Cursed Gems


There’s a certain fascination for “cursed” gemstones.  Let’s take a look at some of the more colorful stories behind certain precious stones.

The Dehli Purple Sapphire

Not a particularly expensive or rare stone, it is certainly infamous for its exceptional bad luck.  This is the story of the Dehli Purple Sapphire.

About 35 years ago, Peter Tandy, a curator at the Museum of Natural History, found the stone in the mineral cabinets.  It was set in a silver ring decorated with astrological symbols and mystical words and two scarab-carved gems attached.  A note written by the gems last owner, said that it carried a curse.  He was so disturbed by the stone that he surrounded it with protective charms and sealed it in seven boxes before leaving it to the museum.  The legend goes that the purple stone was brought to the United Kingdom by a Bengal cavalryman Colonel W Ferris after being looted from the Temple of Indra in Cawnpore, now Kanpur in 1857.  The soldier lost his money and health and the same happened to his son when he inherited it.  A family friend who owned it for a while committed suicide. Heron-Allen got the stone in 1890 and suffered misfortunes, he gave the stone away twice and it caused misfortune both times including causing a singer to lose her voice.  He was even said to have thrown it in a canal only to have it come back to him later through a dealer who bought it from a dredger. In 1904 he had enough and shipped it to his bankers saying it was to be locked away until after his death.

The Koh-i-noor Diamond

The Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) is a 109 carat diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world.  Some say that the Koh-i-noor was originally found more than 5000 years ago, and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings. 

It is believed that the Kohinoor carries with it a curse and only when in the possession of a woman will the curse not work.  All the men who owned it have either lost their throne or had other misfortunes befall them.  The British are wary of this curse and so far, only Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth have adorned the gem as sovereigns.  Since Queen Victoria the diamond has always gone to the wife of the male heir to the throne.

The Black Orlov

A “cursed” black diamond, which has seen three former owners commit suicide, has come to the UK for the first time.  The Black Orlov, also known as The Eye of Brahma, was said to have been removed from a Hindu idol in India.  This sacrilege which is something that could have been taken from an Indiana Jones movie, allegedly led future owners of the stone to suffer violent deaths.  The 67.5 carat gem went on display at the Natural History Museum’s Diamonds exhibition.  In 1947, Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov and Princess Leonila Galitsine-Bariatinsky  both said to be former owners of the Black Orlov leapt to their deaths in apparent suicides.

15 years earlier, JW Paris, the diamond dealer who imported the stone to the USA, had jumped to his death from one of New York’s tallest buildings shortly after concluding the sale of the jewel.  In an attempt to break the curse, the diamond was re-cut into three separate gems and has since been owned by a succession of private owners, all of whom seem to have escaped the curse.

The Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond has intrigued people for centuries.  Its history dates back to 1642.  It is a diamond noted for its remarkable color, size, clarity, beauty, and history.  The Hope Diamond is a very brilliant deep blue faceted ovoid diamond that measures 25.60 mm by 21.78 mm by 12.00 millimeters and weights 45.52 carats.  The diamond is set in a pendent in which it is encircled by sixteen white diamonds.  The Hope’s color is a combination of blue, caused by boron, and gray.

Three or four kings owned it.  It disappeared from the public eye for twenty years before surfacing in an altered form, then returned to obscurity for twenty-seven more years.  Its alteration is said to have produced other magnificent stones that may or may not exist today.  It is most famous for bringing great misfortune upon whoever owns or wears it.  According to legend, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded during the French Revolution because of the blue diamond’s curse. 

The history of the stone began when the French merchant traveller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, purchased a 112 carat diamond.  Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France in 1668 with 14 other large diamonds and several smaller ones.  In 1673 the stone was recut by Sieur Pitau, the court jeweler, resulting in a 67 carat stone.  King Louis XV, in 1749, had the stone reset by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin, in a piece of ceremonial jewelry for the Order of the Golden Fleece In 1791, after an attempt by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee France, the jewels of the French Royal Treasury were turned over to the government. During a week-long looting of the crown jewels in September of 1792, the French Blue diamond was stolen.

The first reference to the diamond’s next owner is found in the 1839 entry of the gem collection catalog of the well-known Henry Philip Hope, the man from whom the diamond takes its name. Unfortunately, the catalog does not reveal where or from whom Hope acquired the diamond or how much he paid for it.  Following the death of Henry Philip Hope in 1839, and after much litigation, the Hope diamond passed to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope and ultimately to the nephew’s grandson Lord Francis Hope.  In 1901 Lord Francis Hope obtained permission from the Court of Chancery and his sisters to sell the stone to help pay off his debts.  It was sold to a London dealer who quickly sold it to Joseph Frankels and Sons of New York City, who retained the stone in New York until they, in turn, needed cash.  The diamond was next sold to Selim Habib who put it up for auction in Paris in 1909.  It did not sell at the auction but was sold soon after to C.H. Rosenau and then resold to Pierre Cartier that same year.

In 1910 the Hope diamond was shown to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, of Washington D.C., at Cartier’s in Paris, but she did not like the setting. Cartier had the diamond reset and took it to the U.S. where he left it with Mrs. McLean for a weekend. This strategy was successful. The sale was made in 1911 with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds. Sometime later it became the pendant on a diamond necklace as we know it today. Mrs. McLean’s flamboyant ownership of the stone lasted until her death in 1947.

Harry Winston Inc. of New York City purchased Mrs. McLean’s jewelry collection including the Hope diamond, from her estate in 1949.  For the next 10 years the Hope diamond was shown at many exhibits and charitable events world wide by Harry Winston Inc., including as the central attraction of their Court of Jewels exhibition.  On November 10, 1958, they donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost immediately the great blue stone became its premier attraction.

Incidentally, the nine of diamonds is considered unlucky and has been known as the “Curse of Scotland” for many years.