Gemstones have always been accorded with strange powers – it is said that a gemstone can either make or break you. Chief among these legends is that a spotless stone can make a man a king, while a flawed stone will assign doom upon him. Most of these legends are then further corroborated by the story of the Hope Diamond.
The story of the Hope Diamond begins when it was unearthed in the Kollur mine at Golconda in India. Because of the asymmetrical nature of the diamond, it was given a mixed cut. But the prismatic fire of the stone makes it one of the most beautiful diamonds of the world.
This diamond was acquired by a French jeweler and gem merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier while he was in India. In 1668, when he returned to France, the stone was sold to Louis XIV. At that point, the gem was weighed at 110.50 carats and was called the Tavernier Blue.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier eventually became penniless and was killed by a pack of wild dogs.
In 1673, Louis XIV ordered his lapidary and goldsmith, Sieur Pitau to re-cut the stone into a glittering heart shape. The stone was now 67.12 carats in weight. By this time, the stone’s name had become ‘the Blue Diamond of the Crown’ and was shortened to ‘the French Blue’. Louis XIV wore the stone on a pendant suspended on a ribbon.
In 1749, Louis XV ordered his court jeweler Andre Jacquemin to craft the stone into a piece of ceremonial jewelry called the Order of the Golden Fleece (or the Toisson D’Or). The diamond remained in this ornament for many years.
When Louis XVI became king, he gifted the stone to his wife. Marie Antoinette was said to be quite delighted with the stone. However, the ‘curse’ of the stone followed the couple to their eventual imprisonment and violent execution.
The crown jewels were stored at the Garde Meuble during the time of the French Revolution. However, they were stolen by the revolutionaries and nothing was heard of the stone for some time.
In 1812, an irregularly cut 45.52 carat blue stone surfaced in London, which raised a lot of speculation about it being the lost French Blue. Legends surrounding the misfortune brought about by the stone during its period of ‘being lost’ also surfaced. It is said that the stone was cut by one Wilhelm Fals, a Dutch lapidary. His son, Hendrick, is said to have stolen the stone from his father. Wilhelm Fals, it is said, died of heartbreak at his son’s behavior. The story then goes on to say that Hendrick began to feel guilty and committed suicide.
This stone was then purchased by Henry Philip Hope. He was the owner of a famous banking company called Hope & Co. It was after this acquisition that the diamond began to be called the Hope Diamond. Soon enough, the bank began to suffer from financial problems and in 1813 was on verge of closure. In 1839, Henry Hope died. He was unmarried and so he left his fortune to his 3 nephews.
The eldest nephew got the stone from the estate of Henry Hope. He died at an early age of 54. His widow remarried Henry Pelham-Clinton. She kept the gemstone in her custody and in 1887 gave the stone to her grandson. The condition she put was that he should add the name of ‘Hope’ to his name of ‘Pelham-Clinton’. He accepted and became Lord Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton Hope.
He loved to gamble. And so, in 1893, six years after acquiring the stone, Lord Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton Hope found that he was deep in debt. So in 1894, he married an American actress called Mary Yohe, who supported the both of them. But, by 1898, Lord Francis was again in a similar situation. This time, he wanted to sell off the diamond. His siblings protested the sale and went to court.
In 1901, Lord Francis was finally allowed to dispose of the stone. He sold it to Adolf Weil of Hatton Garden.
It is here that the story begins to take a twist. The Hope diamond was reportedly sold to a French jeweler, Jacques Colet who went insane and committed suicide. Another owner of the stone was said to be a Russian prince, Ivan Kanitowsky who then presented it to a famous actress Mademoiselle Lorens Ladue. She was shot the day she wore the stone on stage and the very next day the Russian prince was also killed by Russian revolutionaries.
The stone was then said to have been sold to a New York jeweler, Simon Frankel, who then sold it to Salomon Habib. Habib was representing Abdul Hamid II, the Sultan of Turkey. The Sultan gave this diamond to his mistress. Apparently, she shot herself and the Sultan was deposed.
This time the Hope diamond was purchased by the Parisian diamond merchant, C. H. Rosenau, who then sold it to Pierre Cartier. Cartier then sold the diamond to wealthy Washington DC socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean. To persuade her to purchase the stone, which she had earlier rejected, Cartier changed the setting of the stone, putting it in a necklace. She had also stated that objects which proved to be unlucky for other people had often proved to be lucky for her.
Evalyn McLean’s life was full of tragedy – but she did not link it to her ownership of the Hope Diamond. A snapshot of the tragic events of her life include the early death of her brother, the death of her eldest son in a traffic accident when he was only 9, a divorce from her husband who later died in a mental institution, the death of her daughter by an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of 25 – all of this finally culminating in her own death at the age of 60 from pneumonia. The spate of bad luck also followed her grand-daughter (who inherited the Hope Diamond) – she died at the age of 25.
To settle the various debts of Evalyn McLean, the Hope Diamond was finally sold to Harry Winston. He travelled all over the world with the diamond. He too, never believed in the curse surrounding the Hope Diamond.
Finally, in 1958, Harry Winston presented the stone to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Today, the stone is displayed in the Museum and people can easily go and see the stone for themselves.
Reference: Great Diamonds of India (Diamond Trading Company).
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