February 11, 2005


Researchers using computer analysis have traced the origin of the famed Hope Diamond, concluding that it was cut from a larger stone that was once part of the crown jewels of France.

A French connection had been suspected for the Hope, but the new study shows just how it would have fit inside the larger French Blue Diamond and how that gem was cut, Smithsonian gem curator Jeffrey Post explained.

The deep blue Hope Diamond, centerpiece of the gem collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, is famed for its claimed history of bad luck for its owners. It's been good fortune for the museum, though, drawing millions of visitors.

Post said the new analysis took a year, with researchers using sketches from pre-Revolutionary France, scientific studies of the French crown jewels and computer models.

"This new Hope Diamond research would not have been possible 10 years ago," said Post. "What is exciting is that we are constantly learning ... about our collections as we apply new high-tech research methods. Even the Hope Diamond is grudgingly giving up some of its secrets."

The research helps confirm the Hope Diamond as originating with a 115-carat stone found in India in 1668. That stone was sold to King Louis XIV of France, who had it cut into the 69-carat French Blue. The French Blue was stolen during the French Revolution.

A little more than 20 years later, after the statute of limitations expired, a large blue diamond was quietly put up for sale in London, and eventually Henry Philip Hope purchased it.

Finally donated to the Smithsonian by jeweler Harry Winston, the now 45.52-carat stone is the world's largest blue diamond.

While the French Blue no longer exists, Post said the sketches of it from France were quite detailed, allowing a computer model of that stone.

In 1700, French scientists had also studied several stones from the royal collection, determining their specific gravity and other details.

Their analysis of other stones that still exist was quite accurate, Post said in a telephone interview, so the researchers felt the data on the French Blue was also probably accurate.

After using the sketches and analysis to make the computer model of the French Blue, and at the same time measuring the Hope Diamond and entering that data into the computer, the researchers "virtually placed the Hope back inside the French Blue," Post said.

"It turns out it actually fits perfectly in only one way, but at that orientation, when you saw how it fit, you could see why it was cut the way it is," Post said. "They cut the corners off the French Blue, changed slightly the angle of the bottom facets, and that produced the Hope Diamond."

- Associated Press

In Brief

Mouse allergen in homes

A quarter of Baltimore inner-city homes sampled for an air quality study showed as much airborne mouse allergen - which can trigger asthma attacks - as university research labs that use mice, a study shows.

Dust mites, pollen, mold and allergens from cockroaches and mice are all known to trigger asthma, a disease that afflicts 15 million people in the United States. Although airborne mouse allergen in university research labs has been studied and is often monitored, no one had ever measured airborne mouse allergens in homes, said Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, a pediatric allergist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

In a study published this month, Matsui found that air samples taken last year from 58 homes of city school students with asthma showed mouse allergen levels comparable to those found in labs. The findings show the importance of using exterminators, sealing cracks in walls and educating families to clean up food remains, she said.

Stem cells for hearts

Special stem cells tucked into the hearts of newborns are capable of maturing into healthy tissue that may be used to correct a wide range of heart defects, according to research reported in yesterday's edition of the journal Nature.

The stem cells, identified in tissue discarded after infant surgery, are already programmed to become heart muscle, unlike stem cells from human embryos that may develop into any tissue. The discovery may allow doctors to cultivate millions of the cells by growing them with other heart tissues.

Children with heart disease and congenital birth defects currently are treated with devices like heart valves, tissue grafts and animal products. The findings may mean infant heart patients, too, might one day be treated with tissue created from their own stem cells, according to researchers at the University of California at San Diego.

Warming up the world

Last year was the fourth-warmest year in recorded history, continuing a 30-year global warming trend, and 2005 could be the hottest ever, according to an annual NASA study of surface temperatures.

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