The Hope Diamond might be the most famous gemstone on Earth. For the first time in nearly a century, it's getting a makeover — and you get to choose the new setting.
Most of the 7 million or so people trooping through the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., are there to see the diamond. The gem is the largest blue diamond in the world. Throw in a long history that involves kings, queens, thefts, perhaps even a curse or two, and you've got the makings of literal rock stardom.
And you can't expect a celebrity to wear the same thing every day.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the diamond's arrival at the Smithsonian Institution, officials have commissioned three new designs for the 45-carat gem's next setting. The public will pick its favorite, and the diamond will go on display in the winning setting next year.
But those who like the gemstone the way it is shouldn't worry, says Jeffrey Post, curator in chief of the National Gem and Mineral Collection. After about six months or so, "it'll go back into the historic setting, and it'll be seen as it's always been seen."
The Hope Diamond has a long and colorful history. It is not, as museumgoers sometimes assume, the largest diamond in the world. But it is the largest blue diamond — a fabulously rare color that results from trace amounts of boron in the stone.
Post says the diamond was most likely discovered in India in the 17th century. It was originally a much larger stone, known as the French Blue, that at one time belonged to King Louis XIV of France. The French Blue, along with the rest of France's crown jewels, disappeared in the Revolution, only to turn up 20 years later in London, in a cut-down form now known as the Hope Diamond.
Named for the Hope family who owned it for most of the 19th century, the Hope Diamond is fabled to be cursed. Several of its owners met unfortunate ends, most notably Louis XVI, who, contrary to rumor, was not wearing it when he went to the guillotine in 1793.
But Post says the tales of misery and mayhem just aren't true. "It seems that the whole story of the curse developed about the time that Pierre Cartier was trying to get Evalyn Walsh McLean interested in buying the diamond."
McLean was a Washington, D.C., socialite who eventually bought the Hope Diamond from Cartier in 1912. "She was known to be interested in diamonds or other pieces of jewelry that had stories, that had histories associated with them," Post says. "So it's pretty clear that Pierre Cartier, if he didn't completely make up the story, certainly embellished the story to get her interested."
Sadly, McLean's later life provided fodder for rumors of a curse. Her husband left her and eventually died in an asylum, and two of her children died young. After her death in 1947, jeweler Harry Winston bought the Hope Diamond along with all her other jewelry. Perhaps he had the curse in mind when he decided to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958.
But the Hope Diamond has brought nothing but good fortune to the Smithsonian, says Post. "This just completely changed the scale and the scope of our collection, and really put the Smithsonian on the map as a place to see great gems.
"Harry Winston was fond of saying, we don't have a king and queen, but we should have our crown jewels."
You can see the settings and vote for your favorite at The Smithsonian Channel Web site.