Can diamonds bring bad luck
The misfortune befell the postman James Todd a year after the fateful delivery. "Hope diamond mailman stricken by tragedy," headlined the Washington Post on August 21, 1959. Within a few months, the article said, 34-year-old Todd's wife died of a heart attack and he became himself hit by a truck and seriously injured his leg. Finally his house burned down too. Tragic coincidence? Or did the valuable delivery a year earlier have something to do with Todd's blows of fate?
On the morning of November 8, 1958, the American postman had delivered an extraordinary shipment to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Packed in brown paper, weighs 1.7 kilograms, franked with 145.29 dollars, insured for one million: the Hope diamond - probably the most notorious gemstone in the world, but also one of the most sought-after. 45.52 carats, deep blue, the size of a walnut, found around 360 years ago. The Hope worried people: jewelers and journalists, the changing owners of the diamond, even people who had never worn the gem, warned of the ominous stone and its fatal influence. But what is there about the myth of the cursed diamond? And how did it come about?
No other Hope Diamond bearer has suffered as many tragic blows as Evalyn Walsh McLean. She owned the jewel for 36 years, 36 years marked by loss, alcohol addiction and death. The McLeans had been warned against buying the diamond.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Evalyn and her husband Edward belonged to the highest social circles in America. Both came from very wealthy families, she was the daughter of a gold digger, Edward's family belonged to the Washington Post. The McLeans were an idiosyncratic couple. They both loved drinking and partying, they loved to squander their money. The young couple was just 22 and 24 years old when they met Pierre Cartier at the Bristol Hotel in Paris in September 1910.
The French jeweler had previously sold Evalyn opulent jewelry. This time, at the Bristol, the skilled salesman was carrying a box sealed with wax. "He was acting very mysteriously," Evalyn would later write in her diary. The jeweler told the young couple a gruesome story: The box contained a blue gemstone that a French diamond dealer is said to have stolen from a Hindu deity in India. He was cursed for that. After he sold the gem to the French king, the dealer was mangled by wild dogs and the king died under the guillotine.
A horror story. One that did not fail to have an effect. "Stones with a story are particularly fascinating," says Heinrich Graf von Spreti. The president of the auction house Sotheby’s in Germany knows numerous pieces of jewelery whose dramatic past arouses the interest of passionate collectors. “Be it the engagement ring of Lady Diana or the flamingo brooch of the Duchess of Windsor - there are collectors who are looking for such emotionally charged pieces, they are fascinated by the tragic, the romantic.” Usually the lover value of a piece exceeds the market value. A fact that Pierre Cartier probably also speculated on.
There was a real core to his horror story. In fact, scientists at the US Smithsonian Research Institute have been able to trace the origin of the Hope diamond back to 1653. The diamond dealer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier brought a 112-carat, heart-shaped diamond to France from the Golkonda mines in India. “Clear and of a beautiful blue,” he described it in his notes. It is not known under what conditions he acquired the gem. Tavernier died of natural causes at the age of 84. Before that, King Louis XIV bought the stone and had it cut by his court jeweler. From then on, “Le Bleu de France” was one of the crown jewels. Two kings later, the French Revolution broke out, the insurgents confiscated the royal treasure - and with it the blue diamond. The jewels were locked away in the warehouse of the royal family, but there they were guarded in an amateurish way. A gang of looters managed to enter the warehouse several nights in a row using a simple ladder and steal much of the crown jewels. Five of the thieves were later executed for their crime. But the blue diamond was gone. Its last owner, King Louis XVI. and his wife, Marie Antoinette, died under the guillotine.
"Let me see that thing." At the Bristol Hotel, Evalyn Walsh McLean had grown impatient. Cartier's story, as she described it in her autobiography, had piqued her curiosity. When the jeweler finally unpacked the piece of jewelry, however, Evalyn was disappointed. She found the setting of the diamond old-fashioned and conservative. Cartier would not be put off. A few weeks later, he traveled to the McLeans estate in Washington and deposited the bright blue diamond for two days. He had had a new setting made for the stone, 16 small, clear diamonds surrounded the blue clunker, which Evalyn could now wear as a headdress or on a chain.
"The jewel stared at me for hours," she wrote in her diary. "At some point that night I started wanting that thing." After that weekend, the McLeans bought the infamous trinket for $ 180,000 - more than three million euros today. In the purchase agreement, Cartier noted a peculiarity: He promised the exchange of the diamond "should the Edward B. McLean family suffer a fatal accident within the next six months." In fact, it would be eight years before the disaster befell Evalyn McLean.
It wasn't just Tavernier's story that had made the McLeans cautious. Other owners of the Hope had also been hit by bad luck. One of them was Lord Francis Hope, whose name the diamond bears to this day. In 1887 the lord inherited the piece of jewelry when he was just 21 years old. The blue diamond had belonged to the Hopes, a wealthy English merchant and banker family, for almost 60 years. Lord Francis lived a dissolute lifestyle, he ate, drank and gambled and loved to surround himself with beautiful showgirls. Within a few years he had amassed horrific debts, and when he married a burlesque dancer in 1894, he was almost bankrupt. In 1898 the Lord first tried to sell the heirloom. His family prevented that and went to court. The judges banned the sale.
In the meantime, Lord Francis ’young marriage was in crisis, and after seven years his wife ran away with another man. His financial situation became more and more desolate, and so he tried again to pay off his debts with the blue diamond. Unsuccessful. His relatives only accepted his third application to the court. Lord Francis, who had previously sold almost his entire inheritance including a valuable art collection and several princely estates, sold the unlucky gem in 1901 for 16,000 pounds, which is around 1.4 million euros today. All that is known about his subsequent life is that he soon remarried, had three children and died at the age of 75.
The new owners, the Frankel jewelry family from New York, hoped that the blue diamond would be a good deal for them. But the Frankels were also unlucky, for nine years there was no buyer for the blue gemstone. Times were bad for jewelers and dealers, and many got into financial difficulties. Ironically, the Washington Post, the newspaper that has been owned by the McLean family since 1905, was the first to report about the ominous Hope diamond. In the section "Society gossip" it was said on January 9, 1908: "It is said that the diamond worth around 250,000 dollars is partly responsible for the troubles of Joseph Frankel's sons ..."
“Remarkable jewel brings bad luck,” headlined the newspaper a few days later and carried a large report on the stone's past. Journalists in America and Europe picked up the story, the curse of the Hope diamond spread all over the world. Just a year and a half later, the London Times wrote that the Hope Diamond had caused three revolutions. When the stone came into the possession of Cartier in 1910, it was therefore not surprising that the French jeweler included a clause in the sales contract that assured the McLeans that the piece of jewelery would be exchanged in the event of imminent death.
At first, however, nothing happened. The McLeans led a carefree life, they enjoyed themselves in the upper classes of Washington, and they counted President Warren G. Harding and his wife Florence among their best friends. Evalyn was fascinated by the ominous curse - but she also often mocked it. In her biography she claimed to have exorcized the blue diamond in a church in Virginia and reported strange occurrences: “There was lightning, thunder shook the church. I admit I was scared. ”Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Museum scientist and author, described Evalyn's relationship with the Legend of the Gemstone:“ Sometimes she seemed to take the curse literally. Then again it seemed to her an amusing story, good topic of conversation. "
The Hope became Evalyn's trademark: she wore it at social and political events, at her own glamorous parties, and even at home with her family. This is shown by the private films that Evalyn made. In one shot, she playfully pulls and turns, almost lost in thought, on the heavy clunk around her neck. She is said to have even hung it around the family dog.
It wasn't until 1919, eight years after the Hope was bought, that disaster struck. On May 18, while Evalyn and Edward were not home, their nine-year-old son was hit by a car, hit his head on the tarmac, and died. Evalyn became a drug addict and Edward began to drink heavily. Evalyn's film recordings often show her husband with a closed face and a glass in hand, with a cloudy look or asleep. A few years later the friends of the McLeans died: President Warren G. Harding died of a heart condition, shortly afterwards his wife Florence died of kidney failure.
The McLeans have long been in the public eye because of their dissolute lifestyle. When their marriage broke up soon afterwards, the gossip columns of the newspapers again speculated about the power of the ominous Hope diamond. Its own paper, the "Washington Post", owned by the McLeans for almost three decades, suffered from poor management and the economic crisis. In 1932 the newspaper had to be auctioned. Years later, Evalyn's only daughter swallowed an overdose of sleeping pills and died. Despite all these strokes of fate, Evalyn did not believe the legends surrounding her piece of jewelry. As early as 1936 she wrote in her autobiography: "In my mind I mock those who believe that a curse is hidden deep in the blue of the Hope diamond." Instead, she saw the origin of the misfortune that had befallen her and her family, as “the natural consequence of undeserved wealth in undisciplined hands.” A year after her daughter's suicide, Evalyn also died of pneumonia at the age of 60.
After Evalyn's death, a New York jeweler bought the piece of jewelry and donated it to the Smithsonian Museum in 1958. For years the Washington research facility received letters warning of the curse of the gem. "If the Smithsonian accepts the Hope Diamond," wrote one, "the whole country will suffer."
The Smithsonian scientists have now thoroughly examined the stone. They illuminated it with ultraviolet rays and took samples of material from the surface of the stone. With the help of computer-generated models, they were able to prove for the first time that Tavernier's “Bleu de France” and the Hope diamond are the same stone in different sizes and different types of processing. In their investigations, the researchers only found a few chemical peculiarities. What is unusual is that the Hope glows deep red under ultraviolet light. While this phenomenon is rare, it also occurs with other blue gemstones.
The fate of the postman James Todd is the last known accident attributed to the Hope. The Smithsonian, so the employees say, the Hope brought luck, after all, the famous stone has been drawing visitors to the museum for 55 years. As an exhibit 217 868, the diamond is now in a showcase behind armored glass. Experts estimate its current value at 200 to 250 million dollars, around 150 to 185 million euros - more than five times as much as another blue gemstone of its size. What makes Hope precious is no longer the stone. It's his story.
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