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The Curse of The Stolen Diamonds, On Display In Washington

PTI 30 Jan 2010, 17:34:38 IST
PTI

The Hope diamond is the world's largest deep blue diamond. Over a billion years old, it was carried by a volcanic eruption to the surface of the earth, where it was discovered in India in the early 1600s. At that time, the stone was a 112 3/16 carat diamond crudely cut in a triangular shape. Color was described as its "beautiful violet."

The Legendary Curse

According to legend, the beautiful blue diamond was stolen from the forehead of an idol of Goddess Sita in India.  

The diamond carried with it a curse that bad luck and death would befall not only those who owned the jewel, but those who touched it as well.
 
1. John Baptiste Tavernier - John Baptiste Tavernier was a French jeweler who traveled to India in 1642. While there, he acquired (accounts vary on whether he stole or purchased the gem) a 112 3/16 carat blue diamond. In 1668, Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France. King Louis XIV had the diamond cut to 67 1/8 carat to enhance its brilliance. He had it set in gold and hung on a ribbon, which he wore around his neck for ceremonial occasions. King Louis XIV called the diamond "the French Blue." Although it is unknown how Tavernier died, legend has it that he was torn apart by wild dogs on a trip to Russia.

2. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette - In 1749, King Louis XV had the gem reset for the Order of the Golden Fleece. After Louis XV's death, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette became king and queen. Although Marie Antoinette is rumored to never have worn the French blue gem because it was reserved for the king's use, her beheading as well as that of King Louis XVI is attributed to the curse of the diamond. Although most of the crown jewels taken from the royal couple were recovered, the blue diamond was not among them.

3. Henry Philip Hope - A rare blue diamond surfaced in London in 1813. Although no one knows for certain, it was believed to be the French blue gem that had been stolen. The jewel had been cut down again, apparently to hide its origin. In 1823, the blue diamond was owned jeweler Daniel Eliason, who later sold it to King George IV of England. After the king's death, the diamond was sold to pay off debts. In 1839, Henry Philip Hope took possession of the rare stone, which became known as the Hope Diamond. The loss of the Hope family fortune is attributed to the curse of the diamond. After the death of Henry Philip Hope, the gem was left to his oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope. Upon the death of Henry's widow, the stone was passed to her grandson, who eventually sold the Hope Diamond.

4. Evalyn Walsh McLean - In 1901, American jeweler Simon Frankel bought the diamond and brought it to America. Subsequently, the diamond was sold several times and ended up in the possession of Pierre Cartier. He sold it to Evalyn Walsh McLean, who believed that items that had been bad luck for others would be good luck for her. Evalyn had her share of bad luck, too, including the death of her son in a car accident at the age of 9. Her daughter committed suicide at 25, and her husband was confined to a mental institution after being declared insane.

5. Harry Winston - Another jeweler, Harry Winston, purchased the Hope Diamond in 1949 when it was put on sale to pay for the debts of Evalyn Walsh McLean's estate. In 1958, Winston donated the blue gem to the Smithsonian Institute. The 45.52 carat diamond is currently on display as part of the National Gem and Mineral Collection. Is there really a curse on the Hope Diamond? No one can say for certain.

After enjoying 50 years alone in the spotlight at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the famous blue Hope Diamond has been joined by an equally famous cousin - the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond - for a six month exhibit. 

Under heavy security, the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond made its first public appearance in 50 years on Thursday in Washington. 

Long an object of intrigue and legend, the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond has been part of the history of several of Europe's royal families dating back to the 17th century when it was given by Philip IV of Spain to his daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa, upon her engagement to Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1664.

The diamond was passed to the Wittelsbachs, members of the ruling house of Bavaria, in 1722.  Following World War One, the impressive blue diamond was due to be sold at a Christie's auction in 1931 - but it disappeared prior to the auction and was replaced by a worthless piece of blue cut glass.

It resurfaced in Belgium twenty years later and was displayed without attribution in Brussels in 1958.  Eventually it was identified in 1962 by Belgian gem expert Joseph Komkommer and London-based jeweller Laurence Graff purchased the diamond in 2008 at auction for 16.4 million pounds (26.4 million US dollars).

"This is the most remarkable stone of my career. It is the highlight of all the stones I have handled, as I said earlier, not only is it the most beautiful it is certainly the most valuable," Graff said on Thursday, adding "I think it is the most valuable diamond in the world." 

Graff's pronouncement that it is the most valuable diamond in the world rests on the fact that the Hope Diamond, although larger, is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute and cannot be sold.

In late 2009 Graff had the diamond re-cut to restore its original colour and clarity.  His decision to re-cut and polish the stone has been controversial, with some historians and diamond merchants unhappy that the 35-carat diamond has lost its size and historical shape in the process.

Following the re-cut the Gemological Institute of America reevaluated the gem, upgrading its colour classification to Fancy Dark Blue, the same as the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond. 

Similarities between the two stones led to speculation by some that they were from the same parent diamond, mined from the fabled Kollur mine in India's Golconda district of Andhra Pradesh.

Only last week did scientists have the opportunity first hand to examine the two stones in the same vault. 

"Mr Graff was as intrigued as we were as it turned out, to be able to see these two diamonds together and to have a chance to better study these diamonds and to introduce them, " said Curator Dr Jeffrey Post.

Despite remarkable similarities, Post said the scientists examining the Hope and Wittelsbach-Graff Diamonds eventually decided the two stones were "distant cousins" rather than "brother and sister" and had similar geological backgrounds rather than coming from the exact same location.

Dr Post says blue diamonds are, in fact, one of the earth's rarest creations.  "To think through the entire history of diamond mining in the earth, many hundreds of years the Wittelsbach-Graff and the Hope Diamond still stand apart as two of the world's great dark blue diamonds and so it is not that there are a dozen of them, it is not that there are hundreds, it is the fact that there are two of them." 

The Smithsonian Institute's display of the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond opens on January 29 and continues until August 1, 2010. AP