While we think of diamonds today as a symbol of love, or as the birthstone of April. Diamonds have a mysterious past, steeped in legends, folklore, and even curses. The most famous in the world is the Hope Diamond.
With the discovery of diamonds believed to have been between 800 and 1000 BC in India. The stone became closely associated with the Hindu god Indra. Known as the king of the highest heaven, similar to Zeus in Greek mythology, and ruler of lightning, thunder, and storms. As well as rain and the flow of rivers.
The name given to the diamond in ancient Sanskrit language of India is “Vajra” or Thunderbolt. Due to the gems strength and how the clear stone refracts light to display a rainbow of color.
In one Hindu fairy tale, a foolish demon Bala ascends into heavens with the intent of killing Indra. Yet the warrior god convinces the demon to sacrifice himself. Turning Bala’s body into various jewels, his bones becoming diamonds.
Diamonds in the Ancient World
While ancient Indian cultures believed diamonds were created by lightning bolts striking rocks. It became a Hindu custom to use the jewel as eyes in sculptures of deities. Also, the gem’s invincibility led Hindu Priest to believe the diamond could help cure many illnesses. Yet only if the jewel is purchased on specific days and times.
It is a Hindu tradition of buying a diamond only on Friday. When the planet Venus lies in the sign of Taurus, Libra or Pisces. While the purchase of a jewel should always be before 11 am.
As knowledge of gem spread along the Silk Road other cultures developed their own stories of the diamond. Many adopting fragments of Hindu beliefs.
Throughout history, most cultures held the diamond with great regard. Yet as the jewel made its way into ancient Persian the stone became a source of evil. In Zoroastrian beliefs, God had no need for diamonds or worldly goods. Where the riches of the world were thought to be creations of Satan used to tempt mankind.
While in Hebrew folklore diamonds become tools of the High Priest. Due to their natural crystal shape a Priest trained in “Urim and Thummim” could cast diamonds onto the ark. As if casting dice, then resolve dilemmas by the role of the jewels. in other legends, a Jewish high priest could determine a person’s guilt or innocence by the sparkle of a diamond. If the gem becomes dull or darkens when sitting before a person on trial, this is a sign of guilt. Whereas with innocence the stone shines with increasingly bright sparkle.
Diamonds Come To Europe
Nearly six centuries had passed since the gems discovery, yet diamonds were still unknown in Europe. Taking The Greek ruler Alexander the Great’s conquest of Northern India in 327 BC to bring the jewel to Europe. In one fable recounted by Aristotle, the Valley of Diamonds was under the guard of snakes which no man could look upon without dying. In the tale, Alexander placed mirrors in the valley to kill the snakes when they saw their reflections.
As the precious jewel entered the Greek culture so did many Hindu beliefs on the powers of diamonds. Most noteworthy is the Greek’s belief in the evil eye. Where prominent Greeks came to wear diamond pendants in the hope the sparkling jewel could blind the evil eye.
While Plato wrote of diamonds as living beings that embodied celestial spirits. With the knowledge that jewels often came from ancient craters, the Greek believed diamonds to be splinters of stars which had fallen from the sky.
In Rome diamonds became known as the Tears of Gods, with Royals, and Soldiers of position wearing diamond studded breastplates. Believing these breastplates protected their health as well as deterred their enemies weapons. In the writings of Phiny the Elder, (a Roman philosopher of the first century AD), he states. “The diamond prevails over all poisons and renders them powerless, dispels attacks of wild distraction and drives groundless fears from the mind.”
Through conquest, the Roman Empire grew until reaching its peak in 117 AD. Completely encompassing the Mediterranean Sea while reaching as far northward as Britannia. As a result of these conquests and subsequent rule, Rome introduced the diamond throughout Europe. Yet at the time India remained the only source for the popular jewel.
Diamonds During the Middle Ages
By the fall of Rome in 476 AD Diamonds where wide-spread throughout Europe, as new legends were being born.
Proclaimed by Bishop Isidore of Seville in the early 600’s while speaking of wedding rings. “It was given by the sponsor to the espoused whether for a sign of mutual fidelity of still more to join their hearts to this pledge, and that therefore the ring is placed on the fourth finger because a certain vein is said to flow from thence to the heart.”
Seen as more of a status symbol in the Middle Ages than a mystical jewel, it would take another five centuries before the diamond adorns Royal regalia. First placed on the Queen’s Crown of Hungary in 1074. Even though the knowledge of diamond cutting was yet to be born,
While shaping diamonds in eastern societies had been taboo for centuries, this wasn’t the case in Europe. Still, it would not be until the 1330’s when jewelers made the first simple cuts in Venice. As these cuts began to unlock the gem’s brilliance, demand grew Yet the jewel remained rare at best
In 1512 a rumor spread about the assassination of Sultan Bejazet II, leader of the Ottoman Empire. Stating he had been fed a lethal dose of splintered diamonds by his son. Soon afterward there were rumors of diamond dust causing the deaths of.Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Sir Thomas Overbury. Although these myths were most likely fabrications of the diamond industry in an effort to discourage miners from stealing, by swallowing jewels in the mines.
The Curse of Diamonds
Once again, the Hope Diamond curse is probably most famous in the world.
Reportedly claiming as many as thirty-two victims and four family fortunes. The curse supposedly beginning in 1666. When Jean-Baptiste Tavernier stole the stone from a Hindu Statue. Although there are conflicting accounts, one fable claims Tavernier died from fever soon after returning to France. But not before selling the jewel to the French King, Louis XIV in 1668, after which the jewel became known as the French Blue.
The French Blue remained in the Crown Jewels of France for more than a century. Spanning three Monarchs, where the Blue’s terror would reportedly claim the lives of fifteen Royal children, three Queens, and a mistress. While also receiving credit for the loss of wars, political discord, and assassination attempts.
Eventually leading up to the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As well as the slaughter and mutilation of Marie Antoinette’s confidant Marie-Louise, Princess de Lamballe.
The Blue Diamonds Curse Beyond the French
Stolen during the French Revolution, as Louis XVI and Marie awaited their fate, the French Blue disappears forever. Never seen again in the stone’s original cut. Intriguingly, just two days after the statute of limitations for the crimes of the French Revolution had passed a smaller Blue Diamond appeared. Making its way into the possession of Henry Philip Hope. Where the jewel would become known as the Hope Diamond. Before the family lost their fortune. Unable to pay outstanding debts the family eventually had to sell the gem.
Later it would become apparent the Hope Diamond was actually the French Blue. Recut after the robbery. The legend claims Wilhelm Fals, a Dutch diamond cutter who had recut the stone was murdered by his son who later committed suicide
Socialite and heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean also owned the diamond and would pay a high price. Losing two young children as well as her husband. Yet the curse wasn’t through costing McLean. As the jewel takes the blame for the heiress losing her fortune. Leading her to sell the Washington Post and the diamond itself to pay her debts.
While there are no reports of misfortune for the next owner Harry Winston. After paying $180,000 and owning the diamond for only nine years Winston mailed the diamond to the Smithsonian Museum.
Ironically the story goes that the postman who delivered the package, James Todd, suffered crushed legs and a head wound in two separate accidents. His wife dies of a heart attack, and his dog strangles on his leash. While Todd’s home partially burns in a fire. All within a year of delivering the package.
Another Diamonds Curse the Black Orlov
The Black Orlov also known as the Eye of Brahma dates back to the 19th century. Legend claims a traveling monk took the stone from a statue of Brahma, the Hindu God of creation. While these facts are often disputed, mystery and death still followed the gem.
Eventually, no less than three known suicides would become attributed to the diamond. Even though none of the three had the gem in their possession when they met their fate.
The jewel takes its name from the Russian heir Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov. The first recorded owner of the diamond after the theft. Orlov was a member of the Russian aristocracy who fled the revolution in 1917 to Rome Italy. Selling her jewels to pay expenses.
In 1932 a European diamond dealer named Mr. J.W. Paris imported the Black Orlov to New York in search of a buyer. Shortly after selling the stone in 1932 Paris leaped to his death from a skyscraper on 5th Avenue New York. Becoming the first reported victim of the diamond.
In 1947 a second suicide is attributed to the jewel. When the Russian Princess Leonila Viktorovna-Bariatinsky jumps to her death. While the connection wasn’t seen at first, it soon came apparent Leonila had owned the jewel for a short period after Orlov.
Then only a month later Princess Orlov would fall to her death from a building in central Rome. Listed as a suicide this brought the death toll to three for the precious stone.
In the 1950’s the jewel’s owner, Charles F. Wilson had the Black Orlov recut in an attempt to break the curse. Although the curse had in reality been a reach, the owner claims the modification a success. As the diamond has since passed through the hands of many dealers without tragedy.
Other Cursed Diamonds Through History
The next cursed diamond on my list is the Koh-i-Noor. With a tradition of bloody wars fought to claim ownership of this diamond. There is little doubt why people believe in the cursed. Highlighted by a Hindu text dating to 1306 which describes the curse.
“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all
its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
Today the Koh-i-Noor sits in the Tower of London as part of the British Crown Jewels. Whether the British Royalty believe the curse to be real or not. There has never been any mention of the curse. However, the diamond always passes to the wife of the male heir to the British throne
Yet another diamond said to carry a curse is the Regent Diamond. As mysterious fables of greed and death began with the stone’s discovery. Supposedly the gem was dug up and stolen by a miner in India. Who attempted to bring the jewel to Europe. Yet as he traveled by sea the miner was killed by a greedy Sea Captain. Taking the jewel for himself, and later selling it to an Indian merchant.
Eventually, the uncut gem became the property of Governor Thomas Pitt of the East India Company. Wishing to profit from the purchase Pitt then smuggled the diamond back to England hidden in this son’s shoe. Where a jeweler spent two years cutting the diamond. Once cut Pit would spend another ten years trying to sell his ill-gotten gains. Finally transferring the jewel into the French Crown Jewels in 1717.
French Ownership of the Regent Diamond
- The rule of Louis XV became plagued with war which drained the treasury leading to the government’s collapse in 1780.
- The rule of Louis XVI ended with the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. As well as the slaughter of many French Nobles.
- Napoleon would attempt to rule the world. Yet his reign would end in exile on the island of Saint Helena.
- The rule of Louis XVIII would be interrupted twice with the King being forced into exile. Although Louis XVIII was able to recover the throne both times his reign would be marked by diminished powers and the King dying childless.
- The reign of Charles X lasted only six years with his rule cut short by revolution forcing King Charles to abdicate the throne, living the rest of his life in exile.
- Another in the long line of Regent owners Louis Philippe I saw economic discord, and revolution as his reign would also end in exile.
- The last monarch to hold the French throne would be Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoleon III. Duly elected Napoleon III became the first elected President of the Second Republic of France. Yet as his term expired Napoleon staged a coup d’état seizing the throne. However eventually Napoleon’s reign would also end much like the previous owners of the Regent. With captivity, exile, and death.
Clearly owning the Regent Diamond was not kind to the French Monarchy. Whether any of these cures are true or just fanciful fables remain to be proven. Still, the mysteries and allure of diamonds live on today.