Curse of the Diamond of Death; Torn from the Brow of a Temple God and Cut into the World's Most Valuable Gem, the Hope Diamond Bewitched Kings and Was at the Heart of the French Revolution. but It Also Brought Tragedy and Terrible Death to Those Who Owned It .

By de Courcy, Anne | Daily Mail (London), December 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Curse of the Diamond of Death; Torn from the Brow of a Temple God and Cut into the World's Most Valuable Gem, the Hope Diamond Bewitched Kings and Was at the Heart of the French Revolution. but It Also Brought Tragedy and Terrible Death to Those Who Owned It .


de Courcy, Anne, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: ANNE DE COURCY

MADEMOISELLE Lade, the star of Paris's famed Folies Bergeres, arranged herself decoratively on the chaise longue at the centre of the stage. A spotlight picked out the gleaming blue stone, hung from a flashing diamond necklace, that rested upon her impressive decolletage.

No one watched her more intently from the shadows of his private box than her lover, the Russian Prince Ivan Kanitovski, who had lent her the spectacular necklace.

Suddenly a gunshot rang out from the red velvet shadows of the Prince's box, and Mlle Lade slumped dying on the stage. In the confusion, the Prince slipped out.

Though jealousy was suspected, his exact motive is unknown, for within two days the Prince himself was dead - stabbed by terrorists as he walked in a Paris street. The 20th century had barely begun and already the Hope Diamond had claimed two more victims.

This fabulous stone, according to a new book, Diamonds, The History Of A Cold-Blooded Love Affair, is just one of many gems that have been linked with love, romance, jealousy and crimes of passion through the ages.

Diamonds are the most popular gemstones on Earth (in America alone, 85 per cent of women own one or more pieces of diamond jewellery), but none exemplifies their inspiring beauty more than the huge, deep-blue stone that became known as the Hope Diamond.

Believed to come from the Kollur mine near Golconda in India, it was first seen by a European when, in the 1660s, the French explorer Tavernier noticed it gleaming on the forehead of a temple idol. It was then a stone of 112 carats, about the size of a golf ball, and roughly three times its present size.

Prising it from the brow of the temple god, he brought it back to France, where he sold it to Louis XIV in 1669 as part of a diamond collection for which the king paid a small fortune - the equivalent of [pound]71 million.

No jewel could have been more calculated to appeal to Louis. Not for nothing was he known as the Sun King, a monarch for whom magnificence and display enhanced the image of absolute power that he sought to project.

He blazed incandescently - thanks to the diamonds with which he bedecked himself.

Some of his clothes were sewn head to foot with these stones, from trembling sprays of gems in his hat and diamond-buttoned waistcoat to diamond-studded shoe buckles. On state occasions he wore what would today be tens of millions of pounds' worth of diamonds.

FOUR years after he bought the exquisite blue diamond, Louis had it recut for the sake of brilliance - faceting and cutting are what give a diamond its unique glitter.

It was now a heart shape weighing 67 carats - diamonds often lose more than half their weight in cutting - which he wore on a ribbon round his neck.

Its beauty was such that its fame spread throughout Europe, where it became known simply as the French Blue.

Its maleficence began slowly. When Louis XIV lent it to his mistress, Madame de Montespan, she was immediately supplanted by her rival, Madame de Maintenon (her children's governess and later Louis' wife).

Then, one by one, those close to Louis XIV died - his son, his brother, his grandson and his grandson's wife, the one person he adored.

When his great-grandson Louis XV succeeded him in September 1715, he inherited the crown jewels, and one of his first acts was to have the French Blue mounted on the insignia of the Golden Fleece order of chivalry, which he wore frequently.

So did his ill-fated grandson Louis XVI when he succeeded to the throne in 1774. He also lent it to his queen, Marie Antoinette.

Their gilded life was soon to end in a welter of blood and violence.

Neither was aware of the stirrings of unrest. The king showed such scant regard for affairs of state that the day the Bastille - the prison that symbolised the repressiveness of the regime - fell, on July 14, 1789, his diary entry was: 'Nothing. …

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