The famous and infamous jewellery collections of Henry Philip Hope
In the 19th century, a Dutch banker's jewellery collection included two world-famous gems
Henry Philip Hope was part of an Anglo-Dutch family which set up a very successful banking business in Amsterdam and London. The family moved to London in 1795 whilst France was in turmoil following the French Revolution.
The Hope family were connoisseurs and collectors with both Thomas Hope and his brother Henry Philip Hope being patrons of the arts. Whilst the former probably assembled the greater art collection, Henry Philip branched out into jewellery, and gave his name to two of the greatest gemstones in the world.
Hope's collection included a total of 148 pearls, but the one which is best remembered as the Hope Pearl is an enormous, 1,800-grain (about 90g), baroque pearl which he bought in the East at some time in the first decade of the 19th century - one of his first acquisitions.
Baroque pearls are irregular in shape, and the Hope Pearl is sometimes described as having an 'irregular pear shape'. It seems to 'flow' from the narrower end (which is a slightly silvery white) to the other (which is darker in colour).
Jewellers of the time set irregular pearls in ways which best suited their unique shapes. The Hope Pearl was given a setting as a pendant in a miniature arched crown - a tiny piece of opulence consisting of red enamelled gold, set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Other notable pearls in Hope's collection include a conical creamy-white pearl from Polynesia (151 grains), a cream-coloured oval pearl from the South Seas (94 grains) and even a pear-shaped milky-blue pearl from Scotland (34.75 grains).
The most notorious jewel in Hope's collection was not a pearl, however, but a diamond: a 45.52 carat fancy dark greyish-blue cushion-cut diamond which is now believed to be worth up to $250m dollars and is world famous due to its supposed curse.
The jewel is believed to have originated with Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in his 17th century explorations in India. According to legend, the then 115 carat roughly-cut triangular diamond was one of the eyes of a sculpted statue of the goddess Sita, the wife of Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu which explained the apparent curse which afflicted those who possessed it.
Sold to Louis XIV of France, the gem was cut to create the 67.125 carat French Blue, which was then set in an elaborate pendant by Louis XV. The gem was one of many stolen during the French Revolution, and Louis XVI's doomed Queen, Marie Antoinette, is sometimes noted as a victim of the diamond's curse, though it's uncertain whether she or her husband ever wore it.
Regardless, the French Blue was never seen in that form again, but a very similar (if somewhat smaller) diamond then appeared in England with no known history, and it's widely believed that they were one and the same. The gem may then have passed through the hands of George IV on its way to Henry Hope.
The timings of the diamond's movements are disputed, and it was not known that Hope owned it until he it appeared in a catalogue of his collection in 1839 - the year of his death.
It was only later that the legend of the curse seems to have taken hold, linking the jewel to the fates of royalty and aristocrats in the French Revolution.
The insanity and suicide of Jacques Colot, who supposedly bought it from the jeweller Eliason, and the financial ruin of the jeweller Simon Frankel, who later bought it from the Hope family, have all been linked to the stone.
Many stories of discord linked to the stone are plainly false, for example the claim that it was on board the Titanic when in sank.
One misfortune that it certainly was at the centre of was discord amongst the Hope family, as bitter legal wrangling took place before the splitting of the collection amongst Hope's nephews, due to contradictory wills.
Recently, the Hope Diamond and the Hope Pearl were reunited for the first time since Henry Philip Hope's death.
The diamond was donated to the Smithsonian Museum in 1958 by Harry Winston, and in 2005 a major exhibition of the world's greatest pearls was held at that museum in which the Hope Pearl appeared on loan. It remains in private hands, owned by an anonymous British collector.
Henry Philip Hope's catalogue, which records
his collection of pearls and precious stones
The legend of the Hope collection lives on, however. Just this month, one of the catalogues published by Henry Philip Hope went under the hammer at Bonhams with a price listing of £2,000-3,000.
Bidders rated it far more highly, however, and the book finally left the stage for a startling £26,400 - a price reflecting the worldwide fame and legendary status of the jewellery described within.
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Images: Smithsonian (H P Hope), Christie's