You may have heard of it or even seen a picture, but what is the Hope Diamond? Steeped in legend and mystery, this blue diamond is arguably one of the most talked-about precious gems of all time. Famed for its exceptional size, rich shade of blue and royal connections, the Hope Diamond has captured public attention for centuries. Here, we’ll answer all the frequently asked questions about this natural wonder and its colourful history.
We most commonly think of a diamond as an icy clear, sparkling white gem, but the Hope Diamond is actually deep blue. In fact, the colour of the diamond is what makes it so special. Deep-blue diamonds tend to be quite small – usually under a few carats. So how many carats is the Hope Diamond? This giant among blue diamonds weighs in at an extraordinary 45.52 carats, which makes it one of the largest deep-blue diamonds found to date.
The blue hue of this remarkable stone is produced by atoms of boron scattered throughout the diamond’s structure.
The diamond was formed from carbon, hundreds of miles beneath the surface of the earth in India, before being propelled upwards by a volcanic eruption over a billion years ago. Thought to have been found in the Kollur Mine in Golconda, India, this impressive diamond went on to have a history as colourful as the stone itself.
The history of the Hope Diamond feels like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, and there is plenty of fiction out there when it comes to this stone. Historians have worked hard to piece together an accurate timeline for this precious gem, which doesn’t include the Hope Diamond curse and other such tall tales (but don’t worry, we’ll cover those later).
A French merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, is believed to have bought the diamond from the Kollur Mine, before selling it to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. The King’s jeweller recut the stone, reducing its size from approximately 115 carats to just over 69 carats. This new stone was named the Blue Diamond of the Crown, and was set in gold and worn by the King on a ribbon.
Stolen during the French Revolution in 1792 along with other jewels, it found its way into the hands of diamond merchant Daniel Eliason of London in 1812. Assumed to have been recut again, it was then sold to King George IV, only to be used to clear his considerable debts after his death in 1830.
Henry Philip Hope, after whom the diamond is now named, is the next documented owner of the diamond. It was listed in an 1839 catalogue of his gem collection, though the records do not reveal who sold it to him. Hope’s nephew inherited the diamond and it was then passed to his grandson, Lord Francis Hope. In 1901 Lord Hope sold it to a London merchant to pay off debts, and it was then sold to Joseph Frankel’s Sons & Co. of New York.
Once in America, the diamond changed hands several times, but ultimately ended up in Paris with Pierre Cartier, before making its way back to the United States with Evalyn McLean. Arguably one of the most flamboyant owners of the Hope Diamond, Evalyn had the stone reset and placed in a headpiece. Later it was reset one final time, in the necklace that we can see today. The Hope Diamond is surrounded by 16 white cushion-cut and pear-shaped diamonds in this striking piece.
Upon Evalyn McLean’s death in 1947, Harry Winston of New York purchased the diamond and it was exhibited by the establishment over the next decade at various events. In 1958, they donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Institute. So where is the Hope Diamond now? It has remained with the Smithsonian Institute for the past 70 years, serving as one of its most popular attractions.
Due to its size, value and past full of mystery and intrigue, you may have many questions about the Hope Diamond. Our FAQs will tell you everything you need to know about this deep-blue wonder.
How Much Would the Hope Diamond Cost?
The Hope Diamond price has varied over the years. We know that it was bought by Joseph Frankel’s for $148,000 and sold for $400,000 (the equivalent of $12.6 million today). Ned and Evalyn McLean are thought to have paid around $300,000 for the Hope Diamond ($8.7 million today). It is now valued at $250 million, so you can appreciate what a generous donation Harry Winston made to the Smithsonian Institute.
Although humans first laid hands on the Hope Diamond during the 17th century, it is thought to have been formed some 1.1 billion years ago. It was created as carbon atoms were compressed tightly together and, as we now know, small amounts of boron became scattered among this network of carbon, giving the stone an attractive deep-blue tinge.
When diamond was found, it was embedded in kimberlite, an igneous rock that helps diamonds rise to the surface of the earth through pipe-like structures.
The Hope Diamond size has changed over the centuries as it has been recut. It started off as a triangular stone and, as you’ll recall, when Tavernier presented it to King Louis XIV it was around 115 carats. It was soon cut down to just over 69 carats to create a more appealing gemstone for the King, and then received further shaping in the 19th century.
Today it stands at 45.52 carats and measures 25.60 mm × 21.78 mm × 12.00 mm. This makes the rare diamond comparable to a walnut in size.
If we’re to believe the tall tales, the Hope Diamond once sat within an idol in an Indian temple, before being stolen by a priest, thus triggering a curse that would follow the gem around. The priest died a mysterious, slow and painful death and the stories tell us that he wasn’t the only person to be cursed by the diamond.
Legend has it that the French merchant Tavernier, who sold the diamond to King Louis XIV, met a gruesome death involving a fever and a pack of wild dogs (although the fact that there are some records suggesting he lived into his 80s rather gets in the way of this story).
While the diamond was with the French Royal family, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were both beheaded and they are sometimes included among the list of the diamond’s ‘curse victims’.
Wilhelm Fals, a jeweller believed to have cut the diamond, was murdered by his own son. A Greek merchant who owned the gem for a while was allegedly killed when his car drove off a cliff.
Evalyn McLean, the larger-than-life character who bought diamond from Cartier, is reported as a victim of the curse because she experienced much loss, tragedy and betrayal in her lifetime. Like many of the other owners of the diamond, she died in huge amounts of debt.
There is one final alleged victim in the tale of the Hope Diamond curse. Harry Winston famously mailed the multi-million dollar diamond to the Smithsonian Institute and rumour has it that the mailman who delivered it was later involved in an automobile accident, sustaining a head injury. He then lost his house to a fire!
As gruesome and intriguing as the story of the curse is, the most likely origin of this yarn is Pierre Cartier. It is suspected that Cartier, knowing that Evalyn McLean was a socialite who loved to entertain, spun this tale to make the diamond seem more appealing to her.
Although this would add to the mystique of the famous diamond, it wasn’t on the Titanic and there is solid evidence to support this belief. When the fated ship set sail and sunk after striking an iceberg, the diamond was under the ownership of Evalyn McLean. Residing in the USA, she had no reason to be sailing from the UK to America and there is no evidence that she held a ticket or that anyone on board was travelling with the diamond.
The Heart of the Ocean is an item of jewellery depicted in the film, Titanic. It has drawn comparison to the Hope Diamond and led some to question whether the real diamond had been on board.
The size, appearance and setting of the Heart of the Ocean diamond in Rose’s necklace in the film suggest that writers were at least influenced by the Hope Diamond.
The Hope Diamond size is not the only thing considered to be unusual about this blue gem. The GIA grading for the diamond carried out in both 1988 and 1996 confirms that the diamond, at 45.52 carats, is the fourth largest blue diamond in the world.
It has a clarity rating of VS1, meaning there are no imperfections visible to the naked eye. If you visit the Hope Diamond, this becomes very apparent. When you view such a large precious stone, imperfections, if present, are far easier to see – but the Hope Diamond is known for its crystal-clear aesthetic.
The assessments confirm that the diamond has 1.7 parts per million of boron, hence the colouration – and this hue is defined by the GIA as Fancy Deep greyish-blue. Fewer than 0.1% of diamonds contain boron and those that do usually average 0.5 parts per million. It is the higher levels of boron and the resulting intensity of colour that make the Hope Diamond so unique.
The boron in this diamond gives it another unusual trait. Under UV light it has a vivid red phosphorescence, which makes it resemble a smouldering ember.
Where is the Hope Diamond? It is still held at the Smithsonian Institute where it has become one of the world’s most visited museum exhibits. It is located in the National Museum of Natural History in the Harry Winston Gallery.
The diamond has been removed from its permanent home here on only four occasions. In the 1960s it spent some time in the Louvre, Paris, and it was exhibited at the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, South Africa. It left again in the 1980s to be part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations for Harry Winston’s business, and in the 1990s it was briefly returned to Harry to undergo careful cleaning and restoration.
After the donation by Harry Winston in 1958, the Smithsonian Institute is the legal owner of the Hope Diamond.
There are many replicas of this diamond available to purchase at a range of different prices. Few could be fooled into thinking they’re buying the real Hope Diamond, since its presence in the Smithsonian Institution is so widely known.
Cubic zirconia is a popular material for replicating diamond, as this can be carefully coloured to match the famous blue hue. These replicas have also allowed us to see what the diamond looked like in all its previous forms. Remember, it used to be significantly larger than it is today. By cutting the replicas as the original diamond was cut across history, you can also see how the gem has changed colour. Early forms of the diamond were a paler blue and the deeper colour we see today comes from the way the light penetrates the stone and bounces off the facets.