By Michelle Graff

Due to a last-minute scheduling conflict, I was only able to sit in on two full sessions at last week's diamond conference, put together by New York-based Initiatives in Art and Culture.
But it was worth it.
The sessions were interesting and were a nice departure from the countless sessions on sales, inventory and social networking I've attended in the past, where I tend to hear the same things over and over again.
Both of the sessions, coincidentally, included extensive discussion on the Hope Diamond. Here are a few gems (ha, ha) I gleaned from Friday:

  • Harry Winston was the first jeweler to loan pieces to celebrities for the Oscars. Who wore it and when? Actress Jennifer Jones (1919-2009) donned Harry Winston for the 1943 Academy Awards, the year she took home the best actress Oscar for her performance in "The Song of Bernadette."

  • Many historic gems passed through Harry Winston's hands, including the Lesotho diamond in 1967. One of the diamonds cleaved from this monster piece of rough, the 40.42-carat Lesotho III, later came to belong to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It was her engagement ring when she married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

  • For a while the famous 45.52-carat blue Hope Diamond wandered the country as part of a traveling exhibition of outstanding gemstones known as the "Court of Jewels," which toured the nation's major cities between 1949 and 1953. People paid admission to view the Court's jewels, with proceeds going to benefit children stricken with polio.

  • Harry Winston gifted the Hope to the Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian Institute in 1958. It's still there today, on display in the National Museum of Natural History.

  • It's estimated that more than 150 million people have seen the Hope since it went on display at the museum in the late 1950s.

  • Though it's known that the Hope originated in India, the "where" and "when" are two questions scientists have never been able to answer.

  • Through the use of high-tech computer modeling, the Smithsonian put together a cutting history of the Hope. It is believed that the diamond we know as the Hope was originally a different shape and was part of the French crown jewels.

  • Known as the "French Blue" and cut from a piece of rough called the "Tavernier Blue," the diamond disappeared during the French Revolution (1789-1799) when someone snatched the crown jewels. It resurfaced in England 20 years and two days later, slightly smaller and with an altered shape. (Twenty years is the statute of limitations for war crimes in France, meaning someone waited exactly as long as they had to before getting the stone re-cut and putting it up for sale).

  •  Owners of the Hope have included Henry Philip Hope, a banker, collector of gems and the stone's namesake, and U.S. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean. Harry Winston acquired McLean's jewels in 1947.

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