A Brief History
On September 11, 1792, in the midst of the confusion of the French Revolution, the crown jewels, which included the fabulous Hope Diamond (Le Bleu de France), were stolen.
Mined in India in the 17th century, it came to the attention of a Frenchman by the name of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who brought it back to France with him where he sold it to the Sun King, Louis XIV. Known first as the “Tavernier Blue” and then “Le Bijou du Roi” (the King’s jewel), the Hope Diamond was originally a blue, 112-carat diamond. For the next 124 years, it remained the property of the French royal family who had it cut to approximately 67.125 carats and set in a pendant.
During the French Revolution, chaos reigned in France, and the royal family was confined. With no one keeping proper order, thieves were able to steal many of the crown jewels, including le diamant bleu de la Couronne de France (the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France). Some of the jewels were recovered, but the “French Blue” (yet another name for the Hope Diamond) was not. To disguise it, it was cut to its present size of 45.52 carats.
Little else what happened to it is known, except that it reappeared in England in either 1812 or 1830. It is possible that King George IV purchased the diamond and that it was then either stolen by a mistress or sold by him to pay mounting debts. At any rate, it was then that a London banker named Thomas Hope bought the stone for between $65,000 and $90,000 in that day’s currency. The diamond then stayed in his family’s possession for the next 63 years, until it was sold to first a London jeweler and then a New York jeweler.
The New York jeweler believed that ownership of the diamond brought him bad luck, so he called it a “hoodoo” diamond and sold it at auction in 1908. This might have been the case since the Turkish Sultan who bought it for $400,000 quickly went broke and had to sell it again (did he perhaps go broke from buying it in the first place?). The Hope Diamond then through many more hands including those of Pierre Cartier and a rich Washington D.C. couple. In 1949 diamond merchant Harry Winston bought the stone and in 1958 donated it to the Smithsonian Institution where it resides to this day.
Due to its history of calamities, including the beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Hope Diamond is rumored to be cursed. Historians, however, scoff at this alleged curse, and it does not seem to be affecting the Smithsonian Institution whose world-class gem collection is experiencing rising attendance levels.
Question for students (and subscribers): Are diamonds worth buying? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
If you are interested in reading about other famous thefts, we recommend the History and Headlines article “10 Notorious Thefts, Heists and Robberies.”
For another interesting event that happened on September 11, please see the History and Headlines article: “History and Headlines Reveals 10 Things History Got Wrong, Part 5 (Movie Edition!)“
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For more information, please see…
Kurin, Richard. Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. Harper Perennial, 2007.