Tour Washington DC: The Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

by John L. Travel Writer

Being a democracy from the birth of the nation, the United States of America does not have a treasury of crown jewels from previous monarchs. But it has its possession, the next best thing: a vast and precious collection of gems that at one point in their history were owned by people who made significant impacts on world history. Many of these priceless pieces of jewelry are on display and stored at the National Museum of Natural History in a new setting that suits its splendor, the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

The gems included in the Smithsonian Collection are astonishing and overwhelming just by knowing their names suggesting who their previous owners were. Some of those in the collection are the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, the Marie-Louise Diadem, the Marie Antoinette Earrings, the Spanish Inquisition Necklace, the Portuguese Diamond, and the Hooker Emerald. But probably the most sought after piece in their collection is the legendary Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond is probably one of the most famous pieces of jewelry in the world. Its rarity and beauty inspired numerous myths that surround its existence and even became a reference for its fictional counterpart, the Heart of the Ocean Diamond from the movie Titanic.

The Hope Diamond is a 45.52-carat blue diamond that is set as a pendant to a necklace surrounded by 16 white diamonds on the pendant and with 45 white diamonds on the chain, The rare blue color was derived from the presence of boron atoms in its composition. Blue diamonds rarely exceed a few carats in size thus the enormity of the Hope Diamond contributes to its rarity.  In fact, the Hope Diamond is the largest of its kind in its present form even though it already has gone through numerous cuts and modifications over the centuries. 

According to the accounts of the world-famous jeweler and explorer, Jean-Baptiste Tavenier, the diamond originally came from the Kollur mine in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh (which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom, now present-day India), in the seventeenth century. On how Tavenier acquired the diamond is still subject to debate. Official sources say he most likely purchased the uncut gemstone from the diamond market in India. Legends say that the diamond was stolen from an idol of a Hindu god or goddess. Nevertheless, Tavenier brought the gemstone back to France where it was first cut and became known as the Tavenier Blue. It was said that the Tavernier Blue diamond was about 112-115 carats in size.

Tavernier then sold the blue diamond together with other precious stones, some sources say up to 1000 gems, to King Louis XIV of France. The French monarch then ordered the blue diamond to be recut resulting in a 67.125 carat stone. The diamond then became known as The Blue Diamond of the French Crown, or simply the French Blue. Together with the other crown jewels of the French monarchy, the French Blue continued to be passed down to the heirs of the throne until King Louis XVI. The blue diamond is said to be sometimes seen worn by his famous wife, Marie Antoinette. During the early days of the French Revolution, while the royal family was imprisoned, the treasury was looted, and many of the crown jewels, including the French Blue, were stolen. After the execution of the French monarchs and the establishment of a republic, many of the stolen treasures were recovered including the pendant where the French Blue was last to have been set but the diamond remained missing, 

The next recorded sighting of the French Blue was in England more than twenty years after its disappearance from France. In the United Kingdom, the Blue Diamond turned over from owner to owner until it came to the possession of a London banking magnate named Thomas Hope. It is from Hope’s family name that the diamond got its name that stuck up to this date. The diamond remained to the Hope family for several more decades. It was even displayed in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Hope’s heir, Lor Francis Hope sold the diamond to a New York-based jeweler in 1902.

There were several conflicting accounts on who owned the Hope Diamond from 1902 to 1907. The diamond is said to have changed owners several times during the next few years (including the sultan, the actress, a Russian count, and several others), ending with Pierre Cartier. In 1910, Cartier first attempted to sell the diamond to Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh Mclean and her husband. Enticing the couple with the stories and legends of the diamond and its previous owners while not revealing the diamond, Cartier made his pitch to the Mcleans. But when the couple saw the diamond in its current form, they turned him down as they deem it to be old fashioned. Cartier had the diamond reset and made another offer. The deal was finalized in 1911 after a court battle when the Mcleans backed out after initially agreeing to the sale. Also, legend has it that Evalyn’s mother-in-law tried to persuade the couple to return the diamond after she had heard the misfortunes of the previous owners believing that the diamond is cursed. Evalyn believed that the Hope Diamond’s curse will turn around and it will bring her good luck. While in possession of the Hope Diamond, several misfortunes also came to the Mcleans. Many people in their circle attributed these unfortunate events to the curse of the diamond solidifying the jewel’s dark reputation.

Two years after Evalyn’s death, the Hope Diamond was sold to Henry Winston, a famed New York jeweler. He would occasionally let the diamond be worn by several women at special events to raise money for charity. In 1958, Winston finally donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institute to become the focal point of the new gem collection. The Hope Diamond, as precious and luxurious it is, was sent via registered mail in a humble brown box on November 10, 1958. The controversy of the Hope Diamond did not stop as the Smithsonian received numerous letters from citizens concerned that the acquisition of the ‘cursed’ gem by a federal organization will bring ill fate to the whole nation. But that did not stop the institute from acquiring one of the most interesting items in the Smithsonian collection. To this day, visitors who tour Washington DC can see the fabled Hope Diamond in all its glory displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History at the National Mall in Washington DC. 

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About John L. Freshman     Travel Writer

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Joined APSense since, October 20th, 2020, From Kirksville, United States.

Created on Nov 24th 2020 07:31. Viewed 157 times.


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