The Hope family name is forever entwined with the the world’s most famous diamond. Yet, the Hope Diamond was just one magnificent gem in an extraordinary collection of precious stones assembled by Henry Philip Hope. Though the collection was eventually dispersed and sold after his death, much against his wishes, another important jewel from the Hope collection has resurfaced at Bonhams in London. The Hope Spinel, a 50.13-carat stone, will be offered at auction on September 24th as part of the Fine Jewelry sale. The historic gem is estimated to fetch up between $230,000 to $310,000.
The resurgence of this stone piqued my interest on the story behind it and the man after whom it is named. Henry Philip Hope (1774-1839) came from a wealthy Anglo-Dutch family of merchants and merchant bankers. A collector with a passion for precious gems, Hope began forming his collection around 1800 and continued adding to it until his death in 1839.
Over 700 gems formed the collection and together was extensively catalogued by German jeweler Mr. Bram Hertz. Just before Hope’s death in December of 1839, “A Catalogue of the Collection of Pearls and Precious Stones formed by Henry Philip Hope Esq” was published, revealing one man’s insatiable passion for earth’s most precious materials. From Hertz’s introduction:
The formation of the collection of precious stones described in this catalogue has employed the proprietor during a great number of years. It is only as the result of the rare combination of the most refined taste, the highest and most ardent love for the beautiful productions of nature, and the abundant means of procuring them, that so rare and unique an assemblage of precious gems has been brought together; an assemblage which, from the number of magnificent and unique specimens, is unrivalled, and offers the connoisseur a vast field of research among the numerous varieties of colour and remarkable operations of nature; varieties which, on examination, are really astonishing, and, in many instances, almost incomprehensible.
The collection was kept in a mahogany case of sixteen drawers, with the larger stones residing in drawers 14 and 16. Pearls, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, spinels, topazes, aquamarines, zircons, garnets, tourmalines, opals, peridots, amethysts, and many more specimens of gemstones comprised his collection.
The first drawer contained various types of pearls, the largest of the lot kept in the 16th drawer. The large oriental baroque pearl, known as The Hope Pearl, was the largest known natural pearl at the time, measuring 2 inches in length and 4.5 inches in circumference and weighing 1,800 grains (or 3 ounces).
The second and third drawers boasted a kaleidoscope of rough and cut diamonds, respectively, with colors that included bright reddish orange, pink, bright bluish-green, and many shades of yellow and brown. A number of the 49 faceted diamonds came from the legendary mines of Golconda, including a 14.25-carat briolette diamond formerly part of the crown jewels of Portugal. Of course, the Hope Diamond was the most prized jewel above them all, resting in drawer 16, and is described by Hertz:
This matchless gem combines the beautiful colour of the sapphire with the prismatic fire and brilliancy of the diamond, and, on account of its extraordinary colour, great size, and other fine qualities, it certainly may be called unique; as we may presume that there exists no cabinet, nor any collection of crown jewels in the world, which can boast the possession of so curious and fine a gem as the one we are now describing…
Other notable gems in his expansive collection included a sapphire of “a very fine velvet-blue colour, resembling the flower of the bluebottle found among the corn” weighing 532 grains (roughly 130 carats); a 133-carat emerald that once adorned the turban of Tipu Sultan, and a 50-carat (or 199.5 grains) spinel of octagonal shape and “of a fine light claret colour, very spread, beautifully cut, and free from any flaw or defect.”
Cut according to European ideals due its significant size and exemplary color, the 50.13-carat Hope Spinel joins a group of other notable spinels – many of which were mistaken for rubies for centuries. Until 1783, red and pink spinels were thought to be rubies due to their similar chemical properties. After the distinction had been recognized, spinels continued to be referred to as ‘balais’ rubies, the ‘balais’ or ‘balas’ descriptor deriving from an ancient word for Badakhshan – an ancient source for spinels north of Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan. The largest important spinels include the “Black Prince’s Ruby”, an uncut 170 carat red spinel that is now set in the Imperial State Crown in the British crown jewels; the 361-carat “Timur Ruby”, also in the crown jewels; and the 500-carat Samarian Spinel, the largest known spinel in the world and part of the Iranian crown jewels.
After Hope’s death in 1839, his collection was inevitably divided among his nephews (Hope died childless), the eight most valuable jewels going to his eldest nephew Henry Thomas Hope. It was the gems next heir, Lord Francis Hope (second grandson of Henry Thomas Hope), who would sell the precious gems – including the Hope Diamond and the Hope Spinel – to cover his profligate spending habits and gambling debts. The Hope Diamond was sold in 1901 and eventually made its way to United States, where it remains today. In 1917, the Hope Spinel was sold at Christies in the auction of “The Hope Heirlooms”, where it sold for £1,060 ($122,140 today) to the London dealer Drayson. For further reading about the Hope family and the provenance of the Hope Spinel, please read Bonhams detailed catalogue note for the stone.
A spectacular gem with an equally spectacular provenance and history, the Hope Spinel is a jewelry connoisseur’s dream piece – a jewel that once shared a space with the legendary Hope Diamond in one of the most important gem collections in history.