The Hope Diamond is a 45.52-carat diamond originally extracted in the 17th century from the Kollur Mine in Guntur, India. It is blue in color due to trace amounts of boron.
The earliest records of the diamond show that French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased it in 1666 as the Tavernier Blue. The stone was cut and renamed the French Blue (Le bleu de France); Tavernier sold the stone to King Louis XIV of France in 1668.
On September 11, 1792, while Louis XVI and his family were imprisoned in the Square du Temple during the early stages of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, a group of thieves broke into the Royal Storehouse—the Hôtel du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (now Hôtel de la Marine)—stealing most of the Crown Jewels in a five-day looting spree. While many jewels were later recovered, including other pieces of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the French Blue was not among them and it disappeared from history.
In 1812, a deep blue diamond described by John Francillion as weighing 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat) was documented as being in the possession of London diamond merchant, Daniel Eliason. Strong evidence indicates that the stone was the recut French Blue and the same stone known today as the Hope Diamond.
Several references suggest that it was acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom. At his death, in 1830, the king’s debts were so enormous that the blue diamond was likely sold through private channels.
The first reference to the diamond’s next owner is found in the 1839 entry of the gem collection catalog of the well-known Henry Philip Hope, the man from whom the diamond takes its name. Unfortunately, the catalog does not reveal where or from whom Hope acquired the diamond or how much he paid for it.
Following the death of Henry Philip Hope in 1839, and after much litigation, the diamond passed to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope and ultimately to the nephew’s grandson Lord Francis Hope. In 1901 Lord Francis Hope obtained permission from the Court of Chancery and his sisters to sell the stone to help pay off his debts. It was sold to a London dealer who quickly sold it to Joseph Frankels and Sons of New York City, who retained the stone in New York until they, in turn, needed cash. The diamond was next sold to Selim Habib who put it up for auction in Paris in 1909. It did not sell at the auction but was sold soon after to C.H. Rosenau and then resold to Pierre Cartier that same year.
In 1910 the Hope Diamond was shown to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, of Washington D.C., at Cartier’s in Paris, but she did not like the setting. Cartier had the diamond reset and took it to the U.S. where he left it with Mrs. McLean for a weekend. This strategy was successful. The sale was made in 1911 with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds. Sometime later it became the pendant on a diamond necklace as we know it today. Mrs. McLean’s flamboyant ownership of the stone lasted until her death in 1947.
Harry Winston Inc. of New York City purchased Mrs. McLean’s entire jewelry collection, including the Hope Diamond, from her estate in 1949.
For the next 10 years the Hope Diamond was shown at many exhibits and charitable events world wide by Harry Winston Inc., including as the central attraction of their Court of Jewels exhibition. On November 10, 1958, they donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost immediately the great blue stone became its premier attraction.