...questions of provenance
During the upheaval following the French revolution, all the crown jewels of France were stolen.
painting of scene from French revolution
According to Smithsonian Curator Jeffrey Post: "In September of 1792, night after night for about a week, the royal treasury was looted. It's almost comical when you read about it – groups of thieves coming in through windows of the upper floors and pulling out all of these items and taking off with them. And it wasn't until a week later that the theft was discovered..."

The blue diamond known as the French Blue disappeared without a trace. Although no one knows for certain, all evidence points to the likelihood that the French insignia of the Royal Order of the Golden Fleece was immediately smuggled out of France, taken to London and disassembled. There the French Blue was probably re-cut to disguise its pedigree. And it is at this point in history, that the most intriguing, truly unsolved mystery of the Hope Diamond begins.

In 1812, a large blue diamond showed up in London without a trace of documentation, or what art historians call "provenance," to explain its origin.
page from Francillon's memorandum
"There's a memorandum written by a fellow named John Françillon in London," says Post, "in which a blue diamond – an extraordinary blue diamond – weighing over forty-five carats is attributed to the collection of a fellow named Daniel Eliason. However, the full significance of that memo was not fully realized until it was discovered that an amnesty law had been passed by the French government in 1804, forgiving any crimes committed during wartime after a period of twenty years. So if you look at the dates of the theft of the French Blue diamond – approximately September 11th to 17th, 1792 – and the date of the Françillon memo, which is September 19th, 1812, you realize that you're talking about a span of twenty years and two days. And it certainly seems more than coincidental that the memo would have been written after exactly this twenty-year period of time.

A blue diamond is extremely rare, much less a large blue diamond. Most commonly we think of diamonds as colorless. Well, in fact, only about one out of every 100,000 diamonds may be sufficiently colored to be called 'colored' diamonds. And of all the colors of diamonds, blue and pink are probably the two most unusual. Throughout history there have been maybe two or three other such large blue diamonds that people would have been aware of in 1812. So a lot of people at the time suspected that this large blue diamond had been cut from the French Blue."

Not only does the size of the diamond lend credibility to this theory, but also the remarkable color of the stone, once described by Tavernier as "of a faire violet," rather than simply "blue." In addition, the depth, thickness and faceting of the stone that had once been set in the French insignia of the Royal Order of the Golden Fleece (taken from impressions of the setting) and the stone described in Françillon's memo correspond almost exactly.

George IV of England
There has been much speculation as to what may have happened to the diamond after 1812. The most compelling evidence did not come to light until a century later, when a portrait of King George IV of England, painted in 1822, was seen by a gemologist who pointed out what suddenly seemed very obvious: that the stone mounted in King George's insignia of the Royal Order is almost exactly the same size, asymmetric shape and intense dark blue color as the stone we now know as the Hope Diamond.

Post continues: "Probably the best guess right now, at least in my opinion, is that the stone we know as the Hope Diamond was purchased by King George IV. He certainly was interested in gems, certainly lived the lifestyle that would be consistent with wanting the biggest and best gemstones and diamonds that would have been available at that time. It also fits with the fact that there doesn't seem to be documentation of a sale. If it were purchased by King George, a sale could have been handled quietly."
page from Lord Hope's gem catalogue

In 1839, a fourty-five plus carat blue diamond appeared in a catalogue of the fairly sizable private gem collection of Henry Phillip Hope, a wealthy and prominent London banker. Though Hope makes no reference in this catalogue as to when or how he acquired the diamond, which he called "the Hope Diamond," he was known to have connections to the royal court and would have been in a position to make a discrete purchase from King George's estate.

Following is the detailed description of the Hope Diamond printed in the catalogue of Henry Philip Hope in 1839:

No. 1* A most magnificent and rare brilliant, of a deep sapphire blue, of the greatest purity, and most beautifully cut; it is of true proportions, not too thick, nor too spread. This matchless gem combines the beautiful colour of the sapphire with the prismatic fire and brilliancy of the diamond, and, on account of its extraordinary colour, size, and other fine qualities, it certainly may be called unique; as we may presume there exists no cabinet, nor any of jewels in the world, which can boast of the possession of so curious and fine a gem as the one we are now describing; and we expect to be borne out in our opinion by our readers, since there are extant historical records and treatises on the precious gems, which give us descriptions of all the extraordinary diamonds in the possession of all the crowned heads of Europe, as well as of the princes of Eastern countries. In vain do we search for any record of a gem which can, in point of curiosity, beauty, and perfection, be compared with this blue brilliant.

Diamonds are found of almost every colour, which is proved by the great variety of coloured diamonds in this collection; but the blue colour is the most rare and most valuable, since there has very seldom been found a diamond of any size of a fine deep sapphire blue, those which are termed blue diamonds being generally of a very light or of a steel-blue colour; it would, therefore, be a difficult task to form a just estimate of the value of this unrivaled gem; there being no precedent, the value cannot be established by comparison. The price which was once asked for this diamond was 30,000£, but we must confess, for the above-stated reasons, that it might have been estimated even at a higher sum. To convey to the reader by a description a just conception of the beauty and splendour of this unique production of nature would be a vain attempt.

This beautiful gem is most tastefully mounted as a medallion, with a border en arabesque of small rose diamonds, surrounded by 20 brilliants of equal size, shape, and cutting, and of the finest water, and averaging four grains, each. Its weight is 177 grains.

This gem, particularly on account of its mounting, could not be placed in the drawer with the diamonds, but is kept in Drawer 16, together with the other extraordinary specimens of this collection. - Vide plate 5.


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