You’ve probably heard of the Hope Diamond—the 45.52-carat megalith of a gemstone colored a deep ocean blue with hints of violet. Legend says the Hope Diamond was stolen from its setting in the eye, or the third eye, of a sacred Indian statue, adorned with priceless gems and beaded jewelry.


The Hope Diamond in its current beaded jewelry setting, surrounded by smaller diamonds. Photo from the Smithsonian Institution.

For the record, this legend is probably just that—a legend. We may never know the Hope Diamond’s exact origins, but the first place it shows up in history is in India in the possession of a French merchant named Tavernier, a collector of beaded jewelry and precious stones.

Tavernier was an entrepreneur who liked to sell his priceless findings to high bidders. Imagine his happiness on being summoned to court of Louis the Sun King. Louis bought the Hope Diamond, along with other gemstones and beaded jewelry artifacts. Some stories say Louis bought over 1,200 gems that day! The actual number was probably closer to 25.

The “Blue Diamond of the Crown of France” was worn by royalty for several generations, and earned the nickname “the French Blue.”

But trouble came to France in the form of revolution. The Sun King’s descendant, Louis XVI, and his wife Marie Antoinette had to flee the country. Trying to keep their heads on their shoulders meant they had to leave everything behind, including all their beaded jewelry and the French Blue. Over the next few days, the crown jewels were plundered by revolutionaries, and the French Blue disappeared from history for a time.

Who owned the stone from 1792 to 1812 is anybody’s guess. The Hope Diamond was probably recut during this period, so as to avoid detection.

A big blue diamond matching the French Blue’s description pops up again in 1812, in the possession of a London merchant of gems and beaded jewelry. Its history is shady during this period, too. It was probably sold and bought through several private channels until it finally shows up in the beaded jewelry catalogs of one Henry Philip Hope, who gave it his name.

The Hope Diamond was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958, and they remain its custodians today.

July 05, 2013 — Leslie Hedrick

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