THE HOPE DIAMOND
Only a relatively minuscule fraction of the world’s great jewels has gained the status of being a household name. The Hope Diamond, also known as Le Bijou du Roi and the Tavernier Blue, is perhaps among the most widely renowned of them all. This flawless 45.52 carat gem was forged in the churning mantle of the Earth in time immemorial and created by conditions and pressures of unimaginable magnitude. The Hope Diamond redefined our concept of nature’s beauty, and even after five centuries of wonder, it remains one of the most fascinating objects of desire in the world today.
Formed over a billion years ago in India, and embedded in a casing of kimberlite, the Hope Diamond is thought to have been brought to the surface at some point during the beginning of the seventeenth century. The first records of this phenomenally large diamond arise in 1666, when it was purchased by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, and weighed at 115 carats. Roughly-hewn, triangular in shape, and brimming with glittering potential as a result of its size and unique blue colour, Tavernier brought the diamond with him to Paris, where it would take the next essential steps on its incredible journey to prosperity.
Once in Paris, it was almost inevitable that the Tavernier Blue diamond would gain the attention of royalty. Indeed, this peerless gem was sold, along with up to a thousand other diamonds, to King Louis XIV, who had it cut down to 67 carats and mounted on a cravat pin. He’d later have the diamond set in gold and fashioned into a ceremonial necklace. The diamond stayed within the royal household and underwent further changes within each generation. Louis XV had the gem set into an elaborate pendant for the Toison D’Or, but his grandson, Louis XVI had the diamond confiscated by government forces while fleeing Versailles. The Hope Diamond vanished for many years following a looting in 1792, but it resurfaced in London where, again, perhaps inevitably, it was purchased by the British royal house under King George IV.
After passing into private ownership, the Hope Diamond made its way across the Atlantic to the New World. Auctioned to a buyer in Washington D.C, it spent some time being mounted onto an exquisite diamond headpiece at the turn of the 20th century. The gem was finally set into the platinum necklace we associate with the Hope Diamond to this day and recut to dazzle with its sixty exquisite facets. Such a precious and world-altering piece of jewellery was, of course, never destined to remain in private hands. Eventually, the Hope Diamond became a permanent part of the Smithsonian Collection, where it remains an almost mythic item, surrounded by era-traversing stories and legends of curses, and it continues to fascinate and inspire in a curious public a timeless sense of awe.
With its unique and spellbinding hue, and the way the Hope Diamond seemingly plays endlessly with light, this renowned gem has bewitched the generations. Coloured diamonds are prized for their rarity, uniquity, and charm, and the stunning blue of the Hope Diamond, which is regarded as among the rarest and most sought-after colour of them all, is an unmistakable aspect of its legendary status.
It is important to remember that gemstones, as with many objects of beauty or works of artistry, depend partly on context and setting when it comes to their beauty and impact. There’s little question about the fact that the Hope Diamond’s current setting in brilliant platinum heightens and intensifies its blue tones. It is arguable that previous settings in gold would have diluted this effect, and uncut and unmounted, the Hope Diamond’s true colour may have been harder to perceive or envisage. Interestingly, Tavernier himself referred to the Hope Diamond’s original colour not as blue, but as ‘un beau violet’, perhaps referring to an aspect of the gem’s uncut hue which was lost with repeated cuts and re-mounts.
The Hope Diamond has been examined, tested, classified and reclassified by gemologists several times across its long and illustrious history, as its beauty inspired as much chemical and geological curiosity as wonder. The very existence of blue diamonds was, for the longest time, a genuine puzzle for scientists, as the presence of such a colour was difficult to explain. However, the interventions and investigations into the stone have, step by step, revealed many of its secrets, and have greatly furthered the field of gemology and other natural sciences in the process.
While it was by no means the first thorough investigation into the chemical composition and properties of the Hope Diamond, the 2010 experiments undertaken by the Smithsonian Gemology Institute were, to date, the most revealing and enlightening. Via a thorough study, experts were able to identify the range of elements within the diamond for the very first time. The Hope Diamond was found to contain the pigment-giving element of boron; the cause of its glorious blue tones. Curiously, the same investigation also found that the diamond featured traces of violet colouration, which, while deemed imperceptible to the human eye, may contribute to the gem’s unique lustre and intriguing overall hue, and which hark back to the ‘beau violet’ of Tavernier’s original assessment.
Whether viewed through the expert eyes of gemologists in stark laboratories or gazed upon in its permanent home as part of a museum exhibition, the Hope Diamond unfailingly inspires a sense of wonder in its raw beauty, its unadulterated splendour, and its timeless beauty. While this uniquely striking gemstone continues to inform our understanding of the natural world with each mystery revealed, there’s little doubt that no matter how many of the diamond’s secrets are uncovered, the fascination it inspires will remain untarnished forever.
Photo credit: Don Hurlbert, the Smithsonian Institution.
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