The Haunting and Haute, The Ghoulish and Gruesome Gem Stories We All Want to Know
To celebrate the spookiest month of the year, let's take a look at the haunting yet haute histories of some of the world’s most revered pieces of jewellery. From cursed gemstones to missing jewels and ill-fated endings, these mysteries will send shivers down your spine.
So, without further ado, let's look at some ghoulish gem ghost stories!
One of the most revered and ill-fated queens in English history, many are still enchanted by Anne Boleyn. For those who aren’t acquainted with this Queen, she was the second wife of Henry VIII and famously made him break away from the Roman Catholic church so he could divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and father a son for the throne.
Portrait of Anne Boleyn, late 16th century, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Anne Boleyn’s stratospheric rise from English noblewoman to Queen of England made her both adored and hated amongst the English court. For many church reformers, she was a symbol of hope. But, for many conservative courtiers, she was secretly abhorred and consequently plotted against. Her rags to riches also culminated in many noblemen hoping to place their young daughters under the nose of Henry VIII. A mistress of the king would usually gain them some titles and lands, but to be the father of a future Queen was another matter entirely.
So, with all of this conniving and secrecy, Anne Boleyn was brought down, and pretty harshly at that! She was tried for treason, incest and adultery and was beheaded in May 1536, just years after she was crowned. After her death, the King ordered for all portraits of her to be destroyed and claimed back and dissolved her possessions. Yet, the bejewelled piece that attracts so much attention is the Pearl “B” necklace from her surviving 16th-century portrait, a Pearl necklace that has not been seen or recorded outside of the painting.
Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in the film adaptation of "The Other Boleyn Girl", c.2008, Source - Fashion Institute of Technology
There are a few answers as to why this is the case:
- It wasn’t uncommon, especially in post-humous portraits, for jewellery to be just artistic renderings rather than actually exist in real life. Anne was known in history for being brash, bolshy, and proud, and the large “B” pendant perfectly attests to her character.
- Another theory is that the necklace did exist and was hidden away by Anne Boleyn loyalists for her daughter Elizabeth I. Personalised jewellery was very popular during the Tudor period, and Anne owned numerous necklaces including ones that were “AB”, “A” and “B”. The “A” necklace is allegedly pictured on an early portrait of Elizabeth I in the White Hall Portrait. The “B” necklace would likely have been melted down and broken up, and there is some theory that the Pearls are actually today in the Imperial State Crown worn by Elizabeth II, 400 years later.
Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that the necklace still remains in its original form today, but that doesn’t stop antique aficionado’s and jewellery sleuth’s like us to question its whereabouts.
Portrait of Elizabeth I's Coronation (it is believed that the Pearls in Anne Boleyn's "B" necklace is incorporated in this portrait), c.1559, Source - Wikimedia Commons.
Irish Crown Jewels
Another unsolved jewellery mystery is the disappearance and theft of the Irish Crown Jewels in 1907. Although Ireland was under the jurisdiction of the British monarchy, the Irish crown jewels were created in 1831 and were to be worn by the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick, a peerage and royal title established by King George III in 1783. Essentially, they were to be worn by those who assume this peerage and when they partake in state visits in Ireland.
The Irish Crown Jewels were a star and badge regalia crafted from 394 precious gemstones. A green shamrock is embellished with Emeralds, the Saint Patrick Saltire beautifully rendered with Rubies, the Motto of the Order perfectly captured with Pink Diamonds and the entirety of the piece was encrusted with the highest quality round brilliant Brazilian Diamonds. Today, this piece would have cost £3.2 million to make, so very expensive, very fancy and very attractive for sticky-fingered thieves!
Illustration of the Insignia of a Knight of the Order of St Patrick, Source - Wikimedia Commons
These jewels were formerly kept under lock and key under the custody of Ulster King of Arms. In 1903, the Ulster King of Arms offices were officially moved, and the jewels were moved into a safe that was meant to be stored in a new store room. However, the safe was too large for the door of the storeroom, so it was moved into the offices themselves.
The Ulster King of Arms at this time was Sir Arthur Vicars, a man notorious for getting very drunk. So, for those who knew and worked with him, he was a liability. The jewels were last worn on the 15th of March 1907, and last actually seen on the 11th of June 1907, then reported missing on the 6th of July 1907.
Photograph of Sir Arthur Vicars, Source - History of Ireland Blog
Of course, an investigation was opened by the Dublin Metropolitan police who instantly blamed Arthur Vicars for his lack of supervision. Arthur Vicars then blamed his second in command Francis Shackleton for stealing the jewels, but Shackleton was never formally tried or arrested (although he was arrested later for other financial issues). The investigation was inconclusive and a shambles. In fact, the police tried to find out criminal debauchery and sodomy of the officials in charge of the jewels, to try and make a greater scandal that would cover up the embarrassment of the jewels being stolen.
Dublin Metropolitan Police Statement on Stolen Crown Jewels, Source - Pinterest
There are many inconclusive theories:
- Vicar’s had given a mistress of his a key to the safe, which she then used to steal the jewels and fled to Paris.
- That the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) smuggled the jewels to the USA.
- An Irish journalist Bulmer Hobson released a story (after Vicar’s death), that Vicar’s was given too much whiskey by one of his officials (who was in a homosexual relationship with Shackleton) then Shackleton took the jewels to Amsterdam.
- The jewels were part of a Unionist plot to embarrass and shame the liberal government, but then the jewels were secretly returned to the Royal Family.
Dublin Metropolitan Police Poster for Stolen Crown Jewels, Source - Pinterest
Wherever the jewels are today, we will never know! But the story has been immortalised in many fictional accounts including the Case of the Crown Jewels, a Sherlock Holmes story published in 1997.
A couple of months ago, we selected our very favourite of the Romanov Fabergé Easter eggs for Easter. It is believed that between 70 eggs were created for the Romanov family, yet only 46 imperial eggs (made for the Royal Family) and 11 other eggs (made for other Russian aristocrats) were known to survive, with many of these mysteriously disappearing.
Fifteenth Anniversary Fabergé Imperial Egg, c.1911, Source - Wikimedia Commons.
During the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the eggs were taken from the palace and stashed in the Kremlin in Moscow. Today, this has become the greatest easter egg hunt in history. A few of the eggs have randomly turned up through private dealers, and even a jumble sale back in 2015!
But how did these easter eggs go missing in the first place? It is likely that these eggs were acquired by either loyalist or sold by the Russian government to private sellers and dealers so they could quickly acquire funds. It gets murky from here as these private sellers could have easily turned these into scrap, had these pieces fund illegal activities, or even more mysteriously just kept them away for their own secret pleasure and enjoyment, knowing that they will become immensely more valuable the longer it is a mystery!
Catherine the Great Easter Egg, c.1914, Source - Artsy
Not to mention, as there are few surviving documents as to how these eggs looked, it is likely that people may own them as eccentric family heirlooms without even knowing their provenance! Existing photographs and Fabergé records show that these eggs exist, which in turn has created many fake replicas.
The Lost Third Imperial Easter Egg, c.1887, Source - Wartski
Affair of the Diamond Necklace
Ah Marie Antoinette, she never fails to make an appearance in our jewellery blogs! No matter what we cover, she always is related to something important jewellery-wise! So what did she do this time?
Portrait of Marie Antoinette, c.1767, Source - The Court Jeweller
Well, this story is believed to have culminated in Marie Antoinette’s gruesome end. The affair of the Diamond necklace was an incident that occurred between 1784-1785. At this point, Marie Antoinette’s reputation was already tarnished, so this affair was not favourable. The Diamond necklace was commissioned by Louis XV in 1772 for his mistress Madame du Barry, and it was absolutely incredible. In today’s US currency, the necklace would have cost 15 million dollars to be made. It took several years for the jewellers to make this necklace, so long infact that Louis XV died and Madame du Barry was banished from court.
Zircon reconstruction of the Queen's Diamond Necklace, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Louis XVI, his son, consequently offered the necklace to his new bride to be Marie Antoinette, but the Queen actually refused to buy the necklace (as it was believed she hated Madame du Barry). This meant that the necklace was unpaid for and actually almost bankrupted the jewellers.
This is where Jeanne de la Motte enters. A social climber, and illegitimate descendant of Henry II of France, Jeanne decided that she wanted to use the necklace to her advantage to gain both wealth and power. In March 1785, Jeanne became the mistress of Cardinal de Rohan, a man who was desperately trying to gain favour with the Queen as she hated him. Jeanne lied to the Cardinal saying that she was positively received by the Queen, and said that she could take his letters to the Queen herself. But, she would actually pretend to be the Queen and respond to the letters herself. So, this began a faux correspondence between Rohan and the “Queen”.
In fact, Rohan actually fell in love with the Queen and asked to meet her in secret. Jeanne hired a prostitute who was known to have likeness of the Queen who met with Rohan. Jeanne also borrowed large sums of money from the cardinal too. In 1785, France was starting to fall apart and the monetary divide was incredibly large. Jeanne told the Cardinal that Marie Antoinette wanted to buy the necklace, but did not want to purchase it publicly as it would hurt her image. Jeanne forged letters and her signature which was then presented to the jeweller. It was agreed that the necklace would be paid in instalments by the Queen. Rohan took the necklace to Jeanne, and it was then picked apart and sold on the black markets of Paris. When the time came to pay, it was quickly realised that something was wrong. The jewellers complained to the Queen who then said that she never ordered the necklace. The Cardinal was arrested, and subsequently Jeanne was arrested too, but it gave her enough time to destroy her papers.
Painting of the Cardinal Rohan at Queen Marie Antoinette's Apartments in Fontainebleau, Henri Adolphe Laissement, c.1895, Source - Pinterest
The trial quickly became of public interest as high aristocratic members of society were involved. Even though Marie Antoinette was innocent, many people in France believed that she used Jeanne de la Motte as an instrument to bring Cardinal Rohan down and that she could get the Diamond necklace in the end. Plus, the fact that Cardinal Rohan was actually acquitted, and Marie Antoinette was disappointed by this outcome, substantiated this further. All of these factors made many believe that Marie Antoinette was an extravagant spendthrift who cared more about money than her own people.
Four years later… well… we all know what happened there!
Gemstones, we love them, we really do! And whilst we adore wearing gemstones of every variety, we really don’t want to get on the wrong side of these cursed gemstones.
The Hope Diamond is one of the most famous Diamonds in the world, for both the right and wrong reasons!
It’s a stunning blue colour that is incredibly rare in Diamonds, and ownership records date this piece to being discovered 4 centuries ago. The Diamond is also 45.72 carats, making it immense and impressive.
The Hope Diamond was owned by histories most famous persons including Louis XIV and Harry Winston. But, despite this, why is featured in this blog?
The Hope Diamond is believed to be cursed, bringing misfortune onto any who own it! This is believed to be because the Diamond was actually acquired in India in 1666 by a French gemologist. In the 19th and 20th century, people believed that it was stolen from the eye of a sculpted statue of the Hindu Goddess Sita. Although historians and gemologists believe that these curse accusations are actually just coincidences, it is believed that some claims were also false to make people by the stone.
The Hope Diamond reset into a Harry Winston Necklace, Source - The Smithsonian
Many who bought the stone or owned the stone have died by unfortunate and gruesome circumstances. For instance the French gemologist was later killed by a pack of wild dogs, Marie Antoinette was beheaded, Princess de Lambelle was murdered by French revolutionaries, two young men who bought the stone, Jacques Colet and Hendrik Fals, on two separate occasions both died by suicide, guardians of the stone were hanged and a Frenchwoman Mlle Ladue was murdered by a sweetheart.
So naturally, amongst all of the monstrosities, it quickly was believed that owning and wearing the Diamond would lead to your bitter end. Yet, many historical accounts prove some of these deaths to be false and just sordid speculation. In fact, some of these people mentioned are even believed to be fictitious.
Socialite Mrs Phipps wearing the Hope Diamond, c.1949, Source - Barnaby's
Today, the gemstone is housed in the prestigious Smithsonian museum, so whether it is really true or not that it is cursed, it is safely kept away.
The Delhi Sapphire is featured within our February Amethyst guide, as its not actually a Sapphire, but an Amethyst! Like the Hope Diamond, the Delhi Sapphire was linked to a string of misfortunes of its owners - let’s unpack this shall we?
Now, we know that this gemstone was an actual theft as it was stolen from a sacred temple in Indra (the Hindu God of War) by a Bengal cavalrymen as an act of colonialism. The soldier, Colonel W. Ferris brought the stone back to England. It wasn’t uncommon for gemstones to be stolen from colonised countries and then resold. But, since Colonel W. Ferris had this gemstone, his fortunes took a downturn both health wise and financially. His son sadly followed the same fate, and it was believed that a family friend, who was in possession of the jewel at the time, also committed suicide.
The Delhi Sapphire (Amethyst), Source - The Straits Times
The stone was passed around amongst various owners, until it landed in the hands of Edward Heron-Allen who was the last owner of the jewel. Sadly, Heron-Allen did experience bad luck from the moment it landed within his hands, it was passed around his friends who also experienced bad luck.
In fact, his friend a famous singer lost her voice and could never sing again! It’s bad reputation soon meant that no one would buy the gem so Heron-Allen was stuck with it. In 1904, Heron-Allen’s daughter was born and his superstition got the better of him. He ordered the gemstone to be locked away by his banker and never touched again until after his death.
In 1943 after he died, his daughter asked for the stone to be donated to the Natural History Museum. In 2000 John Whittaker, head of the museums micropaleontology team took the stone with him to a symposium. Not only did he get caught in a violent thunderstorm, but he also became sick with a stomach bug!
One of the Delhi Sapphire’s former owners had the stone reset with two Amethyst scarab beetles and engraved runes so counteract its negative mystical energy.
Black Prince Ruby
The Black Prince Ruby, also featured in our Ruby Birthstone guide, is actually a Spinel! Nevertheless it is a gemstone that is linked to danger, deceit, and murder.
The Black Prince Ruby (Spinel) in the Imperial State Crown, Source - Royal Collection Trust
The Black Prince Ruby was first recorded in the 14th century and was in possession of the Sultan of Granada who ruled the last Muslim outpost in Spain. The Sultan came under attack from King Pedro the Cruel who ruled the Christian kingdom of Castile. The Sultan and his entourage were brutally murdered whilst he was wearing the stone, and King Pedro took it for himself.
King Pedro was then embroiled in a familial war, as his half brother made a claim for the Castile throne. Pedro asked for the support of Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince to help. King Pedro was successful and as a reward, he gave Edward of Woodstock the Ruby. The Ruby was then passed along the English monarchy, but did claim some unfortunate souls on the way:
Portrait of Edward the Black Prince, c.1820, Source - Pinterest
- The Black Prince died after 9 years of a horrendous disease
- Pedro was eventually overthrown and killed by his brother
- Henry IV died from a mysterious disease
- Many kings wore the stone into battle (and narrowly escaped with their lives), this meant that Richard III wore it into the battle of bosworth in 1485, when he was killed by Henry Tudor.
- The Ruby was passed to James I, and his son Charles I was executed. The crown jewels were then destroyed or sold as the monarchy was temporarily dissolved.
- The stone was re-found and then set within the Imperial State Crown, and since the unfortunate exile of James II it has not created havoc… yet.
Black Orlov Diamond
The Black Orlov Diamond, also known as the eye of Brahma, weighs 67.50ct. This Diamond can be traced back to 19th century India, and was believed to have been set within statue of Brahma, the Hindu God of creation, in the Southern Indian city of Pondicherry. This Diamond, like the Hope Diamond and the Delhi Sapphire was allegedly stolen from this statue by a travelling monk, and the minute it was stolen, it was cursed.
Black Orlov Diamond, Source - Museum of Natural History
In 1932, the Diamond was imported to the United States by a European Diamond dealer named J.W Paris. A week after the Diamond was sold, J.W Paris fell into a deep melancholy and committed suicide. He is believed to be the Black Diamond’s first victim.
Although historians believe that J.W Paris was in monetary distress at this time, many still believed that the Diamond was the reason why he died.
In the 1940s, the Black Orlov Diamond was owned by Russian Princess Leonila Galitstine-Bariatinsky and then the gem was passed to Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov, another Russian princess. In 1947, after both ladies had the gem, they both jumped to their deaths 1 month after another.
Later in the 20th century, the Black Orlov Diamond was purchased by Charles.F.Wilson who cut the Diamond into three separate stones. Since it was cut and refashioned into a glittering brooch necklace, it has been worn by actress Felicity Huffman in 2006 to the Oscars. Although Felicity Huffman is still alive, she has recently been imprisoned for the college admissions scandal, so perhaps the Orlov’s Diamonds bad magic is still rife!