Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

Diamonds and Bling, They’re Totally My Thing

I cannot adequately express how much I love the Gems & Minerals section of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I’ve been fascinated with it since I first saw in on an elementary school field trip.  My inner princess still squeals with delight as we approach the room with the Hope Diamond. Every time, without fail.

The Hope Diamond is one of the most infamous pieces of jewelry in history. Its ownership has been documented 400 years back. What makes the gem so special? Well, it is a startling blue color, which is rare among diamonds. Officially, the color is called “fancy deep grayish blue.”

Also, it is big. The diamond weighs over 45 carats, and it was cut from an even larger stone, believed to have been 112 carats in weight.

Its history is impressive as well, from its origins in India to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down from 112 to 69 carats. It was later stolen and resurfaced in Britain after an absence of 20 years, but it had again been cut down to the current 45 carat size. In England, it became the property of King George IV, then was sold many times until it ended up in the hands of Pierre Cartier. Cartier sold it to a Washington socialite, who enjoyed it for over thirty years. Upon her death, it was sold to Harry Winston, another famous jeweler. Winston was persuaded to donate the diamond to the Smithsonian and in 1958, he mailed it to them – in a brown paper envelope!

Even more intriguing than the list of its rich and powerful owners is the legend that the diamond may be cursed. According to the legend, two former owners of the diamond committed suicide and countless others met with a gruesome death, such as being torn apart by wild dogs, hanged by a mob, and being thrown off a cliff. Many others’ lives ended in ruin and disgrace.

There are plenty of other dazzling pieces of jewelry in the Smithsonian’s collection besides the Hope Diamond. Take, for instance, the Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace:

Cullinan Blue Diamond Necklace

This light blue diamond (although it appears clear in my photo –  sorry) was presented by Thomas Cullinan, then chairman of the Premier Mine in South Africa, to his wife Annie, around 1910. The gift was to commemorate the largest rough diamond ever mined – the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905. Nine major pieces were cut from the original Cullinan rough; the two largest stones are in the British Crown Jewels, and the other seven stones are in the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

The necklace is set with 243 round colorless diamonds and nine blue diamonds. It is believed that the nine blue diamonds represented the nine pieces that were cut from the original Cullinan rough. The blue diamonds highlight the bow and pendant section and have a total weight of 5.57 carats. The Cullinan Blue Diamond is the largest blue diamond in the necklace, a 2.6 carat oval brilliant that is the centerpiece of the pendant.

Then there’s the Hall Sapphire Necklace:

Smithsonian Jewels 5

It was designed by Harry Winston, Inc. and features 36 sapphires from Sri Lanka, totaling 195 carats, set in platinum. There are also 435 pear-shaped and round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 83.75 carats.

Next, we have the Hooker Emerald:

Hooker Emerald.jpg

This 75 carat Colombian emerald was once the property of Abdul Hamid II, a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who according to legend, wore it in his belt buckle. Tiffany & Co. purchased the emerald at auction in 1911 and initially set it into a tiara. In 1950, it was mounted in its current brooch setting and was featured on the first page of the Tiffany Christmas catalog. In its platinum setting, the Hooker Emerald is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette cut diamonds, totaling approximately 13 carats.

The Marie Louise Diadem has always been one of my favorites:

Marie Louise Diadem.jpg

Napoleon gave the Diadem to his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the diadem, commissioned in 1810, was set with emeralds, which were replaced in the mid-1950s with turquoise. (Why?!?!?)  The diadem has an elaborate design and contains 79 Persian turquoise stones (totaling 540 carats) and 1,006 old mine cut diamonds (totaling 700 carats) set in silver and gold.

Point of trivia:  A crown encircles the head in a complete circle and can be worn by men and women; a diadem is not a complete circle (usually ¾ way around), it has an opening in the back and can also be worn by men and women; a tiara (semi-circular high crown) is a smaller headpiece worn at the front of the head, by women only.

Another item on display that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise is the Napoleon Diamond Necklace. It’s stunning.

Napoleon Diamond Necklace.jpg

Like the diadem above, it was a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, on the occasion of the birth of their son, Napoleon II in 1811. It has 234 diamonds.

So, if you also like shiny things that sparkle, check out the gem & mineral collection at the Smithsonian. In addition to these fantastic pieces of jewelry, you can also see a fascinating and very thorough collection of minerals in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560.  Telephone 202-633-1000. Admission is free. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas, from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

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