Precious Stones


5. The French Blue

The diamond variously known as the "French Blue," or the "Tavernier Blue," has had a singular destiny.

Smaller by nearly eighty carats than the Orloff, and younger by three centuries than the Koh-i-nûr, it is in some ways as remarkable as either of those famous stones. So far as is known, it was never the worshiped orb of an idol, nor the hardly-less worshiped bauble of an Eastern prince. Wars were not waged for it, nor were murders committed to obtain its possession. Indeed, its quaint commercial début into history is somewhat tame, as is also its uneventful life of a century and a half in the treasure-chambers of the Crown of France. In fact, were it not for its strange color, its strange loss and its yet stranger recovery, the French Blue would scarcely deserve a place among these "Stories about Famous Precious Stones."

Jean Baptiste Tavernier is a name familiar to everyone who has studied the history of precious stones. He was the son of an Antwerp geographer settled in Paris, and early in life he evinced an ardent love of travel. Born in 1605, he had at the age of twenty-two traveled over most of Europe, and was acquainted with most European languages. In his own account of his travels he speaks entertainingly of the various reasons which at different times prompted him to journey. Having entered the service of the Duke of Mantua as captain of a company of soldiers, he attended that prince during the siege of Mantua. He was struck by two bullets which, though inflicting a troublesome wound, failed to kill him--thanks to the excellent temper of his cuirass; whereupon he observes that "he found a longer stay at Mantua did not agree with his desire to travel." He made his way to the East carrying with him a vast quantity of cinque-cento[E] enamel work and jewelry, which he sold to the Asiatic sovereigns, and bringing back a number of precious stones which he sold to the kings of Europe. Jean Baptiste Tavernier was, in fact, a sort of peddler among princes.

[E] During the visit of the Prince of Wales to India a few years ago it was observed that some curious old jewels of Italian make appeared at the gorgeous pageants which the native princes ordered for the benefit of their future Emperor. It is thought that these were heirlooms dating from Tavernier's time.

He made in all six journeys to India during the space of forty years, and amassed great wealth. Although a Protestant, he was ennobled by Louis XIV. on account of the services he had rendered to French commerce, and he thereupon bought the barony of Aubonne in Switzerland which he afterwards sold to Duquesne the great navigator.

Louis XIV. was one of his best customers and bought from him jewels and rich stuffs to the enormous amount of three millions of francs; about six hundred thousand dollars. It was on his return from his last voyage, namely in 1668, that Tavernier sold the Blue Diamond to Louis XIV. Unfortunately he does not give any particulars of the purchase of this stone, which is singular as he was a very chatty writer and filled his book with a quantity of delightful little passages beginning "I remember once." He describes at great length the Eastern manner of buying and selling diamonds. Their methods seems greatly to have impressed him, accustomed as he was to the noisy bartering of European markets.

He says:

"'Tis very pleasant to see the young children of the merchants (at the diamond mines) from the age of ten to sixteen years, who seat themselves upon a tree that lies in an open space of the town (Raolconda, a diamond region near Golconda). Every one of them has his diamond-weight in a little bag hanging on one side and his purse with five or six hundred pagods in it. There they sit waiting for any one to come and sell them some diamonds. If any one brings them a stone they put it into the hand of the eldest boy among them who is, as it were, their chief; who looks upon it and after that gives it to him that is next him, by which means it goes from hand to hand till it returns back to him again, none of the rest speaking a word. After that he demands the price so as to buy it if possible, but if he buy it too dear it is upon his own account. In the evening the children compute what they have laid out; then they look upon the stones and separate them according to their water, their weight and their clearness. Then they bring them to the large merchants who have generally great parcels to match, and the profit is divided among the children equally. Only the chief among them has four per cent. more than the rest."

It may have been from some such sedate children that Tavernier bought the Blue Diamond. At the same time he mentions the Coleroon mine as the only one which produces colored diamonds, from which we may infer that "the Blue" hails from that locality. As Tavernier was well-known as a diamond-buyer who gave good prices, it is probable that he would get many proffers of stones from private persons. With regard to another large diamond which he bought in India, he has given a minute account of the transaction which may be taken as a fair sample of Asiatic bartering:

"One day towards evening a Banian badly dressed, who had nothing on but a cloth around his loins and a nasty kerchief on his head, saluted me civilly and came and sat down beside me. In that country (India) no heed is given to the clothes. A man with nothing but a dirty piece of calico around his body may all the same have a good lot of diamonds concealed. On my side, therefore, I was civil to the Banian and after he had been some time seated he asked me through my interpreter if I would buy some rubies. The interpreter said he must show them to me, whereupon he pulled a little rag from his waist-cloth in which were twenty ruby rings. I said they were too small a thing for me as I only sought for large stones. Nevertheless, remembering that I had a commission from a lady in Ispahan to buy her a ruby ring for a hundred crowns, I bought one for four hundred francs. I knew well that it was worth only three hundred, but I chanced the other hundred in the belief that he had not come to me for that alone. Judging from his manner that he would gladly be alone with me and my interpreter in order to show me something better, I sent away my four servants to fetch some bread from the fortress. Being thus alone with the Banian, after much ado he took off his turban and untwisted his hair which was coiled around his head. Then I saw come from beneath his hair a scrap of linen in which was wrapped up a diamond weighing forty-eight and a half carats, of beautiful water, in form of a carbuchon,[F] two thirds of the stone clear except a small patch on one side which seemed to penetrate the stone. The fourth quarter was all cracks and red spots. As I was examining the stone the Banian, seeing my close attention, said: 'Don't amuse yourself with looking at it now. You will see it to-morrow alone at your leisure. When a quarter of the day is passed,' 'tis thus they speak, 'you will find me outside the town, and if you want the stone you will bring me the money.' And he told me the sum he wanted for it. I did not fail to go to him and bring him the required sum, with the exception of two hundred pagods which I put aside, but which after a dispute I had to give him also. At my return to Surat I sold the stone to a Dutch captain out of whom I had an honest profit."

[F] This is probably a misuse of the word, as "carbuchons," namely polished globules, are never made of diamonds; a rose is what was meant and one of Tavernier's editors made a mistake.

This last remark suggests the reason why Tavernier did not mention the sum demanded by the Banian for his diamond. Possibly the long-headed peddler feared that had he stated the amounts his readers might not have deemed his profit quite so honest. Can this be the reason, moreover, of his total silence regarding the purchase of the Blue Diamond? It seems the fate of this stone to come from out of the Unknown in a mysterious fashion. We shall meet it, appearing suddenly and without a history.

Tavernier gives three drawings of this Blue Diamond, which was, he said, clear and of a lovely violet hue, and its weight in the rough was one hundred and twelve and one quarter carats. There is no other example of a blue diamond of this deep tint known--a fact which went far to establish the identity of the Blue Diamond in aftertimes. Diamonds of all the colors which belong of right to other precious stones are occasionally found. Thus they are red, green, yellow, and blue. The first and last named tints being the rarest, while the yellow is decidedly common. The true diamond, however, no matter what may be its hue, has an iridescent brightness which no other gem can counterfeit. This iridescence, coupled with its hardness, forms the test of the diamond; and its absence never fails to reveal the nature of an impostor. If anything can scratch a stone, that stone is not a diamond. The writer, in common with all her schoolmates, once bestowed a great deal of admiration and no small portion of envy upon a young companion on the strength of that young companion's diamond, a lustrous gem of most remarkable size. Alas! our admiration was undeserved and our envy misplaced. That splendid diamond had upon its upper surface three deep scratches!



But to return. When Louis XIV. bought from Tavernier at, we will say, an "honest profit" to the seller, that three millions' worth of precious stuffs and stones, he became possessed of the Blue Diamond. This was in 1668 when the king was in the full tide of his glory, and also of his extravagance, conquering provinces, building palaces and buying gems.

There seems to be no record of the first cutting of the Blue Diamond, if indeed it was cut at all during the reign of the "Grand Monarque." And what is still more strange, it seems to have attracted very little attention, its heaven-blue tint being perhaps somewhat dimmed by the more striking splendor of the Regent which ere long was to attract all eyes and absorb all attention.

In 1776, fourteen hundred and seventy-one diamonds belonging to the French crown were sold, and the money thus obtained was used in re-cutting the remainder besides adding sundry other jewels to the Regalia. In February, 1788, the Antwerp Gazette makes known to the world that there had just been completed in that city a work of great magnitude. This was the re-cutting into brilliants of all the rose-diamonds belonging to the King of France. The reader will remember that "roses" are diamonds covered over with facets, such as the Orloff, while the brilliant properly so-called is a double pyramid, a highly refracting figure, of which the Regent and the Koh-i-nûr are examples.

Diamond cutting was a lost art in France; hence the reason of sending the gems to Antwerp. Cardinal Mazarin, a great diamond fancier, had endeavored to stimulate diamond-cutting in Paris. He had imported workmen and wheels and then had caused his own stones and those of the king to be cut. When this was done, and further diamonds not being forthcoming, in order to still encourage his pet industry he had the same stones cut a second time! Such expensive encouragement of the diamond-cutting trade has probably never been heard of before or since.

The Antwerp artists having accomplished their task to the satisfaction of Louis XVI., "he rewarded with presents, magnificent and really worthy of a King of France, all those who had a hand in it." The Blue Diamond came forth from the hands of the cutter an irregularly-shaped brilliant of a drop form weighing sixty-seven and one half carats.

In 1791, it was entered in the inventory of the Crown Jewels, which was drawn up by order of the Constituent Assembly, at the high valuation of six hundred thousand dollars. It will be thus seen that it had enormously increased in value since its "rough" days, for then the Blue Diamond as well as all the other diamonds and precious stuffs were bought from Tavernier for that precise amount.


In the story of "the Regent" an account was given of the robbery of the Garde Meuble in September, 1792, when the French jewels were stolen. The Blue Diamond shared the fate of all the rest. It was stolen, but unfortunately it was not found in that mysterious Allée des Veuves where the Regent lay hidden. In fact, Tavernier's Blue Diamond, weighing sixty-seven carats, never again re-appeared as such. Men had something else to think of in France besides diamonds during the forty years which followed the great robbery, so that the very existence of a blue diamond was pretty nearly forgotten. True that John Mane, a fairly reliable authority on diamonds, says that "There is at this time (1813) a superlatively fine blue diamond of above forty-four carats in the possession of an individual in London which may be considered as matchless and of course of arbitrary value." This is a most important statement, and in the light of subsequent investigations it would point almost conclusively to the fact that the French Blue, already metamorphosed, was in alien hands, except for the fact that the same writer a little further on makes the announcement of a Blue Diamond, weight sixty-seven carats, being amongst the Crown Jewels of France at the same moment.

However this may be, suddenly, in 1830, the small world of diamond-worshipers was startled by the appearance in the market of a unique stone. A deep blue diamond, forty-four and one fourth carats, which Mr. Daniel Eliason had for sale and about which he could give no details. It sprang suddenly upon the world without a history, unless indeed it be the same as that mentioned by Mane some eighteen years before--and yet it was a cut and polished brilliant. Its form was irregular, for it had one very flat side. Mr. Henry Philip Hope bought it for ninety thousand dollars; and it henceforward became known as the "Hope Blue."

As a notable gem in a famous private collection the Hope Blue enjoyed for years a quiet distinction. It was set round about with pearls and white diamonds to enhance its azure and had a beautiful pearl-drop for pendant. Altogether it was a neat and delightful trinket; price one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Little or nothing was thought about it until the death of the Duke of Brunswick, the mad diamond-miser who used to sleep surrounded with mechanical pistols which were warranted to go off with such fatal facility that it is a marvel they did not shoot his Grace in mistake for a burglar. In 1874, the Brunswick diamonds came to the hammer and amongst them a blue stone of six carats weight. Mr. Streeter, than whom there exists no better authority on diamonds, had this stone and the Hope Blue put into his hands together. He found that they were identical in color and quality, that the sides of cleavage matched as nearly as could be determined after the cutting, while the united weights plus the calculated less from re-cutting amounted to the weight of the French Blue. He immediately drew the very natural conclusion that both these stones were once united and formed the Blue Diamond brought from India by Tavernier. He, it will be remembered, called it of a "lovely violet" and as only very few other blue diamonds are known to be in existence, and they are all of a pale blue tint, we must admit that the weight of evidence hangs strongly in favor of Mr. Streeter's reasoning.


The collection of the late Mr. Hope was a very large and valuable one. Of course the blue diamond was its chief glory, but it contained other gems of value. A portion of these were recently offered for sale consisting of diamonds, sapphires, opals and pearls, set and unset, and of rings, crosses and bracelets, of all sorts of shapes and patterns. The display reminded one of a jeweller's show-case except for this remarkable difference. There were no two objects alike, and all showed the refined taste of an amateur rather than the massive showiness of the mere commercial jewel.

Mr. Hope engaged an eminent jeweller, Mr. Hertz, at an eminent fee (five thousand dollars) to catalogue his jewels. This gentleman performed his task with business-like succinctness, using no unnecessary words to describe the numerous precious objects. But when he reached the Blue Diamond he launches out into unbridled enthusiasm. He says:

"This matchless gem combines the beautiful color of the sapphire with the prismatic fire and brilliancy of the diamond, and on account of its extraordinary color, great size and other fine qualities it certainly may be called unique, as we may presume there exists no cabinet nor any collection of crown jewels in the world which can boast of the possession of so curious and fine a gem as the one we are now describing, and we expect to be borne out in our opinion by our readers. There are extant historical records and treatises on the precious gems which give us descriptions of all the extraordinary diamonds in the possession of all the crowned heads of Europe as well as of the princes of the Eastern countries. But in vain do we search for any record of a gem which can in point of curiosity, beauty and perfection be compared with this blue brilliant, etc."

Mr. Hertz was no doubt a good jeweller and a clever expert, but he was not very learned in the history of precious stones or he could never have made this astonishing statement. He had only to search in the records of France to find the account of a wonderful blue diamond of even greater size.

With regard to the value of the diamond, he declares his inability to fix any sum, saying: "There being no precedent the value cannot be established by comparison. The price which was once asked for this diamond was thirty thousand pounds (one hundred and fifty thousand dollars) but we must confess for the above stated reason that it might have been estimated at even a higher sum." There was a precedent for estimating its value; but of that Mr. Hertz was ignorant. The French Blue was valued at three millions of livres (six hundred thousand dollars) when it weighed sixty-seven carats. According to this calculation one hundred and fifty thousand dollars was not an excessive price to put upon the Hope Blue of forty-four carats.

The Hope Blue still remains in the possession of the family which has given it that name, while the other fraction of the dissevered French Blue is likewise in private hands. This is much to be regretted from the historian's point of view, for famous diamonds acquire a great deal of their value and all their interest from the persons who have owned them. For a gem which has graced the royal festivities of Versailles as the Blue Diamond has done, or enhanced the stately ceremonials of the Escurial as was the case with the Pelegrina, to sink into obscurity in the collection of a wealthy Mr. Unknown or in the jewel casket of a Princess Nobody is a sad decadence. Jewels, from their value and indestructibleness, are among the few objects used by the illustrious dead which can and do remain unaltered in appearance, therefore it is contrary to our sense of the fitness of things for a historical gem to cease to be such by belonging to a person without a history.