The Dynamic Earth View Multimedia Version

Main Menu >  Gems and Minerals >  The Hope Diamond >  A Billion Year History
TITLE: A Billion Year History

Atomic structure of diamonds

Diamonds are made of carbon. The strong bonds between the carbon atoms make diamonds the hardest-known material.

Cross-section of earth from surface to zone where diamonds form
More Than 1.1 Billion Years Ago
The Hope Diamond grew deep within the Earth at high temperatures and pressures, then survived a perilous journey to the surface. No one knows its exact age, but scientists have dated the rocks in which Indian diamonds are found at about 1.1 billion years old. The following events describe the typical formation sequence for diamonds in the part of India where the Hope probably surfaced.

1.1 Billion Years Ago
After being deep underground for millions—perhaps even billions—of years, the diamond was carried to the Earth's surface by a volcanic eruption in perhaps just a few hours! During this wild ride, the diamond was in great danger. It could have shattered during the upward passage and explosive eruption. Or, if the journey had been too slow, it could have changed to graphite—the soft ingredient in pencils.

Race to the Surface
Partially melted rock (or magma), rich in water and carbon dioxide, rocketed toward the Earth's surface at speeds of up to 70 km (43 mi) per hour, carrying the diamond.

As the magma rose, gases escaped—causing the magma to froth like soda in a quickly opened bottle.

As it reached the surface, the magma erupted explosively. Fragments solidified into a rock called kimberlite, in which the diamond was embedded.

Wind and rain gradually eroded the kimberlite and freed the diamond, which was later found in the resulting gravel deposits.

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and his approximately 115 carat diamond from the Golconda region

Early 1600s

Discovery in India
No one knows exactly when and where the diamond was discovered, but it was sometime prior to 1668 and most likely in the Golconda area of India. World-famous for its diamond mines, the region was the only major source of diamonds until other deposits were discovered in Brazil in 1725.

From India
Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveler and gem merchant, sold a blue diamond weighing 112 3/16 carats (more than twice the size of the current gem) to King Louis XIV of France. The diamond had come from India, the only significant source of diamonds at that time.

King Louis XIV of France (the Sun King, Versailles, and his approximately 69 carat blue diamond


Lost in the French Revolution
In 1673 Louis XIV had the gem recut, reducing it to 67 1/8 carats. It was set as a pendant and became part of the crown jewels. In 1749 Louis XIV's successor, Louis XV, had the diamond reset in a piece of ceremonial jewelry called the Emblem of the Golden Fleece.

In 1792 the blue diamond was stolen during week-long looting associated with the French Revolution, which erupted during the reign of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. The diamond's whereabouts remained uncertain for 20 years.

Henry Philip Hope, London, and Francillon's 45.54 carat diamond in 1812


Resurfacing in England
In 1812 a large blue diamond—almost certainly the one stolen from the French crown jewels—turned up in London. It had been reduced in size by more than 20 carats. Sometime between 1812 and 1824, the diamond was apparently sold to England's King George IV.

In 1830 George IV died, and Henry Philip Hope, a London banker and gem collector, bought the diamond sometime in the 1830s. From then on, the diamond bore the Hope name. It remained in the Hope family until 1901, then passed back and forth between diamond merchants and collectors in London, New York, and Paris.

Evalyn Walsh McLean, Washington DC, and the 45.52 carat Hope Diamond


To the United States
In 1912 Evalyn Walsh McLean of Washington, D.C., bought the Hope Diamond from Pierre Cartier of Paris, who designed its current setting to please her. It is rumored that her great dane Mike once modeled it. She often kept it in her favorite hiding place: beneath the sofa cushions.

In 1949 Harry Winston of New York City one of the most prominent jewelers of his time bought the Hope Diamond from Mrs. McLean's estate. It became the central attraction in his fabulous Court of Jewels collection, which toured the world to raise money for charity.

Around the time Mrs. McLean acquired the Hope Diamond, tales of a curse arose. The diamond was rumored to bring its owners ill luck—even death. Although there is no truth to the legend, it increased fascination with the gem, perhaps even adding to its value. Mrs. McLean herself enjoyed the stories.

Harry Winston, Washington DC, and the Hope Diamond


Donation to the Smithsonian
In 1958 Harry Winston presented the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. As part of the Smithsonian's collection, it now belongs to the people of the United States of America.

"It was my objective, ever since obtaining the diamond, to give it to the Government as the start for a great jewel collection."

— Harry Winston

Bottom Navigation Bar


Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Department of Mineral Sciences website Credits