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

published march 20, 2024 | written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Part 6 – A New Blue

For nearly 20 years following the fall of France’s monarchy, the famed blue gem was lost.

In 1812, a peculiar blue, albeit smaller, diamond was unveiled in London. Presented in a sketch and memo, that only hinted at the brilliant blue hue, jeweler John Francillon was given the gem by diamond broker Daniel Eliason for an appraisal (“Collections Online | British Museum,” n.d.). Regarding the gem, he noted that the jewel was a “superfine deep blue Diamond. Brilliant cut, and equal to a fine deep blue Sapphire” (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

When King Louis XIV recut the original 115-carat diamond to become the French Blue, his jeweler had shaped the diamond down to 69-carats. Once in London, this “newer,” smaller blue diamond didn’t raise any flags. The Smithsonian, quoting Winters and White in their 1991 article, George IV’s Blue Diamond, brought up the interesting point that Francillon’s memo, the only known correspondence during that time that could be attributed to the now-Hope Diamond, “is dated just two days after the twenty-year statute of limitations for crimes committed during the French Revolution had passed” (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.). Meaning, there were no legal ramifications for any possessor of the diamond.

How the blue diamond made its way into Eliason’s possession, between the time Londoner stole the jewel and smuggled it out of France, is unknown. However, what is known is that since 2007, experts have been confident that the 69-carat French Blue and the 45-carat Eliason Diamond, were, indeed, one and the same.

So, how did they surmise that this was, indeed, the same diamond, and what led to this discovery?

Diamond Lead Cast

In Part I, we discussed that hidden in the mineral and gem collection of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) in Paris, a lead cast was found, following an update in the inventory in 2007. Cataloged with the cast was a note that had incorrectly misattributed the lead piece to being a part of the Portugal Crown Jewels.

In 2012, François Farges, John Vinson, John J. Rehr, and Jeffrey E. Post made a groundbreaking discovery through the use of the sophisticated software, DiamCalc, specifically designed for modeling photorealistic representations of gems and jewels.

Using the lead cast as a starting point, not only were Farges and his colleagues able to recreate the starry-effect when the diamond was inlaid in the Sun King’s setting, but they also confirmed that it was, indeed, the same diamond.

This truly was a groundbreaking discovery, able to put years of speculation and conjecture to rest.

And now that scholars are convinced that the Tavernier Blue, French Blue, and Eliason’s Diamond are one and the same, we now come to its current namesake: The Hope Diamond.

Hope’s Diamond

Mineralogist John Mawe wrote in his 1815 edition of A Treatise on Diamonds and Precious Stones, “there is at this time a superlatively fine blue diamond, of above 44 carats, in possession of an individual in London”—that individual being Eliason (Mawe 1815).

However, in Mawe’s 1823 edition of his book, he mentions that the diamond was now “formerly the property of Mr. Eliason,” and “in the possession of our most gracious sovereign,” King George IV of England (Mawe 1823). Although, it’s important to note that, at the time of writing, this claim is unverified and unfounded, as there is no evidence to suggest George IV had ever been in possession of the diamond (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

It’s not until 1839 when the diamond officially shows up again, resurfacing in the gem collection of the prominent banker and avid gem collector Henry Philip Hope, from whom it eventually takes its name. The exact circumstances under which Hope acquired the diamond remain murky, with no concrete records detailing the transaction. It’s speculated that Hope may have acquired it through private, backdoor deals, possibly after the diamond had passed through several hands following King George IV’s death in 1830.

George IV lived a very ostentatious, lavish lifestyle. By the time of his death, he had a mountain of debt; decorating, furnishing, entertaining, and expensive lifestyle habits only added to the King’s hefty bill (James 2023).

In order to minimize scrutiny with the Crown, it is said, former Tory PM Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, struck up a most opportunistic deal, to sell the impeccable blue diamond through backchannels to keep the integrity of the Crown intact (Kurin 2017).

Upon Hope’s death in 1839, despite leaving his three nephews a substantial endowment, his nephews became embroiled in a ten-year custody battle over Hope’s extensive gem collection, an estimated worth of $15 million (Kurin 2017). To whom the inheritance should be given to or split up was not left in Hope’s will; there were a few drafts of deeds written up and arguments were made by each brother, but none were substantial.

After a decade of disputes, they eventually came to a settlement: Henry Thomas, the eldest, received eight gems, among them the Hope Diamond. Adrian, the second brother, was bequeathed Hope’s property. As for the youngest brother, Alexander, he received the Hope pearl and 700 other gems (Kurin 2017).

The Great London Exhibition

Despite the Hope brothers going through years of fury and vitriol with one another, it was speculated that at least Henry Thomas and Alexander came to some agreement for the Great London Exhibition.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, or, better known simply as the Great Exhibition, was held in 1851 and is often considered the first in a series of World’s Fairs for the exhibition of culture and industry. The event was a showcase of modern industrial technology and design from around the world. It was intended to promote peace and prosperity by encouraging international trade and cooperation, as well as to display Britain’s own industrial achievements.

The Great Exhibition took place in Hyde Park, London, and was organized by inventor Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

One of the most famous features of the Great Exhibition was the Crystal Palace, a vast and innovative structure made from cast iron and plate glass, designed by Joseph Paxton specifically for the event. The Crystal Palace was a marvel of engineering and architecture of its time, covering 19 acres and housing over 100,000 objects, displayed by more than 15,000 contributors from around the world. These objects included raw materials, machinery, textiles, sculptures, and examples of fine arts, among many other items showcasing the diversity of human ingenuity and creativity (Johnson 2023).

Among the objects proudly displayed, the exhibition showcased 28 jewels from the renowned gem collection of Henry Philip Hope. Given that nephew Henry Thomas inherited only eight precious stones, it is evident that the remaining 20 displayed jewels were sourced from Alexander’s share of the inheritance.

Amidst years of familial discord, one could argue their collaboration symbolized a momentary truce between the two brothers. While the initial bequeathment given to the Hope brothers by their uncle may have served as a catalyst for their rift, it’s possible to assume the rivalry came from greed of the collection as a whole, and not necessarily attributed to the supposed curse of the diamond. Some food for thought.

References

“Collections Online | British Museum.” n.d. British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG226607.

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

James, Mallory. 2023. “George IV – Historic UK.” Historic UK. November 21, 2023. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/George-IV/.

Johnson, Ben. 2023. “The Great Exhibition 1851.” Historic UK. November 17, 2023. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Great-Exhibition-of-1851/.

Kurin, Richard. 2017. Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. Smithsonian Institution.

Mawe, John. 1815. A Treatise on Diamonds, and Precious Stones: Including Their History–natural and Commercial. To which is Added, Some Account of the Best Methods of Cutting and Polishing Them.

Mawe, John. 1823. A Treatise on Diamonds, and Precious Stones: Including Their History–natural and Commercial. To which is Added, the Methods of Cutting and Polishing. With Colored Plates.“Treasures of the World | Hope Diamond.” n.d. https://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/hope_nav/hnav_level_2/level2_pitch_curse_hopfrm.html.