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Prinny and the Hope Diamond

Recently I had the good fortune to be in Washington, D.C., which is quite a distance from my home state of Oregon. On this, my first-ever trip to our nation's capital, I was cruising through the National Museum of Natural History when I got a delightful surprise.

Sitting in a room by itself on a slowly rotating pedestal in glass display case was the famous Hope Diamond. The 45.5 carat stone (about the size of a walnut) is a deep blue color, encircled by 16 white diamonds and hanging on a platinum chain made up of 46 smaller diamonds. I wasn't expecting to see such a stunning piece of jewelry in the same building that houses a woolly mammoth.

What a show-stopper!


There’s really no excuse for my ignorance; I discovered that the Smithsonian has had the Hope Diamond for over 50 years. I also learned that besides being utterly dazzling (not to mention insured for $250 million), this gorgeous blue gem has a link to Regency England.

But the famous stone’s connection to the Regency came after it was mined in India and purchased by the King Louis XIV of France in 1668. The French Blue Diamond, as it was called then, was a whopping 69 carats. It was stolen in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the King and Queen of France were imprisoned and executed and their possessions, including the Crown Jewels, were looted.

After going missing in France, the stone appeared in England during the Regency. In 1812 the blue diamond, cut down to its present size, turned up in the possession of a London diamond merchant, 20 years after the theft and conveniently at the same time the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.  

And here’s where it gets interesting to Regency fans: there is evidence that from 1821-1830 the diamond belonged to King George the IV of England, aka Prinny. How Prinny acquired the gem is unknown; it may have been one glittering benefit from his miserable marriage to Caroline of Brunswick. Likewise, no one knows what happened to the diamond after the King’s death; some speculate that it was quietly sold to pay off his enormous debts. 

King George IV, no stranger to jewels

We do know that by 1839 the diamond was owned by Henry Phillip Hope, and it stayed in the Hope family until 1901 when Lord Francis Hope (grandson of Henry Phillip) sold his inheritance to pay off his debts. By the time French jeweler Pierre Cartier acquired the diamond in 1909 there were rumors that the diamond was cursed, which no doubt made it seem even more romantic to some buyers. And even if the “curse” was invented as a marketing ploy, no one can deny that the stone certainly didn't bring any luck to its former owners, the French royal family, especially Marie Antoinette.

But Cartier found a buyer, a wealthy American who saw the stone during a visit to Paris. After some haggling, Cartier sold the diamond to Washington, D.C., socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean in 1911-1912. Though the blue stone was featured in different settings, at some point it made its debut the way it is seen today – as a pendant on a diamond necklace.

Apparently McLean enjoyed her jewel immensely, but then, who wouldn't? She wore her expensive bauble often to parties and other social events. There’s a story that she even attached it on occasion to the collar of Mike, her Great Dane. (My poor dog must make do with a black nylon collar and a heart-shaped tin tag.)

Evalyn Walsh McLean with her husband Edward in 1912,
and a different dog who may or may not have gotten to
wear the Hope Diamond.

In 1949, a year after McLean’s death, the diamond was purchased by New York jeweler Harry Winston along with the rest of her jewelry collection. Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958. And I’m glad he did – how else would someone like me be ever able to see such a fabulous gem up close?

If you ever get to Washington, D.C., I urge you to take the opportunity to visit the Hope Diamond. The jewel may be worth millions, but admission to the museum is free. And if you can catch your reflection off the display case just right, you can even imagine you're wearing it!  


Sources for this post include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; all images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. Great captions, Maureen! You always know how to make me giggle! Glad you got to see some amazing things while you were in Washington, DC, but most of all, I'm thrilled to see another enlightening post from you! xo Jennifer

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really enjoyed your post Maureen. I wish I could've seen it with you, along with all the other treasures! Maybe next time?

    - Momma Cat

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