The Hope Diamond
Or: How Else Could Two Billion Months' Salary Last Forever?
The folks at De Beers would love to get their paws on this little trinket, but the Smithsonian Institution has it buried behind a few inches of bulletproof glass in a very hands-off environment. And with good reason.
Welcome to the Rock
You may be familiar with the four c's of diamond-buying. Consider these when you're checking out that 3/4 carat number at the back of the display case.
Apparently, fancy dark is a color rating. As for the cut, I haven't the slightest idea what it means--go drop your jaw at this picture: www.min.uni-bremen.de/sgmcol/gems/hope.shtml You're looking for the stone in the middle that normal people call blue.
Hope You've Got a Good Fence
The Hope Diamond has become one of the most recognizable in the world, and it's been around quite a bit, having been moved more times than that ten-dollar gold watch you bought in Times Square. Here's how the story goes.
- ????: Most likely hacked out of a wall in the Kollur Mine, located in Golconda, India. Crudely shaped, roughly triangular, and originally 112 carats.
- 1660s: Purchased by a French jeweller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who called its color violet and knew full well that it was too gaudy to be worn by anyone but royalty, even for the French.
- 1668: Tavernier unloads the diamond on Louis XIV of l'etat, c'est moi fame. The Sun King has a new star.
- 1673: Court jeweller Sieur Pitau recuts the stone to 67 carats. It becomes 'the blue diamond of the crown,' or the French Blue, embedded in gold and worn only during important ceremonies.
- 1749: Louis XV, of apres moi, le deluge notoriety--ah, these French Kings and their ominous epigrams--has it reset once again, this time as a piece of ornamentation for the Order of the Golden Fleece.
- 1792: Speaking of fleecing, the jewel--worn by Marie Antoinette before she hadn't a neck to put it round--was nicked from the Royal Treasury in September, after she and Louis XVI tried to scarper out of France.
It is here that the stone's provenance gets a little dicey. It was likely taken to London, England, where it would have to have been recut to conceal its origin. However, as there was no trace of it for twenty years after its theft, proof is at best difficult to come by. All one can really do is acknowledge that there aren't that many great big blue diamonds walking about, then calculate the odds.
One thing is worth noting, however--in 1804 the new French Government settled on a wartime crime amnesty period of twenty years. The first documentation on a 'large blue diamond' appearing in England did so on September 19th, 1812--less than a week after the twenty year period had lapsed. It was said to be in the collection of one Daniel Eliason--but was quickly lost track of again until:
- 1822: A portrait of King George IV shows him wearing a large, blue, asymmetrical diamond virtually identical to the French Blue. How it came to him is unknown, and the gem in the painting wasn't recognized by a gemologist until nearly a century later.
- 1830: George IV goes the way of the dodo, leaving behind a mountain of debt and at least one very pawnable item.
- 1839: The diamond appears in the collection catalogue of Henry Philip Hope, well-known rich guy. In the same year, Hope goes the way of George IV; but by this time, people have learned the value of a priceless diamond. After prolonged litigation, the diamond went to a nephew, Henry Thomas Hope.
- 1902: Lord Francis Hope, grandson of Henry Thomas, and like so many nobles, had to deal with a long family's lines tremendous tab by selling off his inheritance. A London dealer quickly turned it around to Joseph Frankel and Sons in New York. Welcome to America.
- 1909: The stone changes hands no less than three times in a single year, winding up in the doubtlessly sweaty palm of Pierre Cartier.
- 1910: A lady by the name of Evalyn Walsh McLean spots it, buys it, and wears it to dinner parties regularly.
- 1949: Mrs. McLean goes the way of Henry Philip Hope, and a gent named Harry Winston purchases the Hope Diamond and a few other large diamonds from her estate.
- 1958: After a few years exhibiting it on his own, Winston donates the Hope plus a few other stones to the Smithsonian. Delivery method? U.S. Mail. Winston posted the Hope Diamond in a plain package.
Since then, the Hope Diamond has been essentially the center of the Smithsonians gemstone collection.
What This Thing Needs is a Curse
Yes, it does seem as though there should be mummies or other disturbed spirits chasing it around. For a while, it was rumored that the stone was pinched from a statue of the Hindu god Sita, and would accordingly bring misfortune and death to all who touched it. Of course, one could say the same for your dishwasher or toothbrush. Everyone who touches them will die. That's what happens when you set down non-specific curses.
Eerily enough, the Hope family, from which it took its name, did eventually go bankrupt, and the son of one its later owners did meet a premature demise.
Also, after being hit with an ultraviolent light, the diamond glows a bright orange-amber for a few seconds. Scientists haven't the slightest idea why. Some say it's a reflection of the royal blood spilled for it over the years...(or, it could be light coming from a hidden projector operated by the Smithsonian curator, old Mr. Caruthers! And he would have gotten away with it too, had it not been for those meddlesome kids!)
Bottom Line It for Me.
Sorry--can't do it. The value of the Hope Diamond is bounded only by what some self-indulgent, ostenatious billionaire or other would be willing to pay for it. I would guess that it must be insured for some astronomical amount, and I certainly wouldn't want to be the underwriter, but my guess is it isn't going anywhere barring major incident or force majeur, in which case I wouldn't be accountable anyway, according to the clause in my contract.
I actually had the opportunity to ogle the thing as a child. It didn't look like much to me, quite frankly, at the unappreciative age of little boy. If I recall correctly, however, my Mother upon seeing it actually cried--so please take that as your referential standard, and tell your kids to keep an eye out for it on the post-apocalyptic episodes of Antiques Roadshow.
Diamond chips to:
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