By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 3:17 PM
The famous blue stone now stands alone.
This morning, for the first time in its 50-year residence at the Smithsonian Institution, the Hope Diamond was taken out of its setting, giving the public a rare look at its bare beauty.
The famous blue gem now rests on a discreet bracket in a custom-made display case and vault. The public got its first look at the naked stone at 10 a.m. in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals at the National Museum of Natural History.
At a morning press conference, with the doors locked and security personnel glaring, a jeweler wheeled a trolley out from a workroom. Atop it was the Hope Diamond covered with a white cloth; the cloth was taken off with a flourish by museum director Cristian Samper. “This is a new chapter in the history of the Hope Diamond,” said Samper, facing a lineup of camera crews. “We wanted to celebrate this legacy by giving people a look at the Hope Diamond in a new way.”
The 45.52-carat gem, which was donated to the Smithsonian on Nov. 10, 1958, by the firm of Harry Winston Inc., has been one of the most visited objects at the Smithsonian. More than 5 million people a year peer into its enclosure. “This is the world’s most famous gemstone,” said Jeffrey Post, the curator of the gem and mineral collection.
To observe its 50th year at the museum, the Smithsonian Channel is producing a documentary called “Mystery of the Hope Diamond.” In addition, the show’s producers sponsored an online contest to select a new temporary setting for the gem from among three patterns proposed by the Winston firm.
The winner of this unique publicity gimmick — as if the diamond needed more notoriety — was also announced this morning. Members of the public — or at least 45,000 of the 100,000 who cast votes — chose a setting called “Embracing Hope.” It is a necklace of a ribbon of diamonds with the Hope sitting in a cluster of diamonds in a teardrop shape. The Hope will be displayed briefly in its temporary setting next spring, the museum said. The diamond will be returned to its original setting, a pendant circled by diamonds, on a diamond necklace.
Participating in the documentary and seeing the gem out of its setting is giving the Smithsonian’s staff new opportunities to study the stone. “Because blue diamonds are so rare, you don’t get a chance to examine them,” said Post. “This is a unique product of the Earth and by studying it we can learn more about all diamonds.”
The diamond has had an unusual history. Mined in India, it was sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. After several owners, it was purchased in 1911 by Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was a prominent hostess in Washington. She owned it until her death in 1947 the Winston firm bought her entire jewelry collection in 1949.
Throughout its history, the diamond has also been associated with a so-called curse. “It has brought us good luck in the last 50 years,” joked Samper.
After the unveiling of the bare stone, the diamond was taken back to a secure room until the display area was cleared of cameras, press and staff.