It’s Halloween, when the veil between worlds is the thin, and because I’m a nerd, it’s when I like to think about the creepy histories around some of humanity’s greatest gemstones.
The fabled cursed stones are large and beautiful, making them desirable to those who could afford to buy them or loot them via colonization. These high-profile people made the news when they died, and trends of tragedy in their families were of note.
Who’s to say that a particularly large gemstone that’s constantly around death and destruction couldn’t pick up and store that energy to release later on unsuspecting owners? And who’s to say that curses uttered by the powerless when the powerful steal from them aren’t legitimate? I choose to be agnostic about it, because I know enough about the world to know I know very little and don’t want to upset energies more powerful than myself by implying they don’t exist.
Here are five gemstones with cursed reputations and dark histories — I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much of a role the stones played in their respective owners’ and wearers’ fates.
CONTENT WARNING: Death and suicide.
1. The Hope Diamond
This is an obvious first reference, one that many even outside of the gemology world have likely encountered. The Hope Diamond was originally a 112 3/16 carat diamond with a deep blue-violet color that first emerged in history in the 1600s. Its origin is likely from Golconda, India, where French traveller-merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier procured it (we don’t know if he bought or stole it).
Legend says Tavernier was eventually torn to shreds by wolves, but other reports indicate he lived to 84.
Tavernier eventually sold it to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. Once the king got his paws on it, his royal jeweler cut and reshaped it, honing it down to 67 ⅛ carats. It became known as the “Blue Diamond of the Crown,” or the “French Blue” because of its coloration.
All of the king’s children except one died in childhood, and he died of gangrene.
King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette apparently liked the bauble and had tried to loot the royal jewels on their way out in 1791 (their deaths are also considered part of the curse), but were foiled and the royal jewels went to the government for “safe keeping” but then the huge blue diamond was stolen in 1792.
Later, Dutch jeweler Wilhelm Fals recut it and was subsequently murdered by his son, who then committed suicide. The next guy who sold it, Francis Beaulieu, died in misery.
In 1839, we see it again, belonging to Henry Philip Hope, where it gets its name Hope Diamond. Hope’s only son died, and the diamond went to his great-nephew, who experienced an unhappy marriage and financial ruin.
The next owner, Jacques Colot, had a mental breakdown and committed suicide. After that, Prince Ivan Kanitovsky, the next owner in the chain, was killed by Russian revolutionaries, but not before he murdered his own lover for wearing the diamond. It made its way through Greece, Perisa, and Turkey, leaving a trail of misfortune and at least seven deaths in its wake.
Evalyn Walsh McLean of Washington D.C. bought it from Cartier’s in Paris in 1911. Her son and daughter died, her husband ran off with another woman and spent all their money. After her daughter died, Evalyn sold the family newspaper, The Washington Post, and died soon after.
Now, the Hope Diamond lives at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History, donated by Harry Winston. But even the mailman who delivered it suffered — he crushed his legs in a car crash, sustained a head injury, and his home burned down.
As its owners since 1958, the American people have experienced financial ruin, death, and decay.
2. The Koh-i-Noor Diamond
This 105.6-carat diamond has a wildly bloody past attached to it, which has led some to believe it is cursed. The Koh-i-Noor is currently part of the UK’s Crown Jewels, where it ended up after British colonization in India in the 1800s.
We first encounter the Koh-i-Noor in the Islamic Mughal dynasty in Northern India, where in 1628 it became part of the Mughal ruler’s throne.
Nader Shah invaded Delhi in 1739, and looted so much gold and gems that “it required 700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses to pull it,” according to the Smithsonian Magazine. Nader put the diamond in an armband, and it stayed outside India for another 70 bloody years.
It returned to India in 1813, where it belonged to Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh. He loved the diamond as a symbol of power and prestige, which of course caught the attention of the British colonists, who wanted the Jewel of India for themselves as a symbol of superiority. They got the stone in 1849 after imprisoning 10-year-old boy-king Duleep Singh’s mom and forcing the kid to amend the Treaty of Lahore and sign away the gem and all claim to sovereignty.
The British have claimed it ever since, making it part of the UK’s Crown Jewels. There’s a new book examining the diamond’s history with a focus on including colonization and ownership.
3. The Black Prince’s Ruby
This stone, which forms the centerpiece of the UK’s royal crown, isn’t a ruby at all, but actually the one of the largest uncut red spinels in the world at about 170 carats. People didn’t know there was a difference between rubies and red spinels until the 1800s, and it was assumed that this red stone was a ruby when it first popped up in history in the 1300s.
It is assumed to have been owned by Prince Abu Sa’id of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada then, and was taken from his freshly dead body by Don Pedro the Cruel. Don Pedro killed the prince during a Christian conquest and the centralization of Spain, and he is rumored to have stabbed the prince to death in Seville after inviting him there to discuss surrender.
This betrayal is where the curse allegedly started. Soon after he took the stone, Pedro the Cruel had to join forces with Prince Edward III, known as the Black Prince, because Pedro’s half-brother was contesting his right to rule.
The Black Prince came through and won the battle, but demanded the spinel as payment. He brought it back to England in 1367, but allegedly contracted the disease that would eventually kill him around this same time. King Richard III was supposed to have been wearing the stone when he died in battle.
It survived the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, where it adorned the head of King Henry V and suffered a battleaxe wound. The stone stayed in England and survived more calamity, including fire and Hitler’s bombers in World War II.
4. The Sancy Diamond
A natural yellow diamond that weighs in at 55.23 carats, this pear-shaped gemstone has rumors of curses as well as invincibility, depending on how the wearer or owner came into its possession.
It, like many of the stones on this list, likely originated in India, and was also once owned by the Mughal Empire. It gets its name from Nicolas de Harlay, the Seigneur de Sancy, who bought it in Constantinople in 1570.
King Henry III asked to borrow it to put it on a hat, which he’d taken to wearing to cover his baldness. King Henry IV also asked to borrow it, this time to fund his army. Henry IV then asked one of his most-trusted men to deliver it as collateral for more soldiers, but the guy never made it.
People thought the messenger ran off with the huge stone, but eventually they found his body, but no diamond. They did end up finding it during the autopsy, though, in the soldier’s stomach, where he’d apparently stashed it during a fight. At this point, de Harlay decided to sell the stone to King James I of Scotland in 1605.
It is connected to the death of King Charles (beheaded) and the financial ruin of King James II, who had to sell it while languishing in France after losing the Battle of Boyne. It stayed in France until 1792 when it was stolen from the treasury (along with the Hope Diamond) and didn’t resurface until 1828, when a Russian prince bought it. When he died, an Indian prince bought it, but after that the trail goes cold until showed up again at the Paris Exposition in 1867.
Forty years later, William Waldorf Astor bought it as a wedding present for his son’s bride. It stayed in the Astor family until 1978, when the Louvre purchased it, where it can be seen today.
5. Black Orlov
The Black Orlov is a huge black diamond, weighing in at 67.5 carats (originally 195 carats when uncut). It is also called the Eye of Brahma Diamond, because of the origin story that it was stolen from a statue of the Hindu god Brahma, where it sat as one of the god’s eyes in a shrine in a city in Southern India.
That theft, allegedly committed by a Jesuit monk, is the start of the curse. We see the diamond pop up in 1932 in America when diamond merchant J.W. Paris tried to find a buyer. Within a week of arriving, he’d sold the diamond and then leapt to his death from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper.
But one death doesn’t a curse make. Previous to Paris’ death, the stone was owned by Russian royalty, including its namesake, Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov. After escaping revolutionaries, she moved to Rome, where she would eventually throw herself off the top of a Roman building. Just a month before, Princess Leonila Viktorovna-Bariatinsky, also a previous owner of the stone, had also jumped to her death in an apparent suicide.
In the 1950s, the stone was recut over the course of two years in an attempt to rid it of its demons. It now sits in a 108-carat brooch, on a 124-diamond necklace. One of the last people to wear it in public? Felicity Huffman, at the 2006 Oscars.