The History of the Hope Diamond and its Relation to Bar Harbor – Part II

published february 21, 2024 | written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Part 2 – The Blue Diamond of the Crown

Following Tavernier’s travels in India, the merchant made his way to France at the behest of King Louis XVI. There at the Sun King’s royal court, Tavernier presented his findings, where the King purchased over a dozen of beautiful gems, including the peculiar 115 carat blue diamond, or the “beau violet” (beautiful violet), as described in Tavernier’s Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier (Tavernier 1676). According to the Smithsonian: “at that time, ‘violet’ meant a shade of blue,” (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

The brilliant gem was sold at a staggering price. As stated by French author Germain Bapst: “To Sieur Tavernier, for payment of several diamonds he sold to His Majesty: 220000 livres: for a large heart-shaped blue diamond, short, cut in the Indian fashion” (translated from the original French) (Bapst 1889). As of 2009, the conversion rate “is roughly equivalent to $5 million today, [but] the stone was probably worth twice that” (Farges et al. 2009).

At this point, the diamond had no significant name, other than scholars calling it the “Tavernier diamond”. However, in 1671, the Sun King ordered his court jeweler, Jean Pitau, to recut the diamond “to improve its brilliance” (Farges et al. 2009). From there, the Sun King’s minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, named the refined diamond the “Diamant Bleu de la Couronne”, or the Blue Diamond of the Crown (also known today as the French Blue) (Farges et al. 2009).

The back of the French Blue was unique. The gem “had low angles and even an entirely flat culet its back, allowing some light to travel through and straight out the back of the stone” (Stromberg 2014). The cut of the gem was unlike today’s standards, where jewelers “use sharp angles on the back of the stone—always higher than 23 degrees, the critical angle of diamond, so that light that enters the gem reflects inside it several times” (Stromberg 2014). For the French Blue, however, “compared to the rest of the stone, the material right in front of the culet at the gem’s center would have appeared relatively clear and colorless, almost like looking through a glass window” (Stromberg 2014).

But what does this mean, and why was the back of the French Blue cut in that manner?

Well, in 2007, under the “lead specimens” of the Smithsonian, a massive discovery was found (Farges et al. 2009). There, now retired Smithsonian curator of gemstones, Jeffery Post, found a lead gem cast. Post dedicated decades of his career studying and examining the Hope Diamond and its peculiar history so “it was just [pure] happenstance that he came across it and had the forethought to compare it to drawings of the famous stolen French Blue” (Py-Lieberman 2023).

For a supposed cursed diamond, finding such evidence was groundbreaking.

With his colleague François Farges, a mineralogist from the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, the pair sought to generate a computer simulation to recreate the French Blue. “Through meticulous analysis…It turned out that [the] lead specimen was an exact replica—a cast made from a mold of the lost French Blue diamond” (Py-Lieberman 2023).

Computer generated image of the French Blue diamond, depicting the star effect in the middle of the gem.
The star within the French Blue. Photo by François Farges, accessed from Smithsonian Magazine.

Additionally in their discovery, the men found that Colbert “intended for the center of the stone to serve as a window” (Stromberg 2014). In the 1691 inventory of the French Crown Jewels, it “states that the gem was ’…set into gold and mounted on a stick’” (Farges et al. 2012). Post and Farges found that due to the peculiar way the French Blue was cut, when it was mounted on a golden stick it allowed an optical illusion to form, and “the effect would be the appearance of a gold sun in the center of the blue diamond” (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.). Post and Farges hypothesize that this was done to “[symbolize] the divine standing and power of King Louis XIV…[and] to show the colors of the French monarchy, blue and gold” (”History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

The Order of the Golden Fleece

For 78 years, the famed blue gem remained untouched.

When the Sun King’s great-grandson, Louis XV assumed the throne in 1715 at just 5 years old, he in turn inherited the treasure trove of royal jewels.

In 1749, at 39, Louis XV commissioned the French Blue to be turned into an “elaborate emblem of knighthood of the Order of the Golden Fleece” (Post and Farges 2013). For context, the Order of the Golden Fleece was one of the most prestigious chivalric orders in Europe, established in the 15th century by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (Sánchez, Lafuente, and Sobrino 2015). The order was originally intended to promote Christian values, loyalty, and military prowess among its members. Aligning with France’s policies and the King’s ideologies, it became the perfect symbol of power.

The created emblem consisted of varying diamonds, including the French Blue, as well as a dragon-carved red spinel. Click here for a photo.

From this point, it’s important to note that neither the Order of the Golden Fleece nor the French Blue in general were worn, but rather it stood as a “symbol of power” (Post and Farges 2013). Remember this distinction, as this will come into play later. 

Join us next week for Part III as we take a look at France’s financial woes, which plays a key role in the country’s downfall.

From this point, it’s important to note that neither the Order of the Golden Fleece nor the French Blue in general were worn, but rather it stood as a “symbol of power” (Post and Farges 2013). Remember this distinction, as this will come into play later. 

Join us next week for Part III as we take a look at France’s financial woes, which plays a key role in the country’s downfall.

Reference List

Bapst, Constant Germain. 1889. Histoire Des Joyaux de La Couronne de France d’apres Des Documents Inédits … Ouvrage Orné de Cinquante Gravures. Paris, Librairie Hachette & Cie. http://ia801206.us.archive.org/7/items/histoiredesjoyau00baps/histoiredesjoyau00baps.pdf

Farges, François, John Vinson, J. J. Rehr, and Jeffrey E. Post. 2012. “The Rediscovery of the ‘French Blue’ Diamond.” Europhysics News 43 (1): 22–25. https://doi.org/10.1051/epn/2012103.

Farges, François, Scott D. Sucher, Herbert Horovitz, and Jean-Marc Fourcault. 2009. “The French Blue and the Hope: New Data from the Discovery of A Historical Lead Cast.” Gems & Gemology 45 (1): 4–19. https://doi.org/10.5741/gems.45.1.4.

“History of the Hope Diamond.” n.d. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/explore/collections/hope-diamond-history.

Py-Lieberman, Beth. 2023. “How a Smithsonian Curator Discovered the Hope Diamond’s Many Secrets.” Smithsonian Magazine, September 26, 2023. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-a-smithsonian-curator-discovered-the-hope-diamonds-many-secrets-180982962/.

Sánchez, Fernando Fernández, Carlos Fuente Lafuente, and Miguel Ángel Ortíz Sobrino. 2015. “Las Órdenes de Caballería Como Fuente de Inspiración y Antecedente de La Insigne Orden Del Toisón de Oro / The Knighthoods as a Source of Inspiration and the Background of the Distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece.” Vivat Academia (Alcalá De Henares), December, 26–43. https://doi.org/10.15178/va.2015.133.26-43.

Stromberg, Joseph. 2014. “The Hope Diamond Was Once a Symbol for Louis XIV, the Sun King.” Smithsonian Magazine, January 24, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/hope-diamond-was-once-symbol-louis-xiv-sun-king-180949482/.

Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste. 1676. Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier. Paris, G. Clouzier. https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbc0001.2016gen91360v2/?sp=422&r=-0.177,0.468,1.135,0.592,0.