Through the lens of a mirror from the seventeenth century until today the material world has worked its way well into our consciousness. It has affected the way in which we perceive others, as well as ourselves.
Mastering the art of reflection at that time only further encouraged the creation of lavish interiors, such as in the stunning Hall of Mirrors at the Cháteau at Versailles.
In glittering candlelight and by the art of reflection, brilliant jewellery, such as the famous French blue diamond worn by Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) glittered gloriously as it reflected in the brilliance of mirror plate.
Louis had a real passion for jewels, especially diamonds.
Just one of his coats had 123 diamond buttons, as well as gem-encrusted buttonholes. The French Blue diamond became an integral part of the illustrious French Order of the Golden Fleece, a blue mystery fragment plucked from the midnight sky to dazzle all those at court.
The prestigious order of knighthood it embellished was founded in Burgundy in 1430 to defend the Roman Catholic religion, to uphold the usages of chivalry, and to increase the prestige of the dukes of Burgundy.
We are only temporary custodians of beauty*
Louis was the premier Catholic in France and he had the unwieldy large triangular dark blue diamond he purchased, weighing approx.112 carats, re-cut and faceted to reveal a much brighter blue brilliant gem that came in at 67.125 carats.
Passed down through the rulers of the ancien regime the stunning French Blue diamond was lost to France because of an audacious robbery that took place in 1792.
Thieves broke into the Garde-Meuble (Royal Storehouse) stealing most of the French Crown Jewels during a five-day looting spree that involved some 15 people in the theft.
This startling event happened while Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XIV, who had inherited the jewel, was under house arrest.
It then disappeared never to be seen again.
It would be some thirty years later when a rare blue diamond, of similar quality, but weighing in at only 45.5 carats, first appeared at London as part of the diamond collection of the prominent London banker Henry Philip Hope (1774-1839).
We are talking about the famous, or should we say infamous Hope Diamond, which is now on display in the Smithsonian Institute at New York where some 6 million visitors view it annually.
It seems the French Blue diamond’s journey following its theft, caused a great deal of heartache and for some, seemingly very little ‘hope’ at all.
It was 1911 when Pierre Cartier from the firm of illustrious jewellers at Paris sold the blue diamond jewel known as the Hope Diamond to the husband of American mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean for $US 180,000.00 a princely sum of money at the time.
In a glamorous setting designed by Cartier, surrounded by other sensational diamonds, the rare blue diamond was described to Evalyn by Pierre Cartier, the ultimate salesman, as dazzling yet deadly and flawless, yet cursed.
It was an ultimate gift of love, as well as a unique talisman of evil.
Cartier wove a terrific tale of mystery around the rare flawless blue diamond to Evalyn so well that it only added to its allure.
Later the story would become more frenzied and embellished as press reports about it being cursed surfaced and people locked into fear.
Her husband purchased it for her and, having a ‘devil may care’ attitude, Evalyn immediately rose above the legend of it being dangerous.
She would wear it to all the lavish parties she held, sometimes hide and have her guests hunt for it and, improbable as it may seem, sometimes allow her Great Dane dog to wear it.
The amazing story of the journey of the Hope diamond is something everyone visiting the Smithsonian today can now fully understand. David Royle of the Smithsonian television channel said, “Hollywood couldn’t really make up a story like its real-life journey”.
It is a fantastic mix of jaw-dropping beauty, exotic places, mythical curses, untold wealth, larger-than-life characters and thieves in the dead of night, glamorous parties and cutting-edge science.
Blue diamonds are exceedingly rare.
So its appearance in London when Hope turned up owning it early in the nineteenth century was enough for people to ask where had this amazing blue stone originally came from?
It was in 1858 that it was suggested first by a French jeweller, and then suspected for a century or more after, that the ‘Hope’ diamond might just be a cut down version of the French Blue diamond. However it could not academically proven to be the same stone.
That is until December of 2007.
This is when Francois Farge, Professor of Mineralogy at the National History Museum at Paris, fully aware of the supposition, was conducting a purpose filled inventory of his museum’s mineral collection, looking for samples in storage he had found evidence of in writing (see below).
He came across a small box containing a lead replica of what turned out to be the famous French Blue diamond of King Louis XIV. It had been there gathering dust for over one and a half centuries.
It was a historic moment. This exciting discovery was a once in a lifetime event for Professor Farges, but he curbed his enthusiasm and professionalism took over because he wanted real proof of how it got there. He then conducted a great deal of further painstaking research so that he could make an academic case that the Hope diamond had indeed been cut from the famous French Blue.
He compared the lead replica to the full size engraving of the jewel set in the Order of the Golden Fleece, which had been recorded in a publication about Royal Jewels by G. Bapst published in 1889 Histoire des Joyaux de La Couronne de France.
The replica exactly fitted into the life size drawing of the French Blue in its Order of the Golden Fleece setting.
Farge then travelled to Antwerp and had the replica scanned digitally so that he could ascertain its complete make up. Technicians produced a 3D imaging model to compare it with a 3D model of the Hope that the Smithsonian had already made and it seemed to fit well inside it.
Once that had happened he commissioned world famous gem replicator, Scott Sucher from New Mexico, who had been involved with scanning the Hope Diamond for the Smithsonian in 2005, two years before he found the lead model, to analyze the scans made for him.
It took many months, as flaws on the surface of the lead model, which had been caused by much handling, also showed up as well. Sucher had to painstakingly remove the flaws to uncover the 78 facets that made up the original stone.
When he had completed the work Farges travelled to view the results and satisfied it was accurate he commissioned Sucher to make a zircon copy of the French Blue.
To get this far we need to back track:
Farges, aware of the stories of the Hope diamond, suspected that if any evidence was to be found linking it to the French Blue, it would likely be in the ‘minerology’ museum he was in charge of, or its archives.
He had already examined the records held in other French archives from the time after the revolution when the Directory was in charge of France.
These had contained documents of the interrogation of some of the thieves who had stolen the Royal jewels, but had been caught.
One detailed police report produced the evidence he needed.
One of the thieves had identified one of their compatriots, a merchant and trader in jewels, who was known to have escaped to London with a number of gems in his possession at the time, including the famous French Blue.
There the trail ended.
Farges then amazingly tracked down a handwritten entry made in 1850-1851 in a catalogue of donations and purchases for the minerology museum, which a diligent worker had carefully recorded at the time. He found the following entry
‘Model of a remarkably limpid diamond belonging to Mr Hoppe of London‘. It had been donated to the museum in 1850 by one Monsieur Charles Archard, who was part of a famous French family of gem cutters at the time.
This was one of the final pieces in the puzzle to fall into place and why Farges had conducted the inventory. The same entry was on the label wrapped around the lead model of the French Blue in the drawer at the Museum.
Henry Phillip Hope had been an heir to the banking firm Hope and Co, which was sold in 1813. He became a collector of fine art and gems and acquired the large blue diamond that would be named for his family.
It appears he had commissioned the lead model made before the stone was re-cut to conceal the theft, which indicates that he well knew its origins.
However if we remember that at the time England and France were constantly at war with each other, it would certainly mess with his perceptions about the legality of the ‘theft’, but what was his motivation for recutting it
Henry Phillip Hope (1774 – 1839) was the head of Hope andsmithso Company, a major player in European financial circles and a known diamond collector. One of the clients of Hope and company was a merchant named Archard, another was Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Emperor had his part to play in this incredible saga.
In 1804 he declared that crimes committed during the revolution would have a twenty-year statute of limitations. He wanted desperately to recover the French Crown jewels, but his statute ran out just days before the French Blue turned up on the London market in 1812.
This would surely have been the reason Hope re-cut the fabulous stone, so it would not be recognised.
Napoleon was far too powerful a man in Europe at the time to offend, and in cutting the stone it would have lost some of the original brilliance, which today’s experts say is why it’s a deeper blue.
The ‘Hope’ diamond was put on display at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851.
It passed down through three generations of the Hope family along with many other jewels, until Francis Hope was allowed by the courts to sell it in 1901 to pay off his mounting debts.
Purchased by Adolph Weil, a London merchant it was later sold to Simon Frankel, an American jeweler who took the incredible blue stone back to the United States where it changed hands several times, ending up ironically with Pierre Cartier back at Paris.
Evalyn McLean saw it in Paris with her husband, but it was not until Cartier arrived in America and asked her to keep it for the weekend, telling her the exotic, and much embellished tale of its origins, that her husband decided to purchase it for her.
All research reveals that the concept of a curse attached to the diamond did not appear at all until the 20th century and the visit of Monsieur Cartier.
Farges had been alerted to search for new evidence about the Hope being the French Blue, because in February 2005 the Smithsonian Institute at Washington published the findings of its computer-aided geometry research on the Hope.
Their conclusion was that it was part of the stolen French Blue, which led to the search for evidence, turning up the lead model.
It was the summer of 2010 when Sucher finally finished his replica of the French Blue diamond. During that time he said he had gained a great deal of respect for the original creator of the dazzling jewel, who had taken three years to turn the 115 carat diamond Louis XIV had purchased into the brilliant gem known as the French Blue, cutting it without the aid of the modern technology available to Sucher.
Then the question was again asked?
How and from where had Louis XIV acquired his famous stone?
Existing records revealed that it was King Louis XIV’s first Minister Colbert who arranged its purchase from the French traveller and pioneer of trade in the east (Turkey, Persian and India) Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) on behalf of the King.
The glorious blue gem had been formed in the heart of the earth over a billion years ago. Diamond is the hardest substance known to man on earth and the Caesars of Rome, Emperors of China and Mughal Emperors of India all admired them for their strength and purity.
The first known diamond mine in the world was in the Golconda region of India where the towns were the wealthiest in the world at the time.
A merchant of renowned integrity (he had always paid his taxes on time) Tavernier acquired the deep blue diamond among many other gems in 1638 on one of six adventurous voyages, that he also left a memoir about.
The Great Mogul ruler of the region where the stone came from was known to have sat on a throne studded with diamonds and gems, which was itself reputedly worth more than the whole of the Château at Versailles. Tavernier was considered a pillar of society, who was known to have connected well with Oriental potentates and become a trusted trader. He was appointed Jewellery in Ordinary in an ancient Persian order as a premier gem merchant.
How he had obtained the stone that became the French Blue from will forever remain a mystery, because he did not write it down.
What he did record was bringing back with him from the Kingdom of Galconda in 1668, the blue diamond and 46 other large diamonds plus 1102 smaller ones.
When he reached France he was invited to the Royal Palace where he regaled them all with stories of his travel, dressed in exotic oriental robes.
The tales reach the ear of the King, who fascinated wants to meet him, hear them from him first hand and to see the blue diamond he talked about.
The rest is history.
The final part of the modern tale is that Professor Farge, satisfied that he had academically proven the French Blue was the Hope Diamond packed up the lead model carefully and journeyed from Paris to the Smithsonian Institute.
He wanted to finally get together with Dr Geoffrey Post at the Smithsonian Institute, so that they could compare the lead model of the French Blue one on one with the Hope diamond and proved categorically that they were one and the same.
It was the famous American society jeweller and diamond merchant Harry Winston (1896 – 1978) who had purchased the Hope diamond as part of the Mclean’s ‘entire jewellery collection’ which had been passed down to her grandchildren.
They also had to sell the stunning stone because of debts.
This happened in 1953, and at the time it was still in its lovely setting by Cartier.
In 1958 Winston famously donated it to the Smithsonian Institute, by mailing it ‘registered post’ in a box wrapped in brown paper, where it is now renowned as the second most visited artifact in history, the first being the painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
The stories about it originally being stolen from a Hindu temple have all been disproved, as has the idea it is somehow cursed.
It is a historical fact though that the blue diamond has been in the possession of many people who have died dreadfully, or had some tragedy befall them, including the mailman who delivered the gem to the Smithsonian Institute after Harry Winston trusted its delivery to the American postal service.
Perhaps its just a co-incidence that tragedy seems often to be an integral part of a pattern for human life.
The fabulous footnote, or icing on the cake to the whole terrific tale is that Dr. François Farges, Professor of Mineralogy and Curator of Minerals and Gems at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle at Paris, then worked for three years with an international team under the supervision of Swiss jeweler Herbert Horovitz, to complete the meticulous work of recreating Louis XIV’s Order of the Golden Fleece containing the French Blue.
The Professor who had been so diligent in his research even got to wear it at the presentation, which took place on the very spot where the blue diamond had been stolen from.
The major elements are: The French Blue: 69-carat predecessor to the Hope.
The Bazu: Sold to Louis XIV in 1669, recut in 1749 as a 32.62-carat baroque cushion. A 1791 inventory calls the stone “d’une eau un peu céleste” (sky blue).
The reconstruction team concluded the stone was not hexagonal as had been assumed, but rather a rounded square.
This stone also was replicated in light blue cubic zirconia.
The Côte de Bretagne Dragon: This spinel carving is now housed at the the Louvre’s Galerie d’Apollon. This required a combination of 3-D scaled photography, a replica sculpted in wax, and a lead-crystal glass duplicate made with added pigmentation
Most of the other large diamonds were recovered after the original theft; thus their replication was not based on speculation. The jewel-encrusted elements, however, such as the Golden Fleece insignia itself, never reappeared.
That left over 500 diamonds to be replicated. These were cut from cubic zirconia.
For the Smithsonian Institute in America the acquisition of the Hope Diamond has brought nothing but good luck.
Whether or not people still believe that the French Blue aka the Hope Diamond has any sort of power over life, or death, is a story that is still unfolding.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012 – 2015
*Movie Actress Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor (1932-2011)
Smithsonian Institute in America - Mystery of the Hope Diamond, National Geographic Channel Secrets of the Hope Diamond, Jean Baptiste Tavernier Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier Ecuyer Baron d’Aubonne Qu’il a Fait En Turdquie, En Perse, Et Aux Indes, LXXVI Avec Privilege du Roy, Histoire des Joyaux de La Couronne de France G. Bapst (1889)