Hope and Blues; Supposed Curse Still Lures Millions to See Diamond

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephanie Mansfield, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 1910, when famed jeweler Pierre Cartier told 24-year-old Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean that the Hope Diamond was "cursed," the first thing she thought was, "Oh, goody."

So in January 1911, she and her husband, Ned, paid $154,000 for the 45-carat walnut-size diamond. She took it to a priest to have it blessed and then treated the deep-blue gem as a party favor, tossing it into the swimming pool and letting guests dive for it. She let her Great Danes wear it.

What about the supposed supernatural curse that brought bad luck to anyone who touched it?

"It was a marketing ploy to entice her. She liked the notoriety of it," says Richard Kurin, author of a new book on the most infamous bling in the world. (Just for reference, most engagement rings are 1 carat or less.)

As director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Mr. Kurin spent 13 years tracking down the history of the Hope Diamond, traveling to Russia, Germany, Switzerland, England and France on a "cultural archaeological" dig to uncover the secrets of the diamond. "Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem" is a page turner, much in the league with "The Da Vinci Code."

"Except this is real," says Mr. Kurin, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology. The "Da Vinci Code" was a fun read, but this is all true.

The diamond was discovered in 17th-century India and supposedly carried a legendary ancient curse. It made its appearance in France during the Revolution (worn by Marie Antoinette) and in England during the reign of King George IV.

It finally arrived in America during the Gilded Age, then into the hands of "Diamond King" Harry Winston who finally, in 1958, donated it to the Smithsonian. It's the most visited object in the world, attracting about 5 million visitors a year.

"People have heard of the curse. They know it's famous. It's like a celebrity thing," Mr. Kurin says.

Mrs. McLean, daughter of a gold miner who struck it rich, was a celebrated hostess and spoiled wife of the former owner of The Washington Post. She and her husband drank heavily and socialized with Alice Roosevelt and those in Bar Harbor and Newport, including Doris Duke's mother, Nanaline. …