Cover The 67.5-carat diamond Black Orlov, believed to be responsible for the death of two Russian princesses and a New York diamond dealer, forms part of an exhibition of Diamonds at London's Natural History Museum. (Photo: Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

As we celebrate Halloween, Tatler unravels the myths and legends of the spookiest jewellery known to mankind

Jewellery has the power to hold on to memories, emotions and intentions. Which is why they are often heirlooms, to pass history down from one generation to the next. Sometimes, along with the history comes luck—both good or bad.

Here are some real-life jewels with a notorious reputation.

In case you missed it: Why Is the Kohinoor Diamond, Inherited by Queen Consort Camilla, So Controversial?

The Black Prince's Ruby

Dubbed “The great imposter” this 170-carat red jewel was in fact not a ruby at all, but a cabochon spinel said to be mined in Afghanistan. It was reportedly first mentioned in the 14th century by Don Pedro the Cruel of Spain, whose lust for the gem resulted in his murder of Abu Sai'd, the Moorish Prince of Granada who owned the spinel. Don Pedro took off with his precious rock, and thus the curse began.

After that episode, the gem proved to be fatal for all those who possess it: Edward of Woodstock, “The Black Prince” who demanded the gem from Don Pedro as the price for an alliance forged between the two men, suffered poor health and died before his father, King Edward III of England. Had he lived he might have been King Edward IV, but his death made way for his younger brother to reign as King Richard II instead.

The stone was owned by the line of British royalty including King Charles I who was beheaded on account of treason in the year 1649.

It then passed on to King Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, who famously reigned over the Elizabethan Golden Age but whose death also marked the end of the Tudor line. However, despite its notorious past, it continues to adorn the imperial state crown of the royal family in UK.

 

The Hope Diamond

Currently displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in the US, this 45.52-carat Hope Diamond is said to be one of the unluckiest diamonds in the world.

The Hope Diamond was first mined in India in the 17th century and was prized for its distinctly natural blue colour. It was said to be approximately 112 carats at the time of mining and was peddled to France’s King Louis XIV at his Versailles palace in 1668, who ordered it to be cut it into a symmetrical 67 carat stone. It was then passed down the royal family until it reached King Louis XVI, whose execution during the French Revolution ended the monarchy in the country, and the crown jewels were later stolen.

The infamous French blue diamond was almost forgotten and thought lost until a large 45 carat blue stone surfaced in London almost two decades later, matching the documents and designs drawn by French courtiers of the Hope Diamond. The diamond passed through several hands before landing in the hands of Dutch banker Henry Philip Hope. The Hope family was a member of England's nobility who lost their fortune after acquiring the bauble. The diamond was owned by several people before being sold to a famous New York jeweller, Joseph Frankl Sons & Company, who took an uncalculated risk with its purchase and saw the markets for diamond resale decline sharply afterward. As per the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Simon Frankl's company faced a financial crisis in 1907.

How the stone came to be Pierre Cartier’s is unknown but in 1910 he sold it to Evalyn Walsh McLean, an American mining heiress. In her memoir, Father Struck It Rich, she says: “Do I believe a lot of silly superstitions, legends of the diamond? I must confess I know better and yet, knowing better, I believe,” she said. “Let me say that I have come to feel—not think—that I have developed a sort of immunity to its evil.”

Indeed, her husband Edward Beale McLean reportedly went insane, her son died in an accident and her daughter committed suicide. Yet Walsh continued to wear her Hope diamond, and passed it on to her descendants.

The jewel was finally acquired by the Smithsonian, where it was displayed, but never again owned by an individual.

See also: Victor Gastou on Inheriting His Gallerist Father’s Love of Rings and the Future of Men’s High Jewellery

The Delhi Purple Sapphire

According to a 2007 report in India’s Economic Times, what came to be known as the Delhi Purple Sapphire “was brought to the UK by a Bengal cavalryman Colonel W Ferris after being looted from the Temple of Indra in Kanpur during the Indian Mutiny in 1857”. Little did the colonel know that the sapphire was actually an amethyst; or what fate had in store for him.

Ferris’ misfortunes started with his failing finances, which was followed by a series of illnesses that swept through his family and causing him to as questions about the gem’s role in the sad turn of events.

The most noteworthy owner of the jewel was Edward Heron-Allen, a well-known polymath, palmist and scientist who bought the stone from Ferris’ descendants and upon his death in 1943 left a letter of ominous warning about the Purple Sapphire. It read:  “I feel that it is exerting a baleful influence over my new-born daughter… My advice to him or her [who owns the jewel] is to cast it into the sea.”

Heron-Allen’s daughter paid heed to her father’s superstitions  and donated it to London’s Natural History Museum’s Vault Collection. According to the mineral curators at museum, many of the stories behind the stone were spun by Heron-Allen himself, “to give credence to a short story he wrote in 1921 under the pseudonym Christopher Blayre, called The Purple Sapphire”.

The Black Orlov

The 67.5 carat Black Orlov, also known as “The Eye of Brahma”, is a cushion cut diamond that is rumoured to be responsible for three suicides. Perhaps its curse comes from its origins, but the validity of its original story is equally as murky.

The Black Orlov is believed to be stolen by a monk from a shrine in India, but according to Christie’s this is likely inauthentic: “According to Ian Balfour's Famous Diamonds, the stone is unlikely to be of Indian origin, as there is no historical evidence of black diamonds in this region”. Either way, the gem found its way to New York in 1932 by way of a European gem and jewellery dealer called JW Paris, who allegedly jumped to his death from a skyscraper in Manhattan.

The diamond supposedly then became the possession of Russian princess Leonila Galitsine-Bariatinsky around 1940, and then Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov, who lent her name to the black diamond. In 1947, both women also jumped to their deaths. However, there were no official records of any of the three deaths.

According to a 2005 BBC article, the diamond was cut into three separate gems in an effort break the curse. Dennis Petimezas, who purchased the gem in 2004, said: “I've spent the past year trying to discover everything I can about the stone's melodramatic history and I'm pretty confident that the curse is broken”.

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