The Hope and Wittlesbach-Graff Diamond in the Same Room

Today, November 11th 2010, marks the 52nd Anniversary of Harry Winston’s donation of the HopeDiamond to the Smithsonian Institution. With this great gift, Mr.Winston helped to found the United States National Gem Collection and gave Hope to the world. The Smithsonian Museum has been able to present the Hope and the Wittlesbach-Graff diamonds (temporary donation from Laurence Graff), together in the same room… a historical moment, for these two enormous blue diamonds,

The Hope diamond is a historical gemstone that carries a heavy history, and a dark secret…

It is thought to have been originally discovered in India, in the early 1600s. The legend has it that it was stolen from the forehead of an idol of the Goddess Sita, and from then on, cursed that bad luck and death would befall on any of those who would touch it.

John Bapitiste Tavernier is thought to be the first to have purchased the iconic blue diamond, around 1642, whom he sold the rough 112cts diamond to King Louis XIV of France. In turn, it was cut and became “the French Blue”. Although it is uncertain as to how Mr Tavernier died, the legend has it he was torn apart by wild dogs in Russia…

Golden Fleece

Golden Fleece

In 1749, King Louis XV of France reset the diamond for the Order of the Golden Fleece, which succeeded to Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. Although Marie Antoinette is rumored to never have worn the French Blue, because it was reserved for the king’s use, her beheading as well as that of King Louis XVI is attributed to the curse of the diamond. Most of the crown jewels taken from the royal couple were recovered, the blue diamond was not among them.

In 1813, a blue diamond surfaced in London, it was suspected to be the stolen French Blue, but had been re-polished in order to hide it’s resemblance. It was sold by the jeweler Daniel Eliason to King George IV of England. After his death, the diamond was sold to pay off his debts and by 1839, became the property of Henry Philip Hope, to whom the gemstone was renamed to. The loss of the Hope’s family fortune was associated to the gemstone’s curse.

By 1901, an American jeweler brought the stone over to America and exchanged hands several times before coming into the possession of Pierre Cartier, who sold it to Evalyn Walsh McLean. She believed that items that had been bad luck for others would bring good luck to her. Unfortunately the curse prevailed to include the death of her son in a car accident at the age of nine, her daughter’s suicide at the age of twenty-five, and her husband was confined to a mental institution after being declared insane.

In 1949, Harry Winston purchased the hope diamond as it was put up for sale to clear Ms McLean’s debts and in 1958, he donated the 45.52ct diamond it to the Smithsonian Institute for permanent display.

For awhile, the Smithsonian held on display next to the Hope, the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond, which is also a legendary gemstone but more astoundingly, of same weight and color range.

The Wittelsbach-Graff diamond can be traced back through several of Europe’s royal families starting the 17th century when it was given by Philip IV of Spain to his daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa, upon her engagement to Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1664.

Wittelsbach-Graff diamond infront of Infanta Margarita Teresa

Wittelsbach-Graff diamond infront of Infanta Margarita Teresa

The Wittelsbachs soon after became the proprietors, who were members of the ruling house of Bavaria, in 1722. After World War One, the blue diamond was to be sold at a Christie’s auction in 1931 – but it disappeared prior to the auction and was replaced by a worthless piece of blue cut glass…

It resurfaced in Belgium twenty years later and was displayed without attribution in Brussels in 1958. Eventually it was identified in 1962 by Belgian gem expert; Joseph Komkommer and the London-based jeweller Laurence Graff purchased the diamond in 2008 at auction for 16.4 million pounds (26.4 million US dollars).

“This is the most remarkable stone of my career. It is the highlight of all the stones I have handled, as I said earlier, not only is it the most beautiful it is certainly the most valuable,” Graff said, adding “I think it is the most valuable diamond in the world.” This, of course, rests on the fact that the Hope Diamond, although larger, is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute and cannot be sold…

Graff had the stone cut and re-polished in 2009, reducing it from a 35.5 carat stone to a 31 carat stone, compared to the Hope diamond which is 45.52 carats. It has proven controversial, with some historians and diamond merchants unhappy that the 35-carat diamond has lost its size and historical shape in the process. Even though following the re-cut, the Gemological Institute of America reevaluated the gem, upgrading its colour classification to Fancy Dark Blue, the same as the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond.

Both the Hope and the Wittelsbach-Graff diamonds are believed to have originated from the same region in India in the 17th century, have similar blue color and nearly identical red/orange phosphorescence when excited by ultra-violet light. Hence, it has been speculated that they might have originated from the same parent diamond, mined from the fabled Kollur mine in India’s Golconda district of Andhra Pradesh.

Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian

Observing the uv-vis transmission spectrum and measuring the phosphorescence spectrum.

Only due to this event did scientists have the opportunity first hand to examine the two stones in the same vault.

Despite remarkable similarities, the scientists examining the Hope and Wittelsbach-Graff Diamonds eventually decided the two stones were “distant cousins” rather than “brother and sister” and had similar geological backgrounds rather than coming from the exact same location.



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