By Beth Bernstein
From celebrated to cursed, symbolic to sentimental, the most famous pendants of all time feature rare huge diamonds in white or natural colored yellows and blues that set the mood of the time in which they were made. Some are in personal collections while others are on view in museums. Each diamond pendant has a unique history that creates their legendary status in jewelry’s past and present.
The Blue Diamond Pendant Necklaces
The Hope Diamond
Are there any other jewels so awe-inspiring in beauty yet so steeped in superstition and tales of curse and misfortune as it passed along in history: revolution, beheadings, thievery, changing of many hands and then death all inspired the lore and legends associated with the Hope diamond. Let’s start with famed diamond merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier selling the 112 3/16-carat diamond 110-carat blue diamond in 1668 to Louis XIV after he visited the Golconda mines in India. At the time it was reportedly triangular in shape and crudely cut. Its color was described by Tavernier as a "beautiful violet."
In 1673 the stone was recut by the court jeweler, into an approximately 67-carat stone. After it was cut, its color was described as an intense steely-blue and the stone became known as the "Blue Diamond of the Crown," or the "French Blue." The king wore it around his neck for ceremonial occasions.
Fast forward to 1791, after an attempt by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee France during the revolution, the jewels of the French Royal Treasury were taken over by the government. A week long looting of the treasury in September 1792 resulted in the French Blue Diamond being stolen.
In 1812, several references suggest that the diamond has been recut again, showed up in London and was acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom and then was sold to pay off his debts after his death in 1830.
The next owner is found in the 1839 entry of the gem collection catalog of the well-known Henry Philip Hope, the man from whom the diamond was named. Following Hope’s death, the diamond stayed in the family until 1901. It was sold again to pay off debts. It changed hands until it wound up in New York City, went back to auction in Paris in 1909. It sold soon after to another owner until it was resold to Pierre Cartier the same year.
In 1910 at Cartier in Paris, the Hope was shown to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, the wife of the owner of The Washington Post. It went through different mountings, but sometime later it became the now famous diamond necklace pendant that we all recognize. Mrs. McLean wore the diamond until she died in 1947, then Harry Winston Inc. purchased Mrs. McLean's entire jewelry collection, including the Hope diamond, from her estate in 1949. In 1958, they donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and the amazing blue diamond became one of the premier pieces of the museum’s collection.
The Heart of the Ocean
Inspired by the rarity color and size of the Hope Diamond, the fictitious ornate necklace that went from the screen to street in record time was the necklace worn by Kate Winslet in her role as ‘Rose’ in the 1997 remake of Titanic. In the film, a blue diamond necklace dubbed the ‘Heart of the Ocean’ is given by steel tycoon ‘Caledon Hockley’ to his fiancé ‘Rose’ as an engagement gift. Asprey & Garrard created the necklace for the film, crafted from cubic zirconium and set in white gold. But then, in another twist on jewelry’s history, the faux jewel inspired a real one.
The popularity of the film inspired notable reproductions of the blue diamond necklace. Harry Winston, the house which owned the Hope Diamond, and many other famous gems, designed its own take on the ‘Heart of the Ocean’— Le Cœur de la Mer—using a 15-carat, authentic blue diamond. This was worn at the 1998 Academy Awards by Gloria Stuart, the actress nominated for playing the elder version of ‘Rose’ and was worth $20 million.
Asprey & Garrard also created another version, but this one was composed of a single 170- carat sapphire and sixty-five diamonds—totaling 30 carats. This piece was loaned to Celine Dion to wear for her performance of ‘My Heart Will Go On', the film’s Oscar-nominated theme song at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony. Even though not a famed diamond, it’s worth noting that two rare and real necklaces were influenced by the faux one created for the film which was reminiscent of the most infamous diamond in history.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Diamond Pendant Necklaces
When talking about famous diamond pendant necklaces, we immediately think of Elizabeth Taylor who owned more than one. She was one of the most world-renowned jewelry collectors. After Taylor met and married Richard Burton, he gave her some of the most legendary and jaw-dropping jewels in the world. Three of the diamond pendant necklaces include:
The Taj Mahal Diamond Pendant
The couple celebrated Taylor’s fortieth birthday in Budapest and her gift from Burton was a heart-shaped diamond from Cartier. Burton purchased the diamond mounted as a pendant in a gold-braided tassel necklace. It was originally a gift from Shah Jahan in 1621 to his favorite wife, the queen who inspired the Taj Mahal. Thus, it was called the Taj Mahal diamond. Cartier replicated the look of the original chain with diamonds, rubies and gold braiding. Burton joked with Taylor that he intended to buy her the Taj Mahal, but it was too big to move to their home in Switzerland. He purchased her the Taj Mahal diamond pendant necklace instead.
The Taylor/Burton Diamond
Just a few months before, in 1969, Burton had acquired ‘La Peregrina’ pearl at auction. This time he was bidding on the twelfth largest diamond in the world. Burton had some heavy competition. It was purported that Aristotle Onassis was also bidding on the 69.42-carat pear-shaped diamond ring. Burton gave his representative at the auction a limit of $1 million to spend. But when the hammer went down, the ring was sold to Cartier for $50,000 more. Burton was distraught at missing out. Refusing to take no for an answer, he negotiated with Cartier and bought the ring from them for $1.1 million, with the agreement to allow Cartier to display the stone for a limited period in their Chicago and New York stores. The pear-shaped ring was renamed ‘The Taylor-Burton Diamond.’ Though Taylor originally wore the diamond as a ring, she found it too huge, she, therefore, decided to have Cartier design a necklace around it. She wore it to the Scorpio Ball in Monte Carlo to celebrate Princess Grace’s fortieth birthday. First, the diamond had to be delivered in the company of two armed guards hired by Burton and Cartier; and then it was stipulated that whenever she wore it in public, Taylor had to be escorted by security guards carrying machine guns, as per the requirements of the diamond’s insurers, Lloyd’s of London.
The Just Because Diamond Pendant
In her book My Love Affair with Jewelry, Elizabeth Taylor revealed that in addition to the big occasion birthday and Christmas gifts, Richard Burton also gave her ‘just because’ gifts—including what she describes as ‘I love you it’s Tuesday, It’s a beautiful day. Let’s go for a walk. I want to buy you present gifts.’ These tokens of love ranged from the magnificent to the sweet and simple.
There is also what Taylor dubs ‘the kiss-and-make-up present’. The couple’s tumultuous relationship was often soothed by Burton’s knowledge of how to make up with a woman, and with Taylor specifically. While both Burton and Taylor were filming different movies in Rome—Burton with Sophia Loren in The Voyage and Taylor, The Driver’s Seat—the couple had a terrible argument after Taylor believed Burton was being 'a little too friendly towards Loren’. As she described it: ‘They were flirting, speaking in Italian to each other, and making [me] feel left out.’ She finally decided on a little separation. After returning to the US, she needed to undergo an appendectomy. She did not call Burton and he did not call her, but it was not long before he heard about her operation. He wanted her back in Rome to be with him and presented her with a Van Cleef & Arpels pavé diamond three-dimensional heart pendant. Taylor notes that it is one of her favorite pieces of jewelry ‘because it was given with such love’—adding, ‘that man knew how to make up!’
The Yellow Diamond Pendant Necklaces
The Tiffany Diamond
Only worn by three women in the world, jewelry history was made when Lady Gaga became the third and arrived in the famed Tiffany diamond at the 2019 Oscar awards. With her Alexander McQueen black strapless gown, Lady Gaga evoked the look that Audrey Hepburn made famous in Breakfast at Tiffany's, although Hepburn never wore the diamond in the film, she did wear it for publicity stills. She created iconic scenes, an aura around diamonds, and secured the jewelry house’s place in movie history, as a tourist attraction and a place where all women wanted to shop.
Back to the diamond…It’s one of the largest and finest fancy yellow diamonds in the world. It was set into a Jean Schlumberger necklace mounting for publicity shots for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961. It also had a cameo appearance in a display case among Hepburn’s Holly Go Lightly spots while walking through the store in the film. While working with Tiffany & Co., Schlumberger created a ‘wardrobe of jewels’ (settings) for the diamond. The first person to wear the diamond was Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse for a Tiffany Ball in 1957.
The gem was first discovered in the Kimberley diamond mine in South Africa in 1877. The following year the 287.42-carat stone was purchased by founder Charles Lewis Tiffany for $18,000. Dr. George Frederick Kunz, Tiffany’s chief gemologist in Paris, supervised the cutting of the rough diamond into a cushion-shape brilliant weighing 128.54 carats with 82 facets—24 more facets than the traditional brilliant cut to enhance its beauty and vivid color. The diamond has been put up for sale just once in its history, but for some reason did not sell. In 2012, a necklace of 100 carats of white diamonds was created to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Tiffany & Co. and to preserve the legacy of the jeweler’s most famous gem. Tiffany & Co continues to display the diamond which the renowned house has kept since its purchase in the 1900s.
The Harry Winston Isadora Duncan Necklace
What started as a screen gem and turned out to be one of the most expensive diamond pendant necklaces to be created for a film. Harry Winston’s 84-carat canary yellow diamond was set as a drop pendant in one of Winston’s wreath style settings and was named after Isadora Duncan. It was featured in the rom-com How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days (2003), worn by actress Kate Hudson as Andie Anderson. Hudson’s character wears the necklace to dazzling effect with a beautiful yellow, bias-cut satin gown. After the film hit theaters, a 51.94-carat yellow sapphire replica was created and displayed alongside the gown in the 2013 ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Afterward, the original diamond Winston necklace sold for $5 million.
The “L’Incomparable” Diamond Pendant Necklace
Named by Guinness World Records as the world’s most expensive necklace, the 407.48-carat shield-shaped step-cut pendant is the largest natural fancy deep brown-yellow internally flawless diamond ever graded by the Gemological Institute of America. It is the centerpiece and the focus of a magnificent leaf and vine inspired motif of an 18K gold rose gold chain with white gold diamonds with over 229 TCW of white diamonds. Designed by the internationally renowned Mouawad, the total weight is 637 carats. Before being cut, it weighed 890 carats and was on exhibit in museums, the first being the Smithsonian Institute. Once L’Incomparable was designed as a necklace it was unveiled at the Doha Jewellery and Watch Exhibition in 2013, where the pendant necklace is reported to be worth $55 million.
What’s most intriguing about the diamond (and there are a lot of alluring aspects) is how it was discovered. A young girl was playing near her uncle’s house and found it in a discarded mining rubble pile in the African Congo in the 1980s.
A Cut Above Diamond Pendant
The Star of China Briolette Diamond
Another diamond that made headlines in 2013, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale. William Goldberg spent six months cutting th160.5 carats of rough into what Christie’s called the ‘most perfect briolette diamond’ ever sold at auction.
When it was fashioned into a pendant it weighed 75.36 carats and is suspended from a purplish pink marquise-shaped diamond. According to an article in Forbes at the time by Anthony DeMarco, “The briolette has been graded by the Gemological Institute of America to be of D color and type IIa, indicating its internally flawless clarity, excellent polish, highest level of chemical purity and exceptional optical transparency. Less than one carat in every 100,000 carats of diamonds is found to be found in this perfect condition.”
It was purchased by Tiffany Chen, who named the diamond The Star of China after her company China Star Entertainment Ltd. She purchased it for more than $11.15 million.
Beth Bernstein is a jewelry historian, collector of period and modern jewelry and a purveyor of all things sparkly. She has penned three books—'My Charmed Life,' a memoir; 'Jewelry's Shining Stars,' a modern jewelry design coffee table book; and 'If These Jewels Could Talk,' an in-depth look at celebrities and the stories behind their legendary jewels on the silver screen and in real life—with a fourth one in the works. She has written and continues to write for major print and online magazines on all subjects pertaining to jewelry and style.