Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Curse of the Hope Diamond

National Museum of Natural History

Diamonds are known for their extraordinary cut and brilliance; the famous large 45.52 carats blue Hope Diamond is no exception either. But what sets it apart from its other dazzling counterparts is the eerie legend of curse attached to it. Currently displayed in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C, the Hope Diamond originally came from the Kollur mine in Golconda and belonged to the statue of the deity Sita in India. Ever since it was stolen from the Indian temple, it passed through several hands, touching each with its cursed heritage.

The greatly disputed ‘curse’ of the Hope Diamond entailing a trail of death or misfortune of its owners is said to have befallen the blue gem from the very moment it was stolen by the widely traveled French jeweler Jean Baptiste Tavernier in 1642. Right after selling it to Louis XIV, Tavernier met his tragic end in his next trip to India where wild dogs ripped him into pieces. The diamond received the royal title ‘Blue Diamond of the Crown’ and new cuts that turned it into a heart-shaped stone of 67-1/8 carats.

The Hope Diamond

The misfortune carried by the Hope Diamond struck again when it was inherited by Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette. After a disturbing and unstable reign, both were beheaded during the French Revolution of 1789. During this French political crisis, the royal jewelries including the Hope Diamond were placed in the Garde-Meuble from where they were repeatedly stolen. With time, the rest of the jewels were retrieved but the notorious blue diamond went amiss for some time.

45.52 Carat, deep blue diamond. Est. Value: $250 million.

Before it was seen again in London, the Hope Diamond probably went into the possession of the Spanish Queen Maria Louisa in 1800. During that period, it was reshaped by the Dutch jeweler Wilhelm Fals. He died of sheer grief when the diamond was stolen by his son Hendrick, who went on to commit suicide under the cursed influence of the diamond. Thereafter, the diamond was bought by Henry Philip Hope in 1813 and has been called the ‘Hope Diamond’ since then.

The diamond left its trail of misfortunes in the Hope family by stripping it of its prosperity and leading on to bankruptcy. After the death of Henry Hope, the diamond was passed on to his grandson Lord Francis Hope who tried repeatedly to get permission from the court to sell it. In 1901, his request was finally granted when he had reached the worst stage of gambling and bankruptcy.

Meantime, the Hope Diamond claimed some more unfortunate famous victims. The Hope passed from the hands of the Russian prince Kanitowski to French actor Lorens Ladue whom he shot dead on stage. He was not himself spared by the revolutionaries who stabbed him later. Its Greek owner Simon Montharides was plunged with his family into a precipice in an automobile accident. Even the Turkish Sultan Abdul-Hamid II who possessed the Hope diamond for a short time encountered dethronement in 1909.

Hope Diamond by HarshLight.
The Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.

The Hope Diamond traveled to the United State of America with jeweler Simon Frankel and went to jeweler Pierre Cartier, who looked for a prospective buyer. His search ended with the rich and eccentric social figure Evalyn Walsh McLean, who agreed to buy it after hearing the curious tales of its cursed legacy. She was determined to turn it into a good luck charm but encountered too many family blows as its owner. Her son died in a car accident, her daughter committed suicide while her husband went insane and died in the confines of a mental hospital.

After the death of Evalyn McLean, the Hope Diamond was put to sale in 1949 and bought by a New York jeweler named Harry Winston. Perhaps affected by the tales of its curse, Winston made up his mind to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which is its present destination.

The hope diamond exhibit
It is said that the curse of the Hope Diamond was so strong that when it was delivered to the museum in a plain brown box by the USPS mail carrier James Todd, he faced leg injuries run over by a truck. Further tragedies unfolded on Todd as his wife died of a cardiac arrest, his dog died strangled by its leash and finally his house was burnt down by a fire.

May Yohe, the actor who is supposedly the last of the Hopes; tried to build on the cursed legend of the Hope Diamond by creating a 15-episode serial – “The Hope Diamond Mystery”. The serial included her personal misfortunes caused by the possession of the Hope Diamond along with a score of fictional characters posed as the victims of the Hope Diamond curse. Although her efforts to hog limelight through the Hope Diamond did not bear fruit, the fact remains that the Hope Diamond has at its wake the tragedies of many non-famous jewelers and intermediaries who were somehow involved in its handling.

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