The Curse of the Hope Diamond
As the saying goes, if you’;re struck by lightning once, it’;s an accident; twice is a coincidence; the third time, it’;s a curse. So far, no one who has owned the Hope Diamond has been struck by lightning, but that’;s about the only thing that hasn’;t happened in the fabulous gem’;s gruesome history.
Alternately, the Hope Diamond is a remarkably well documented stone, and the truth about it supports none of the tales of mayhem that have followed. You decide.
Like the geologic forces that formed it, the origins of the Hope Diamond are murky. Believed to have been mined in India and weighing a remarkable 112 carats uncut, the gem was obtained by French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1666. Tavernier is most frequently cited as the cause of the curse that followed the gem throughout its 350-year history. He is alleged to have either stolen the jewel, or hired someone else to steal it, from the eye of a statue of the Hindu deity Sita near Mandalay. According to legend, Tavernier died a horrible death (this has been disputed). But it gets better.
In 1668 the jewel was sold to King Louis XIV of France. He had it cut into a heart-shaped 67-carat stone, which he named the Blue Diamond of the Crown. Apparently the curse went into hibernation for the next 121 years. But in 1793, it emerged with a vengeance, sending its owners, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, to the guillotine during the French Revolution. The royal jewels were then stolen and recovered—all but the great diamond, which was at the time called the French Blue.
In 1830, a 44.5-carat deep blue, oval-cut diamond appeared in London. It had no papers, but gem experts at the time believed it to have been the fabled French Blue, recut to disguise its origins possibly by Wilhelm Fals of Holland. For his part in defiling the stone, as well as for his son’;s part in purloining it, Fals is supposed to have died of grief, followed by his son, who took his own life. In any event, millionaire Henry Hope bought the French Blue and gave it its present name. Hope didn’;t own it long, however, although the record dims as to just who bought it from him. An Eastern prince, a Russian royal, a dancer at the Folies-Bergère, a Greek trader, and a Turkish sultan are all variously mentioned, each stalked by tragedy. But wait, there’;s more.
By 1911 the Hope Diamond came into the possession of the renowned jeweler Pierre Cartier, and the record became more concrete. Cartier sold it to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, a Washington, D.C. socialite. During her ownership, McLean’;s husband died in a mental hospital, her daughter overdosed on sleeping pills, and her son died in a car accident. She even pawned the gem in 1932 to raise ransom money for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, but it turned out to be a con engineered by Gaston Means. When the stone was recovered and Means was sent to prison, the misadventure was blamed not on the curse, but on the gullibility of a rich lady.
Lies, More Lies, Damn Lies
We all know the world’;s three greatest lies. Here are numbers 4 through 20:
You’;ve lost weight
This won’;t hurt a bit
Of course, it’;s not habit forming
Let’;s do lunch
I’;ll call you back in five minutes
Just keep heading in that direction and you can’;t miss it
Never knowingly undersold!
It’;s only a temporary hair loss
Gee, honey, that never happened to me before
Those stains will come right out with soda
The editor only wants one or two small changes
He certainly didn’;t learn that word from me!
This film will never be available on home video
My dog ate my homework
This software is user friendly
Mom said it was okay
After Mrs. McLean died in 1947, her estate accepted the offer of New York jeweler Harry Winston to buy the Hope Diamond. The price was not disclosed, but its last appraised value, when McLean hocked it in 1932, was $100,000. In a move that will astonish anyone who ever had to wait in line at the post office, when Harry Winston agreed to present the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, he mailed it to them. “It’;s the safest way to mail gems,” he told the
According to the tapes and receipts, which he saved, Winston entered it as a 61-ounce registered package in New York on November 8, 1958, for $2.44 postage, plus another $142.85 for $1 million indemnity (total: $145.29). The diamond was delivered on Monday, November 11, by postal worker James G. Todd of Washington, DC.
Now for the Official Version, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution: Jean Baptiste Tavernier purchased a 112 carat diamond, probably in 1666, and most likely from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India. He sold it to King Louis XIV of France in 1668, who had it recut by Sieur Pitau into a 67-carat stone in 1673. King Louis XV had it reset by Andre Jacquemin in 1749. In the height of the French Revolution in 1792, the crown jewels were stolen, including the diamond. Its fate was unclear until 1812 when London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason was recorded as its possessor. It was later acquired by King George IV of England. In 1830, after his death, the diamond was sold privately to pay off royal debts. By 1839 it entered the possession of Henry Philip Hope, whose death that same year threw its ownership into legal turmoil. In 1902 Hope’;s distant heir, Lord Francis Hope, sold it to a London dealer to pay off his debts. The jewel found its way to Joseph Frankels and Sons in New York City, then to Selim Habib, then to C. H. Rosenau, then to gem dealer Pierre Cartier. In 1912, Cartier sold it to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean. On her death in 1947, it was bought by Harry Winston, Inc. The firm toured it for 10 years before donating it to the Smithsonian.
Whether you believe that the Hope Diamond carries a curse, or that, statistically, any large group of people is going to encounter tragedy over three and a half centuries, it’;s still a compelling chronicle. One final note on the “curse”: Not long after he delivered it to the museum, postal carrier Todd’;s dog strangled on its leash, Todd’;s house burned, he hurt his head in a car accident, and one of his legs was crushed by a truck. When the
The Hope Diamond now resides in the newly redesigned Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals at the Smithsonian Institution. It is not the largest diamond in the world—the Star of Africa that graces the British crown jewels dwarfs it at 530 carats—but it is certainly the most mysterious.