Pageantry of Stolen Stones at Cartier
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
History of the Hope Diamond
Did you know that a gemstone stolen from the Indian Subcontinent landed at Cartier?
Yes, you read that right! We've tried to sum up what transpired and lead up to it.
As ever more prestigious clients rolled into the Cartier Mansion, P. Cartier insisted that they must only deal in large jewels, staying true to their reputation. Thus, he invested in a stone so large that if unsold, the cash flow dent could be an existential threat for the firm!
The diamond was the Hope Diamond, which goes by various names, including Le Bijou du Roi (The King's Jewel" Le bleu de France, and the Tavernier Blue. Notorious for being cursed, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French gem merchant, whisked it away to Europe in the 17th century.
There was only one possible buyer for such a treasure: the Sun King, King Louis XIV of France.
Also, in recognition of this transaction, the king honoured Tavernier with the rank of a Nobleman!
Court jewellers were ordered to supervise recutting the 115-carat stone, which took about two years to complete! Now heart-shaped, and approx. 69 carats, it to be known as "the Great Violet Diamond of His Majesty" (Back then, violet meant a shade of blue.)
An inventory of the French Crown Jewels from 1691 reveals that the French Blue was "set into gold and mounted on a stick." When the stone was set in gold, the effect would be the appearance of a gold sun in the centre of the blue diamond.
An interesting theory has been proposed that the stone was cut this way to show the colours of the French monarchy, blue and gold, symbolizing the Sun King's divine power. Rather than being worn, it was added to the King's cabinet of curiosities at Versailles to show off.
Louis XIV's great-grandson, Louis XV, inherited the royal jewels when he ascended to the throne. Around 1749, King Louis XV tasked the Parisian jeweller Pierre-André Jacquemin with creating an emblem of knighthood of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The finished emblem featured a number of spectacular gems, including the Hope Diamond and the 107-carat Côte de Bretagne spinel (carved into the shape of a dragon and originally thought to be a ruby) and several other diamonds.
The diamond finally settled on Louis XVI, who, along with his wife, Marie Antoinette, was beheaded during the French Revolution.
The subsequent looting of the royal treasuries caused the diamond to be lost for nearly four decades.
A large blue diamond with no history then appeared in the gem catalogue of Henry Philip. (Probably the same diamond; we don't know for sure. What are the odds for it to be otherwise?)
There is another story, just so you know, leading to Lord Hope. It resurfaced again in 1812, it was in the hands of a diamond merchant in London named Daniel Eliason, who eventually sold it to yet another king - this time, King George IV of the United Kingdom.
Upon George's death, the diamond was most likely sold to pay off debt incurred during his reign, and by 1839 it then ended with our Lord Henry Philip Hope, who gives the stone its current name. Maybe both happened; the King didn't want a history to be written, who knows!
After his death, the diamond passed to his nephew, Henry Thomas, and then to Henry Thomas's grandson, Lord Francis Hope. When Lord Francis began to drown in debts, he eventually sold it to a local dealer in London, who sold it to Joseph Frankels in New York City.
Six years later, Joseph Frankel's Sons & Co. finally found a buyer for the Hope Diamond in 1908, Selim Habib. According to the NYT, he was soon facing bankruptcy too! He put up his collection for auction at the Hotel Drouot in Paris, France, on June 24, 1909.
Jeweller and gem expert Louis Aucoc oversaw the auction, withdrawing the Hope Diamond from the sale before selling it to jeweller C. N. Rosenau for 400,000 francs.
Like the Orval Diamond, another rather poorly constructed & disconnected trace of the diamond also mentions Turkey. Habib allegedly bought the stone for the Turkish Sultan and was incorrectly reported to have drowned in the shipwreck of the French steamer Seyne of Singapore.
How the diamond landed in the hands of the Sultan, even in lore, after the wreck, remains a mystery, but apparently, Abdul Hamid II may have gifted it to his wife, Subaya, who he later executed before he smuggled the diamond to Paris the same year. (Oh?)
It is in Paris where Cartier acquired the jewel. Erm? Cartier and smuggled jewels, probably not...the more likely incident to have happened is that the jewel never got to Turkey; it was sold to Cartier by the earlier mentioned C. N. Rosenau!
From Cartier, it was purchased by an American Heiress, Evalyn Walsh McLean, who took it to be blessed to break its curse in the church of Russel Monseigneur. (The heiress is the one on the left) After her death, the wealthy American jeweller Harry Winston acquired it.
Under his possession, from 1949 to 1953, it toured America as part of The Court of Jewels, which helped raise funds for local good causes. It attracted so many people that he decided to donate the priceless wonder of a jewel to the Smithsonian Institution.
A triumph of hope over experience, perhaps - or in defiance of the curse - he sent it to the museum by ordinary postal service!
The Hope Diamond now casts its spell over seven million visitors a year and has left the Institute only four times for exhibitions.