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Hope Diamond’s Red Glow Explained

Last updated: February 15, 2023

by findingDulcinea Staff

The storied Hope Diamond glows red when exposed to ultraviolet light. This once mysterious phenomenon unlocks the unique identity of individual diamonds.

30-Second Summary

One of history’s most celebrated giant gems, the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond has revealed to scientists a way to “fingerprint” naturally blue diamonds.

In the future, gemologists will be able to recognize particular diamonds by the length and the color of the glow they emit under UV light.

The featured attraction of the Smithsonian Institution’s United States Gem Collection, the Hope Diamond has a background rich in legend.

French gem trader Jean-Baptiste Tavernier found the stone in Golkonda, India, in the early 1660s. Supposedly, it was prised from the eye socket of the Hindu goddess Sita. On discovering the theft, the shrine’s priests put a curse on its future owners.

The stone flitted between European royal houses and through the upper-crust of America’s Gilded Age.

In 1958, famed jeweler Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution by mailing it in a brown paper bag.

Gemology Web site says in reference to the legendary curse, “No misfortune appears to have struck the postman, though there are those who will claim that the U.S. mail has been going downhill ever since.”

Headline Links: ‘Hope Diamond’s Red Glow Explained’

The Hope Diamond, arguably the world’s most famous blue diamond, was found to emit a soft red glow for several seconds when placed under ultraviolet light. Scientists have discovered why and found that this phosphorescence is common among colored diamonds. The centerpiece of the Smithsonian Institution’s United States Gem Collection, the 45.52-carat diamond was the subject of research by a team of geologists. Using spectrometers, the scientists discovered that the Hope Diamond shared similar wavelength patterns with other naturally blue diamonds. When exposed to UV light, all blue diamonds glow either red or blue-green.

Source: Discovery Channel

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Background: Other famous jewels

Another stone to originate in India, which like the Hope Diamond has been called “cursed,” is the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. The name means “mountain of light” in Persian, and reputedly it was once worn by Lord Krishna. The first documented mention of it was in the writings of Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, who said that warrior Aladdin won the stone in the conquest of Malwah in A.D. 1304. The Mughal dynasty acquired the diamond in 1526 and it remained with them until 1739, when the Persians laid siege to Delhi. The diamond fell into the hands of the British when the Punjab was annexed. The superstitious among her subjects argued that, because of the supposed curse, Queen Victoria should return the stone to India. It turned out that according to folklore, the diamond brings female owners good luck.

Source: The BBC

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A stone found in South Africa’s Northwest Province and purported to be the world’s biggest was found to be nothing more than a “disgusting lump of resin,” said Brett Jolly, the person who claimed to have found the rock about one month earlier. The world’s biggest certified diamond, the Cullinan, was discovered by massive diamond trading company De Beers. Spokesperson Tom Tweedy said, “The search for diamonds is so romantic. This does illustrate that diamonds hold a mystique with people.”

Source: Mining Weekly Online

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Luxist, a blog covering luxury goods, talks about the exhibit “The Vault” at London’s Natural History Museum, where the apparently cursed “Delhi Purple Sapphire” is on display. Museum curator Peter Tandy ran across the amethyst in museum storage cabinets around 34 years ago. The stone was accompanied by talismanic charms and a panicked note from the previous owner saying that the stone was cursed. The stone apparently was brought to the United Kingdom by Col. W. Ferris after taking it from the Temple of Indra in present-day Kanpur in 1857. Both the soldier and his son had health and financial problems.

Source: Luxist

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Historical Context: Fact and fiction

In the early 1660s, traveling French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier bought an enormous blue diamond, which much later became known as the Hope Diamond. It was most likely mined in the famous gem-trading center of Golkonda, India. Over the course of 200-odd years, the diamond fell into the possession of French King Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” was snatched during the tumult of the French Revolution, entered the English court, then made its way over the Atlantic to America. Henry Phillip Hope, from whom the storied jewel gets its now commonly known name, launched the stone into the gem trade of the Gilded Age. Famed jeweler Harry Winston purchased the entire jewelry estate of “flamboyant” American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, which included the diamond. Winston Inc. donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian on Nov. 10, 1958, where it remains one of the museum’s most popular attractions.

Source: Smithsonian Institution

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Socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean’s memoir, “Father Struck It Rich,” devotes five pages to her experiences regarding the Hope Diamond, and the party games and fantasies she created around it, including the tale that it once belonged to Russian Czarina Catherine the Great.

Source: findingDulcinea’s Bookstore

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According to legend, the diamond was lifted from the eye socket of an idol of the Hindu goddess Sita. Upon noticing that one of the statue’s eyes had gone missing, the priests at the shrine put a curse on the gem. One of the earliest documented owners of the diamond, French King Louis XIV, died at the hands of one of his own courtiers. That king’s great-grandson and great-granddaughter-in-law, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, were killed by guillotine. Jeweler Harry Winston, the last private owner of the jewel, donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958 by sending it in a paper bag in the U.S. mail. The Web site says, “No misfortune appears to have struck the postman, though there are those who will claim that the U.S. mail has been going downhill ever since.”


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As part of its “Treasures of the World” series, PBS has a list of the numerous owners of the Hope Diamond and their (largely unsubstantiated) fates, which supposedly came to pass as a consequence of the gem’s being cursed.

Source: PBS

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In “Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem,” Richard Kurin seeks to discredit the popular myths surrounding the stone.

Source: findingDulcinea’s Bookstore

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Reference Material: The Smithsonian

The Web site of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History features profiles of exhibitions, both those in the museum and exclusively online.

Source: Museum of Natural History

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Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian Institution’s acting undersecretary for history and culture, spent over a decade researching the Hope Diamond. The Library of Congress has a 55-minute-long Web cast of him speaking about the gem.

Source: Library of Congress

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