The Hope Diamond’s Colorado Connection

Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond. Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

One of the world’s most famous diamonds has a Colorado connection. The dazzling blue Hope Diamond, weighing 45.52 carats, is now in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History. A century ago, however, the diamond was owned and worn by a Colorado mining heiress.

The Hope Diamond has a long history. It was originally part of larger stone weighing more than 112 carats. In the seventeenth century a French merchant, Tavernier, purchased the stone in India. The stone was cut down, and a 67-carat section became known as the French Blue when it was sold to King Louis XIV in 1668. The French Blue was stolen during the French Revolution and cut down again, possibly to disguise its identity. The largest section, the Hope Diamond, gained its name in the 1830s when it came under ownership of a London banker named Henry Philip Hope. Some accounts say that the diamond had previously been in the hands of the British royal family, sold to pay off King George IV’s debts, but this has not been proven.

The gem passed through generations of the Hope family and a series of other owners, over time gaining a reputation as being cursed. It made its way to the United States in 1910 when it was purchased by Pierre Cartier. Legend has it that Cartier used the diamond’s mysterious reputation to entice Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the gem. It worked.

Thomas F. Walsh book coverEvalyn’s early childhood years were spent in Leadville, Colorado. When she was ten, her father made a tremendous fortune in the Camp Bird Mine near Ouray. (His biography, Thomas F. Walsh: Progressive Businessman and Colorado Mining Tycoon, is available for checkout from our library). With more money than they knew what to do with, the Walshes eventually moved to Washington, D.C. There Evalyn married another wealthy socialite, Edward “Ned” McLean, whose family owned the Washington Post. In 1911, the couple purchased the Hope Diamond from Cartier for $180,000 – equivalent to nearly $5 million in today’s dollars!

Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope Diamond.
Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope Diamond.

Evalyn Walsh McLean frequently wore the diamond to parties and events, which necessitated being accompanied by guards. When she died in 1947, her heirs sold the gemstone to diamond merchant Harry Winston, who donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958.

The Hope Diamond had been mined in India, but Colorado also has diamond mines. A publication from the Colorado Geological Survey, What Are Diamonds?, explains that diamonds – the hardest substance on earth – were formed from carbon billions of years ago. From deep in the earth, diamonds are “brought to the surface in a peculiar igneous rock called kimberlite.” Kimberlites were discovered in northern Colorado in 1964. They can be found in several places, including west of Boulder; near Estes Park; and along the Colorado-Wyoming state line. Although Colorado’s kimberlites have been found to contain diamonds, they are generally smaller and weigh less than the diamonds found in other parts of the world. A 28.3 carat yellow diamond, mined in the Kelsey Lake area of Larimer County, is the largest diamond found in the Colorado.