sell it in America, but received no reasonable offers. By 1907, the market for diamonds had sharply declined due to a slow economy, and Frankel's company faced the possibility of bankruptcy (Kurin 2006). The Hope Diamond sat locked away in a New York safe deposit box while Frankel tried to find a buyer.
1908-1909: Selim Habib and Rumors of a Curse
Joseph Frankel's Sons & Co. finally found a buyer for the Hope Diamond in 1908: Selim Habib, a Turkish diamond collector and merchant who purchased the Hope Diamond for a reported $200,000 (~5 million 2014 dollars). According to the New York Times, Selim Habib soon had financial troubles, and in 1909, he sold his gem collection, including the Hope Diamond (Kurin, 2006). His financial difficulties and a later, incorrect report of his death at sea contributed to the growing myth of a curse on the Hope Diamond.
Habib's collection was put up for auction at the Hotel Drouot in Paris, France on June 24, 1909. Jeweler and gem expert Louis Aucoc oversaw the auction, withdrawing the Hope Diamond from the sale before selling it to jeweler C. N. Rosenau for 400,000 francs (Kurin 2006).
1910: Cartier acquires the Hope Diamond
Cartier, a French jewelery house, purchased the Hope Diamond from jeweler C.N. Rosenau in 1910. The Hope Diamond arrived in the U.S. on November 23, 1910, where it was valued at $110,000 for customs plus the $10,000 duty for an unmounted gem (Patch 1999).
Pierre Cartier took on the responsibility of selling the Hope Diamond. Pierre was a talented salesman: Charming, smooth-talking, and sophisticated, he was experienced in the art of selling to wealthy customers, Americans in particular, having worked at Cartier's New York office.
By this time, the art of developing colorful narratives for famous gems was already well established. Intriguing histories helped with gem sales, and in turn, gave the purchaser an interesting tale to tell admirers at various events. Cartier thus began to fabricate a fanciful story around the Hope Diamond that included a curse, which he would pitch to potential buyers (Kurin 2006).
1912: The McLeans buy the Hope Diamond
In 1912, Pierre Cartier sold the Hope Diamond to an American couple, Ned and Evalyn Walsh McLean. The sale was the result of two years of work.
Pierre identified the McLeans as potential buyers shortly after Cartier purchased the Hope Diamond. Both Evalyn and Ned were heirs to American fortunes, Evalyn's from mining and Ned's from newspapers. They were previous, big-spending clients of Cartier, having purchased the 94.8-carat Star of the East Diamond from Cartier in 1908 while they were on their honeymoon. Pierre arranged to meet with them in 1910 while they were on vacation in Paris. He presented his embellished tale of the Hope Diamond’s extraordinary provenance to the McLeans, including the curse that brought bad luck to all who owned it. Evalyn was fascinated with the story and told Pierre that she believed objects that brought bad luck to others would bring good luck to her. Despite her interest, she initially declined to purchase the blue diamond because she did not like its setting (McLean 1936).
Pierre, a persistent man, did not let an old-fashioned setting prevent him from securing the sale. He took the Hope Diamond to New York, where he had it reset into a contemporary mounting. In the new mounting (essentially the same mounting it is in today), the Hope was framed by 16 colorless diamonds and could be worn as part of a head ornament or a diamond necklace. Pierre returned to Washington and left the newly set Hope with Evalyn and Ned over a weekend.
Pierre's strategy was successful—Evalyn adored the Hope Diamond, and several months later agreed to purchase it from Cartier, settling on a price of $180,000 (Patch 1999) plus the return of an emerald and pearl pendant with diamond necklace that she no longer wanted (McLean 1936). The Hope Diamond became Evalyn Walsh McLean’s signature in the high society of Washington, D.C. She wore it frequently, layered with her other important gems and jewelry, to events and the lavish parties she hosted. Evalyn would even let her Great Dane, Mike, wear the Hope Diamond on his collar.
1947: Evalyn Walsh McLean Passes Away
Evalyn Walsh McLean died from pneumonia on April 26, 1947. She dictated in her will that all of her jewelry be held in trust until her youngest grandchild turned twenty-five, at which point her jewels were to be divided equally by all of her grandchildren. Two years after her death, however, the court ordered the sale of her jewelry collection to pay off debts and claims against her estate (Patch 1999). The Hope Diamond, the Star of the East Diamond, and the rest of her jewelry collection were purchased by jeweler Harry Winston of New York.
1949-1958: Harry Winston and the Court of Jewels
In 1949, Harry Winston purchased the Hope Diamond along with the rest of the Evalyn Walsh McLean's jewelry collection. Winston incorporated McLean's jewelry into the Court of Jewels, a traveling exhibition of gems supplemented by a jewelry fashion show. Large and famous diamonds, including the Hope Diamond, the Star of the East Diamond, and the 127-carat Portuguese Diamond (now also part of the Smithsonian’s collection), were featured as part of the show. The exhibit traveled throughout America from 1949 to 1953 to teach the public about precious gems and raise money for civic and charitable organizations (Harry Winston, Inc.). Harry Winston once stated: “I want the public to know more about precious gems. With so much expensive junk jewelry around these days, people forget that a good diamond, ruby, or emerald, however small, is a possession to be prized for generations” (Tupper and Tupper 1947).
1958: The Hope Diamond comes to the Smithsonian
In 1958, Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. On November 10th, the Hope arrived at the Smithsonian in a plain brown package shipped by registered mail (and insured for a sum of one million dollars). Mrs. Harry Winston presented the Hope Diamond to Dr. Leonard Carmichael, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Dr. George S. Switzer, Curator of Mineralogy. The Hope Diamond was exhibited in the Gem Hall at the National Museum of Natural History and almost immediately became its premier attraction.
1962: A visit to France
With the encouragement of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the Hope Diamond was loaned for a month to the Louvre Museum for the exhibition “Ten Centuries of French Jewels.” It was displayed with two famous diamonds, the Regent (a 140.50-carat brilliant cushion cut diamond) and the Sancy (a pale yellow 55.23-carat pear-shaped diamond). Also on display was the Côte de Bretagne, a red spinel carved in the shape of a dragon that, along with the French Blue Diamond, had been part of Louis XV's elaborate emblem of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This exhibition marked the reunion of these two gems after 170 years. In return, the Louvre’s masterpiece, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, was loaned to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from January 8 to February 3, 1963.
1965: At the Rand Easter Show in South Africa
The Hope Diamond was loaned to DeBeers and traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for the Rand Easter Show, one of the largest consumer exhibitions in the world. The Hope Diamond was the main attraction in the jewel box in the Diamond Pavilion. Surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, it was exhibited on a finely woven spider’s web supported by the bare branches of a rose bush and illuminated from above.
1982: At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
In November 1982, Ronald Winston, son of Harry Winston, hosted 1,200 guests in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Engelhard Court. (Kurin 2006) For the glittering gala, the Hope Diamond was reunited with the Star of the East (a 94.80-carat pear-shaped diamond previously owned by Evalyn Walsh McLean) and the Idol’s Eye (a 70.21-carat rounded pear-shape diamond exhibited at the Rand Easter Show in 1965).
1997: The new Harry Winston Gallery
The Hope Diamond was put on display in the Harry Winston Gallery of the newly completed Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in the National Museum of Natural History. The diamond is mounted on a rotating pedestal so that it can be viewed from all four sides of the vault.
2009-2010: Celebrating 50 years at the Smithsonian
In September 2009, the Hope Diamond was removed from its setting and exhibited unmounted for the first time ever. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, an online contest was used to select a commemorative necklace from one of three designs submitted by Harry Winston, Inc. The winning entry, "Embracing Hope", was designed by Maurice Galli. This modern design consisted of three-dimensional ribbons set with baguette-cut diamonds wrapping the Hope Diamond in an exquisite embrace. The Hope Diamond was set in the Embracing Hope necklace and displayed for over a year before being returned to its original Cartier mounting.
The Hope Diamond today
Today, the Hope Diamond remains one of the most popular objects at the Smithsonian, attracting millions of visitors every year. Even now, the Hope retains much of its mystery, and Smithsonian scientists continue to study it to better understand its eventful history and rare beauty.
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