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Famous Diamond Moved in Pre-Dawn Secrecy

January 4, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Smithsonian curators don’t believe in the curse of the Hope Diamond. Even so, security was tight for Wednesday’s secret, pre-dawn shift of the world’s largest blue diamond to a new display area.

For a few brief, shining moments, the National Museum of Natural History’s most popular attraction was out in the open, escorted by cautious curators and nervous guards.

Museum officials said they were unafraid of touching the 44.5 carat gem despite the legend that it brings bad luck to all who wear it.

The 1958 donation of the Hope by diamond merchant Harry Winston prompted several other gifts, said curator Jeffrey E. Post. So, as he sees it, the Hope has meant nothing but good luck for the museum.

And curator Russell Feather said the legend may be a boon in disguise: ``All these people who believe in the curse, which we don’t, keeps people from wanting to touch it.″ Museum officials put no dollar value on the gem, saying it is truly priceless.

It is believed to be a part of a 112 carat diamond brought from India in 1642 and later sold to French King Louis XIV _ a stone some say was stolen from the statue of a Hindu goddess.

Louis had it cut into a 67 carat teardrop diamond, then died of smallpox. It was worn by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who both lost their heads in the French Revolution.

Thirty years later the recut 44.5 carat blue diamond surfaced in London and was bought by Henry Thomas Hope, whose name it carries today. Hope’s wife ran off with another man, and he sold the diamond in an effort to avoid bankruptcy.

Legend is replete with sad tales of subsequent owners, from a murderous prince to a suicidal Greek to an ousted Turkish sultan, before its last private owner, heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, acquired the stone in 1911.

Mrs. McLean made the diamond a big part of her life, even having her Great Dane wear it to greet guests.

The stone was acquired by Winston after her death in 1947. He donated it to the museum 11 years later _ sending it in a plain wrapper via registered mail. The packaging it came in is part of the collection of National Postal Museum.

When the remodeled gem hall opens in two years the Hope Diamond will hold a place of honor. Meanwhile, it will remain on display on the second flood rotunda in a new vault set into the wall.

Previously hung from its necklace setting, the diamond is now mounted atop a wire stand, with the necklace coiling down the wire beneath.

Some say it looks like a serpent, Post commented, but it gives the central diamond much more prominence.

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