It was almost a mission impossible: taking the Hope diamond on a field trip nearly 230 miles north, from its bulletproof, three-inch-glass case at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to the Harry Winston New York salon on Fifth Avenue. The security was beyond tight. Advance mentions in the press were banned — imagine tipping off any Thomas Crown wannabes, reporters were cautioned. But on Tuesday night, the storied 45.52-carat blue diamond was finally unveiled as part of Harry Winston’s 2010 “The Court of Jewels” exhibit.
It’s only the fifth time the gem has made it out of the museum since Winston, who bought the Hope necklace from the Evalyn Walsh McLean estate in 1949, donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958.
“It’s more than an event,” said Frédéric de Narp, president and chief executive officer of Harry Winston, who hosted alongside Halle Berry. “It’s an historical event.”
Indeed. This also marked the first time the Hope diamond was seen in its new temporary setting, which was voted on by the American public last fall as part of the 50th anniversary of Winston’s donation to the museum.
There were three options created by in-house craftsmen: Rie Yatsuki’s Renewed Hope necklace with cascading diamond strands inspired by a waterfall; Maurice Galli’s asymmetric A Journey of Hope style, where the stone is fastened to the side, and his Embracing Hope design, which includes three rows of 340 baguette diamonds framing the Hope at the center. From the 110,000 ballots cast, Embracing Hope won with 45,000 votes. After a year, the setting will be sold, with a new gemstone addition, and proceeds will be donated to the Smithsonian; the Hope will return to its previous mount.
“This has been a three-year celebration,” explained de Narp. “It took us more than 1,000 hours to create this necklace, with eight master jewelers working months and months. It’s incredible how Americans have actually chosen the most difficult design of the three to produce and manufacture.” He added that Embracing Hope places the diamond in a rather revolutionary north-south position versus its traditional east-west alignment. On Sunday, the Smithsonian Channel will debut a new documentary narrated by Kim Basinger, “Mystery of the Hope Diamond,” which will include discussion of the new setting.
History, in fact, played a large part in all of Tuesday’s proceedings. “The Court of Jewels” is actually modeled on a similarly named exhibit by Winston, which included the Hope, that traveled the nation from 1949 to 1953. The current showcase offers a slightly different, though no less spectacular, set of treasures. The original housed the celebrated twin Indore Pears diamonds as well as the Star of the East diamond. This updated version, estimated at more than $1 billion, includes a rare 70.45-carat Paraiba tourmaline necklace; the Star of Bengal ruby, a 30-carat Kashmir sapphire ring; an assortment of fancy colored diamonds, and the famous 71.73-carat Lesotho I emerald-cut diamond. (Winston cut the original 601-carat Lesotho stone into 18 parts; Lesotho III, at 40.42 carats, became part of the engagement ring that Aristotle Onassis gave to Jacqueline Kennedy.)
“Mr. Winston would put together his entire collection of gems and jewels — put the Hope diamond in the center — and invite his clients to pay an admission fee,” explained de Narp. “A hundred percent of that would be given back to charitable organizations, including March of Dimes.”
While the current showcase is free — and open for private appointments till the Thursday when the Hope returns to the Smithsonian and the exhibit travels to other Harry Winston outposts — the philanthropic element remains a major part of the company. De Narp announced that he will be launching the Harry Winston Hope Foundation, which will contribute five percent of all sales — before taxes, he pointed out — to educational charities around the world. The inaugural donation will go toward the Smithsonian.
“Harry Winston didn’t hesitate to give the largest, rarest, most historical [stone] in the world for education, to share his passion for gems with a broader audience,” said de Narp. “We want to give back in the same spirit of our founder.”