Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gem & Mineral Collection, highlighted the history of the gemstones and jewelry on display in the nation’s capital during a presentation on Thursday.
The Hope Diamond, on display in the museum’s Harry Winston Gallery, is the most famous diamond in the world and the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s collection. It’s also the most visited item in the entire museum, and first on the list of the thousands of tourists and school students who come to view the gem hall every year.
Post surprised the audience by noting that most of the visitors who view the Hope Diamond are disappointed at first. “Most visitors, if you ask them, think that they are going to see the world’s largest diamond,” he said. “They expect to see a diamond as big as a basketball.” Of course, it’s not the world’s largest diamond, but it is the world’s largest dark blue diamond.
The Hope was said to carry a curse throughout its long history, yet no mention of superstition was recorded until Pierre Cartier sold the diamond to Mrs. Evelyn Walsh McLean. “Pierre Cartier was known to spin a tail or two,” said Post. “And McLean loved to think that things that were bad luck for other people were good luck for her.” McLean added to the Hope’s mystique by noting all of the bad luck that claimed the lives of many close family members.
The Smithsonian’s diamond collection includes another large blue diamond, making the Smithsonian the only place in the world where you can see two very rare blue diamonds. In the hall next to the Harry Winston Gallery, 50 famous and historical gems and pieces of jewelry are exhibited. Next to that are another 600 important gems and minerals. Probably the most amazing fact about the Smithsonian’s collection is that every piece-all of the gems, jewelry, and minerals in the collection-were donated to the museum, said Post.