The curse of the Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond

There’s nothing like a mystery to make someone — or something — famous. A string of mysteries is even better.

Story has it that the large blue diamond that eventually came to be known as the Hope Diamond was stolen by its first recorded owner, a French gem merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. And there the curse began. The details of the alleged theft are unclear though. A 1908 article in The New York Times simply claimed, “It was stolen, and it is believed that it was cut up and disposed of in smaller gems.” An article in Science Views claims that the theft story was spawned by a 19th century novel, The Moonstone, about a diamond having been stolen from a Hindu idol.

But whether or not the diamond was stolen, and whether or not it used to be the eye of a Hindu idol, Tavernier acquired it sometime between 1640 and 1667 during one of his many travels to India. And history shows that some, not all, of its subsequent owners did have their share of misfortunes.

1. Tavernier sold the blue diamond, weighing over a hundred carats, along with other stones, to King Louis XIV of France. The stone was cut, set and it became part of the French Crown Jewels. The largest piece weighing over 67 carats came to be known as the French Blue. It passed on to King Louis XV and then to King Louis XVI, husband to Marie Antoinette. When the French Revolution broke out and the king and queen were held prisoner, the Crown Jewels were looted. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette both died on the guillotine in 1792.

2. The French Blue next made its appearance in the UK in 1812, 20 years after the Statute of Limitations had set in (a crime, like theft, can no longer be prosecuted after the Statute of Limitations had set in). In 1812, the stone weighed 45 carats and had obviously been recut to hide its origin. The owner was jeweler Daniel Eliason who later sold it to banker, author and art collector Thomas Hope. From then on, it became the Hope Diamond.

3. After Thomas Hope’s death, the diamond went to his oldest son (some accounts say nephew), Henry Thomas Hope, and then to Henry Thomas’s grandson, Lord Francis Hope, as part of the Hope estate. The inheritance stipulated that Lord Francis Hope only had life interest in the estate which meant he could not sell any part of it without court permission. Lord Francis Hope’s high living and gambling ways got led to financial straits. By 1898, he was asking for court permission to sell the Hope Diamond. The request was denied, he filed an appeal and lost. He then went to the House of Lords (his father was Earl of Lincoln and later Duke of Newcastle) which finally granted permission to sell the Hope Diamond to pay off his debts. The diamond was sold to Adolph Weil, a London jewel merchant, in 1901.

4. Weil later sold the diamond dealer to Simon Frankel, a diamond dealer, who eventually sold it after suffering business reverses during the 1907 Depression.

(Death by execution and two financial misfortunes, so far.)

4. The next owner of the Hope Diamond was Turkish diamond collector Selim Habib who reportedly died in a ship wreck. The reports were false. Habib sold the Hope Diamond in 1909 to Simon Rosenau, a French jewel merchant. The following year, Rosenu sold it to jeweler Pierre Cartier.

5. Cartier used all the mysterious stories surrounding the gem to sell it to Evalyn Walsh McLean, an American mining heiress and socialite, and the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. Evalyn did not like the setting, Cartier reset it (as seen in the photo) and the sale was consummated. She was 24. Her family’s story alone would seem to forever seal the fate of the Hope Diamond as a bringer of bad luck — a son was killed in a car crash at age nine, a daughter committed suicide by drug overdose, her husband was declared insane and died in a mental institution, the family went into bankruptcy and, based on her own memoirs, she was addicted to morphine. After her death, her jewelry collection, including the Hope Diamond, were sold in 1949 to settle the debts of the estate. Jeweler Harry Winston was the buyer. In 1958, Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute where it remains to this day.

Is the Hope Diamond cursed? You be the judge.

Image credit: The Smithsonian Institute