8 Supposedly Cursed Gems

Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, one of the owners of the Hope diamond, circa 1915
Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, one of the owners of the Hope diamond, circa 1915
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Tales of death and destruction seem to follow certain famous jewels. There are stories of ancient warlords fighting bloody battles, kings and queen suffering agonizing ends, Russian princesses leaping off buildings, fortunes ruined, careers dashed, companies bankrupted, marriages imploded—all because of sparkling stones.

But while certain gems do seem to be associated with misfortune, some of the dark histories behind famous gemstones have been entirely fabricated or significantly embroidered. Nevertheless, these stories continue to fascinate. “I think these stones resonate with us because of their mysterious and often disreputable origins … as well as their sheer size and glamour,” Jeweler Karen Bachmann, a professor of Art & Design at the Pratt Institute, says. Smaller stones, she notes, don’t tend to have the same stories associated with them as these giant, egg-sized jewels. Plus, whether or not you believe in the idea of a “curse,” many of the tales just make a great yarn.

And there might be a lesson in some of these tales, too. Bachman also notes that a disturbing number of history’s supposedly cursed gems are said to have once been plucked from the eye of a Hindu idol. The moral of the story here might be: If you want your jewelry to be lucky, don't start out by stealing it.

1. Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is the most famous “cursed” gem of them all. Its tale is usually said to begin with the French merchant traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who bought the brilliant blue stone in India sometime before 1668. A persistent myth says that Tavernier then died after being torn apart by wild dogs, but he actually lived into his eighties, traveling the world to purchase many famous jewels.

Tavernier sold the "French Blue," as it came to be known, to King Louis XIV, and the gem served other French monarchs, in a variety of settings, until the tumult of the French Revolution. In September 1792, there was a week-long looting of the French crown jewels, and the "French Blue" disappeared into history. However, a deep blue diamond with very similar characteristics was documented in the possession of London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in 1812. According to the Smithsonian, "Strong evidence indicates that the stone was the recut French Blue and the same stone known today as the Hope Diamond." Evidence also suggests the stone was acquired by King George IV, but sold after his death to repay his gargantuan debts. The gem next surfaced in the catalog of London gem collector and banker Henry Philip Hope—but without any information on its provenance.

The diamond stayed within the Hope family and then passed through several other private owners before being sold to Pierre Cartier in 1909. The crafty Cartier knew the prospective market for such an expensive gem was limited, but he'd had success before selling fantastically pricey gems to the Washington D.C. socialite and heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean. At first, McLean refused to buy the gem because she didn't like the setting, but Cartier changed the design, and McLean changed her mind. Cartier is said to have been the first to play up the idea of the gem's "curse" as a selling point—McLean was more likely to be intrigued by the story than alarmed, since she is said to have felt that unlucky objects were lucky for her.

Perhaps she shouldn't have been so blasé. Things seemed to go well for a while—McLean threw lavish "Find the Hope" parties where she stashed the gem around the house. But then things started to go downhill: According to PBS, her first-born son was killed in a car accident; her husband Ned ran off with another woman, destroyed their fortune, and died in a sanitarium from brain atrophy due to alcoholism; the family newspaper—The Washington Post—went bankrupt; and her daughter died of an overdose of sleeping pills. The next year, McLean herself died, and her jewelry collection was sold off to the pay the debts of her estate.

Harry Winston bought McLean's entire jewelry collection, and in 1958, donated it to the Smithsonian. The Hope Diamond is now the most popular object in the entire Smithsonian collections, drawing about 7 million visitors a year. For now, the “curse” seems to have been lifted.

2. Koh-I-Noor Diamond

The Crystal Palace and its contents, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Now part of Queen Elizabeth's crown, the Koh-i-Noor diamond (Persian for "Mountain of Light”) is believed to have been extracted from the Golcondas mine in India [PDF], the original home of many of the world's most famous gems. For a time, it served as the eye of an idol of a Hindu goddess (or so the story goes) and stayed within various Indian dynasties until coming into the possession of the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur. Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, incorporated the stone into his Peacock Throne, but his son had him imprisoned in a fort after a coup. Shortly thereafter, an inept Venetian gemcutter reduced the stone—which had reported started out close to 800 carats—down to 186 carats. It remained in the possession of various local rulers, many of whom met bloody ends, until 1849, when a treaty signed as part of the British annexation of the Punjab transferred the stone to Queen Victoria.

The jewel was placed in an iron safe for transport from India to England, but the voyage didn't go so well: Reportedly, there was an outbreak of cholera on board that caused locals in Mauritius to threaten to fire on the vessel if it didn't leave port; a storm raged for 12 hours; and the diamond nearly didn’t make it at all because it was left in a waistcoat pocket for 6 months (it was only saved because a servant thought it was made of glass). It eventually made its way to the British royals, but they were said to be dissatisfied with its appearance.

Today, the jewel is on display at the Tower of London. It supposedly carries a Hindu curse that says only a woman can wear the diamond safely, while any male who wears it "will know its misfortunes." As a result, no male heir to the throne has ever worn the gem. But there’s a geopolitical element to the drama, too: Indian officials have repeatedly requested the return of the diamond, saying it was taken illegally. British officials have denied the request, saying its return wouldn’t be “sensible.”

3. Delhi Purple Sapphire


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Don't believe everything you read about the Delhi Purple Sapphire. For one thing, it's not a sapphire but an amethyst, and the "curse" surrounding it seems to have been the invention of the scientist, writer, polymath and Persian scholar Edward Heron-Allen.

According to a curator at London's Natural History Museum, Heron-Allen's daughter donated the gem, mounted in a ring in the form of a snake, to the museum in January 1944. The ring came alongside a letter, which claimed the stone "was looted from the treasure of the Temple of the God Indra at Cawnpore during the Indian mutiny in 1855 [sic] and brought to this country by Colonel W. Ferris of the Bengal Cavalry. From the day he possessed it he was unfortunate."

According to the letter, after Colonel Ferris died the gem was passed on to his son, then to Heron-Allen, who in turn passed it onto friends who suffered what the museum calls a "trail of suicides, apparitions, disasters and failed careers." Heron-Allen eventually packaged the stone inside seven boxes and deposited it with his bankers, instructing them that the gem shouldn't see the light of day until 33 years after his death. His daughter waited less than 12 months before donating it to the museum, and the institution has so far resisted the letter's recommendation to "cast it into the sea."

The museum's scientists think Heron-Allen likely fabricated the legend to lend credibility to a short story he wrote in 1921 called "The Purple Sapphire." He may have even had the ring created to lend credence to the story. The gem is now on display at the museum's Vault Collections, where it doesn't seem to cause any particular harm to visitors.

4. Star of India

Daniel Torres, Jr., Wikimedia Commons

From a certain angle it looks more like a sea creature, but the 563-carat Star of India is actually the world's largest known gem-quality blue star sapphire. The "star" inside and the milky appearance of the stone are formed by minuscule fibers from the mineral rutile, which reflect light—a phenomenon known as asterism.

The gem is said to have been mined under mysterious circumstances in Sri Lanka three centuries ago. But its most famous moment came on the night of October 29, 1964, when three jewel thieves broke into the American Museum of Natural History and made off with about $410,000 in stolen jewels (about $3 million today), including the Star of India, from the J.P. Morgan gem hall. The batteries in the display case alarm had been dead for months, the tops of the hall's windows were open for ventilation, and no security guard had been assigned to the room. The jewels weren't even insured, reportedly because premiums were prohibitive.

Fortunately, most of the gems, including the Star of India, were recovered from a Miami Trailways bus terminal locker shortly thereafter. But stories of a "curse" surrounding the Star of India have remained ever since.

5. The Black Prince's Ruby


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This gem is the big, deep-red stone set into the middle of England's Imperial State Crown, the one you've seen a thousand times in coronation photos. It's not actually a ruby but a red spinel, and for this reason it's sometimes called "The Great Imposter." It's also a link to some pretty bloody historical events.

The stone has belonged to English rulers since the 14th century, when it was given to Edward of Woodstock, also known as the "Black Prince." Prior to that it's said to have belonged to the Sultan of Granada, and was found somewhere on or near his corpse by Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile, after he or his men stabbed the sultan to death during their conquering of the area. Soon after obtaining the gem, Pedro the Cruel's reign was attacked by his half-brother, and he appealed to Edward the Black Prince, a great knight, for help. The pair were victorious, and Edward received the gem in thanks. However, Edward also seems to have contracted a mysterious disease around the same time—which caused his death nine years later.

Further deaths and mysterious diseases followed, as well as dramatic battles: Henry V is also said to have worn the "ruby" at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, where he nearly died, and Richard III is rumored to have been wearing it when he died at the Battle of Bosworth.

The stone was set into the state crown in the 17th century, but Oliver Cromwell sold it during his brief interruption of the monarchy; the jeweler who bought it sold it back to Charles II after the restoration. Some say the curse continues, with a fire that threatened the jewelers in 1841, and the German bombs that almost hit the Tower during WWII—but for now the jewel's association with blood and destruction seems to be over.

6. Black Orlov

The early history of the Black Orlov diamond is steeped in mystery, and likely more than a little fabrication. It is said to have served as the eye of an idol of the god Brahma at a shrine near Pondicherry, India, before being stolen by a monk—a theft that jump-started its curse. Later owners supposedly include two Russian princesses, who both allegedly jumped off buildings not long after acquiring the gem. (One of them was supposedly named Nadia Orlov, which is where the diamond gets its moniker.) A diamond dealer named J.W. Paris, who is said to have brought the jewel to the U.S., reportedly leapt to his death from one of New York’s tallest buildings in 1932.

But as the diamond scholar Ian Balfour explains in his book Famous Diamonds, there's no evidence of black diamonds being found in India, and even if one was discovered in that country it's unlikely it would have been prized, since "by and large black is not considered an auspicious color among the Hindus." Plus, no Russian princess named Nadia Orlov has even been found to exist.

But that hasn't stopped the gunmetal-colored gem from being prized by its owners, notably a New York dealer named Charles F. Winson, who bought the diamond and placed it in a spectacular setting surrounded by 108 diamonds and dangling from a necklace of 124 other diamonds. Winson sold the diamond in 1969 and it's been owned by a succession of private individuals since.

7. Sancy Diamond

For some, the pear-shaped Sancy diamond is believed be saddled with a vicious curse that brings violent death on anyone who owns the gem. (Others say it lends invincibility, provided it was acquired under honest circumstances.) The diamond is said to have been mined in Golconda, India and reached Europe by the 14th century, where it served in the crowns of several French and English kings. Many of these kings—including Burgundy's Charles the Bold, England's Charles I, and France's Louis XVI—suffered gruesome deaths not long after coming into contact with the gem.

The supposed curse even extended to their underlings: According to one legend, a courier who was transporting the gem for Henry IV was robbed and murdered and the stone recovered from his stomach during the autopsy. (He had swallowed it for safekeeping). The gem was stolen during the French Revolution, but later recovered, and is now on display at the Louvre, where its greatest danger seems to be causing minor injuries resulting from neck-craning and tourist jostling.

8. The Regent

The Regent Diamond in the Apollo gallery of the Louvre museum

Like most of the other gems on this list, the Regent was mined in India, in the early 1700s. But in a morbid twist, the gem is supposed to have been stolen from the mine by a slave who hid it in a self-inflicted wound in his leg. The slave and an English sea captain then planned to smuggle the gem out of the country, but the captain had other ideas—he drowned the slave and sold the jewel himself—but, as the story goes, the slave laid a curse on the gem as he was dying.

An English governor in Madras named Thomas Pitt bought the pale-blue diamond and sold it to the French Regent Philippe II of Orleans in 1717, which is when it received its name. It was stolen, alongside the Sancy, during the French Revolution, but recovered a few months later. The ill-fated Napoleon I later set it in the handle of his sword. Both the sword and the Sancy are now on display at the Louvre.

This list first ran in 2015 and was republished in 2019.

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard

Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988).
Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending (Christmas?) action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie, which was released on July 15, 1988.

1. Die Hard has a literary background.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. Die Hard was inspired by The Towering Inferno.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. Frank Sinatra got first dibs on playing the role of John McClane in Die Hard.

Getty Images

Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. Bruce Willis's big-screen debut was with Frank Sinatra.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. Clint Eastwood planned to take a stab at playing John McClane.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. Die Hard was never supposed to be a sequel to Commando.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. Bruce Willis was hardly the studio's first choice for the lead in Die Hard. He wasn't even their third choice.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. Bruce Willis was considered a comedic actor when Die Hard came around.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’s bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. Bruce Willis was barely even seen on the posters for Die Hard.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’s mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. Bruce Willis was paid $5 million for Die Hard, which was considered a pretty major payday at the time.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. Bruce Willis suggested Bonnie Bedelia for the part of his wife in Die Hard.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12. Bruce Willis was able to accept the role in Die Hard thanks to a well-timed pregnancy.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. Sam Neill was originally approached to play the role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. Die Hard was Alan Rickman's feature film debut.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. John McTiernan originally passed on directing Die Hard—more than once, too.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. John McTiernan sees Die Hard as a Shakespearean tale.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. Die Hard's Nakatomi Plaza is actually Fox Plaza.

Fox Plaza played the part of Nakatomi Plaza.Tristan Reville, Flickr

Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. The room where the hostages are held in Die Hard is supposed to be Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Fallingwater, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. The panoramic view of the city below in Die Hard? It's not real.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. Die Hard's success spawned a bona fide franchise.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. John McClane's tumble down a ventilation shaft in Die Hard was an accident.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. Alan Rickman's death scene in Die Hard was also pretty scary.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. Bruce Willis suffered permanent hearing loss from shooting Die Hard.

Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. Alan Rickman wasn't thrilled with how noisy Die Hard was either.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. Hans Gruber's American accent in Die Hard caused a lot of problems.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. The German Hans Gruber speaks in Die Hard is mostly gibberish.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. Bruce Willis has four feet in Die Hard.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. You can see (but can't touch) John McClane's sweaty tank top.

Getty Images

In 2007, Willis donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. Die Hard's famous “Yippee-ki-yay" line stole the movie.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. The credit for Die Hard's famous “Yippee-ki-yay" line belongs to Bruce Willis.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."