The accursed Tavernier Blue or Hope Diamond

Posted in Famous news stories, Geology, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Superstition on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

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This edited article about the Hope Diamond originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Louis XIV, picture, image, illustration

Louis XIV was delighted to buy the Hope Diamond from Tavernier

With a wave of his hand the visitor to the Court of King Louis the Fourteenth spread out twenty-five magnificent diamonds on to a spindly-legged table that stood between him and the French King.

The King’s eyes sparkled. Some of the diamonds were the biggest he had ever seen. One was particularly brilliant – a blue diamond that the visitor, whose name was Tavernier, carefully set aside from the rest.

Tavernier had brought back the diamonds from India. King Louis, always prepared to buy great treasures for his palaces, made an offer for them which was accepted.

There was, however, one disturbing point that Tavernier wanted to explain about the diamonds – and about the blue stone in particular: they carried a terrible curse upon them.

Before Tavernier could say any more, the King laughed him to scorn.

“You say . . .” he exclaimed, with tears of mirth running down his cheeks, “that this – this stone – was once the eye of a Hindu idol? Well, I suppose I can believe that – but to say that it carries a curse. . . !” The King dissolved into laughter again.

“But Your Majesty,” protested Tavernier, “as an experienced traveller and collector, I –”

The King cut him short with a wave of his hand. “Don’t tell me any more, Monsieur Tavernier. I’ll buy these stones and give you a good price for them – but please don’t tell me fairy stories into the bargain. You’ve been in the East too long.”

Louis was as good as his word, and Tavernier soon found himself richer by the equivalent of over £100,000. But as the months slipped by, the nagging fear about the curse on the blue diamond kept returning to his mind.

They had told him in India that bad luck dogged all those who had owned the stone before him. At first Tavernier had laughed off these ridiculous stories, but as time passed he came to believe them.

But why should he be unlucky now? He was a rich man, a friend of the King. With his profit from the diamonds he had bought himself a grand estate. And yet. . .

A few months later he was penniless.

Tavernier’s son had begun to gamble and had spent his father’s money carelessly. The bills began to mount, and Tavernier, now eighty-four, was forced to sell his estate to pay them. Soon he was ruined. India, he decided, was the only country in which he could now live.

So the indomitable old man set out by sea. But he never reached India and the fortune which he could have undoubtedly made, for he died of fever on the voyage.

If Louis the Fourteenth heard about the fate of Tavernier, he still refused to take the “curse” seriously, and the diamond, which became known as the “Tavernier Blue,” stayed in his possession until his death.

For over a century it remained the property of the French Royal Family. The curse was forgotten, and ill-luck certainly did not overtake Louis’s successor.

Then Louis the Fifteenth died, and another Louis was crowned the Sixteenth. He was a pitiable figure of a man; weak, indecisive, ruled over by his ambitious wife Marie Antoinette. She was extremely fond of the Tavernier Blue, and wore it on many State occasions – until 1792, when she and her husband, together with their family, were arrested by the French Revolutionaries and imprisoned.

First Louis, and then Marie Antoinette, took the fatal ride to the guillotine.

The French regalia, meanwhile, had been seized by the Revolutionaries and put under lock and key. And into safe-keeping with the crown, orb and sceptre went the Tavernier Blue.

It was never seen again.

There seems to be no doubt that it was stolen. But who the thief was is not known.

About six years later, however, a blue diamond came into the possession of a Dutch diamond dealer named Fals, and it is generally believed that this was the original Tavernier Blue which had been cut down in order to make its positive identification more difficult. But there was one sure mark of identification which no jeweller could remove from the stone.

The curse certainly worked on the dealer Fals. His son, attracted by the beauty of the blue diamond, stole it – and his father died of a broken heart. When he realized what he had done, the boy committed suicide.

In 1830 the same diamond was put up for sale in London, and was bought for £18,000 by an English banker named Henry Thomas Hope. It seems very likely that Hope had heard about the curse on his new acquisition – but he was an intelligent man and probably dismissed the story as a fanciful legend. Anyway, the curse certainly did not work on him. . . .

During the nineteenth century the Hope Diamond, as the Tavernier Blue was now called, was bought by the Duke of Newcastle. Good wishes showered down upon the Duke and his pretty bride May Yohe when they married in 1894 – but four years later the young Duchess, now desperately unhappy with her husband, ran away. She died in the most miserable poverty in 1938. Perhaps it is not incidental to the unfortunate Duchess’s story that her favourite gem was the Hope Diamond – and that she wore it on many occasions.

Now the Duke sold the gem, and it was bought by a New York jeweller. Some time later the jeweller went bankrupt.

The next owner of the stone, a Frenchman, went mad and committed suicide. A Russian, Prince Kanitovski, became the owner and lent the diamond to an actress. The first time she wore it on the stage, he shot her from his box. He himself was murdered some days later.

Through a chain of owners the diamond arrived in the possession of a Greek jeweller named Montharides. He sold it to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey – and then Montharides and his wife and child fell over a cliff-top.

As for the Sultan – he shot his wife while she was wearing the diamond, and a few months later he was deposed.

In 1909 the Hope Diamond had another owner, named Habib. His fate was death by drowning.

The last case of ill-fortune connected with the diamond was probably the most catastrophic. It was bought by an American newspaper millionaire, Edward B. McLean. First he lost his son in a car accident. Then his newspaper empire collapsed, leaving him nearly penniless. McLean died in a mental home in 1941. His widow, who retained the diamond, wore it at her daughter’s wedding – and the young bride later died of an overdose of sleeping tablets.

Even the strong-willed Mrs. McLean was convinced after this that the diamond bore a curse, and she sold it to diamond-dealer Harry Winston in 1949.

Mr. Winston was determined to beat the curse. And he succeeded, for he kept the diamond nine years, during which time the fates were most kind to him. Then he presented the stone to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

This Institution is one of the world’s greatest historical, scientific and cultural museums, and was founded in 1846 with a fortune left to the United States by an Englishman named James Smithson.

Is there a curse on the Hope Diamond, or are the misfortunes connected with it pure coincidence?

Evidently the trustees of the Smithsonian Institution have decided that it is all coincidence. For they are quite happy to have the stone!

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