As John Freeman said in his review of All The Light We Cannot See (a great novel I've been reading), "Mother nature is brutal, but she rewards her survivors with beauty. Under the earth's surface, for instance, where the dead go, magma can rise and mix with pressure to create gemstones of astonishing beauty."'
I have become fascinated with both the book (which is set during World War II and tells a story about what lies beneath the visible world) and the story of the gemstone which serves as a central metaphor in the novel.
The gem is a 133-carat gem of staggering beauty. It is called the Sea of Flames, and legends say possessing it bestows upon its owner immortality — and a curse. Loved ones will die; luck combusts. Even its most powerful handlers have tossed it back into the sea. It is a fabled diamond, "as blue as the sea, but with a flare of red at its core," and it is the stuff of legends. From what I can tell, the diamond in the story is fictional. But I couldn't help thinking of the stories I've heard of other accursed stones as I read the book.
Perhaps the most famous is the legend of the Hope diamond, and a curse that supposedly befell it -- when it was plucked (i.e. stolen) from an idol in India - a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the gem. A French merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier sold the stone to King Louis XIV of France in 1668, who later had the stone re-cut and set in gold by the court jeweler. The stone is associated with the beheading of Marie Antoinette, the indebtedness of a series of subsequent owners, and also with Evalyn Walsh McLean, an American mining heiress and socialite. McLean had many misfortunes: her son died in a car accident, her daughter died of a drug overdose, her husband died in a sanitarium and her family was forced to sell their newspaper, the Washington Post, in a bankruptcy auction. The diamond, which today is worth a quarter of a billion dollars, now resides at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Then there's the famous 105.6-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond from India; its name in Persian means "mountain of light." And as with the Hope diamond, its story begins with a theft. Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, wrote that the diamond was stolen from the Rajah of Malwa in 1306, and that it was a whopping 739 carats in its original, uncut form. Throughout history, the gem traded hands among various Hindu, Mongolian, Persian, Afghan and Sikh rulers, who fought bitter and bloody battles to own it. According to folklore, a Hindu description of the Koh-i-Noor warns that "he who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God or woman can wear it with impunity." Today the diamond is a part of the British Crown Jewels.
And there's the The Delhi Purple sapphire, really an amethyst, a type of violet-hued quartz. This mysterious stone is rumored to have been stolen by a British solider from the Temple of Indra, the Hindu god of war and weather, in Kanpur, India, during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It was brought to England by Colonel W. Ferris, whose family then supposedly suffered many financial and health woes. The stone was given to Edward Heron-Allen, a scientist and writer, in 1890, who claimed to have started having bad luck immediately after receiving it. He gave the amethyst away to friends, who were also struck with misfortune and quickly returned the gift back to him. Heron-Allen warned that the Delhi Purple sapphire is "accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonor of everyone who has ever owned it." Wary of its alleged powers, he kept it locked away in seven boxes and surrounded by good luck charms. After his death, Heron-Allen's daughter donated the amethyst to London's Natural History Museum in 1943. Along with the stone, she gave them a letter that her father wrote cautioning future owners against directly handling it. The mysterious Delhi Purple sapphire is now permanently on display as part of the Natural History Museum's Vault Collection of precious gemstones.
There are more -- the Black Prince Ruby, the La Peregrina Pearl, the Eye of Brahma Diamond, the Star of India, and more. (See them and read about them here: http://www.livescience.com/18407-mysterious-cursed-gems-diamonds.html
The novelAll The Light We Cannot See, like the legends of cursed gemstones -- reminds us of the greed and cruelty of mankind. But the book also reminds us of indescribable beauty, tenderness, and the redeeming power of nature. The author, Anthony Doerr, imagines the unseen grace, the unseen light that, occasionally reveals itself to us -- whether it be in gemstones or human behavior. I highly recommend it for gemstone lovers everywhere.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our previous post on the Crown Jewels.
Until Next Time,