Talk to me, Harry Winston. Tell me all about it. Despite Marilyn Monroe's breathy aside in her signature tune Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, when connoisseur Winston made a gift of the legendary Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958, a lot of people didn't want to hear about it. In fact, the museum was flooded with mail urging it to return the stone before the United States suffered catastrophe.

The alleged curse of the Hope diamond can be traced to a grossly inaccurate article published in the London Times on Friday, June 25, 1902. By that time, the India-mined diamond had been in circulation for almost 250 years and at least 10 owners had treasured its deep blue brilliance. None of those owners considered the gem to be bad luck, but after the Times story was published, the idea of the curse became deeply entrenched in the world's imagination.

Dr. Richard Kurin, an anthropologist and a director of the Smithsonian, seems to enjoy debunking the many myths of the famous jewel in Hope Diamond: The Legendary Story of a Cursed Gem. Kurin uses the history of the stone and the history of the curse to illustrate the evolution of cultural attitudes toward diamonds and, more broadly, the tensions between colonial powers and the lands they exploited. He works in portraits of the gem's owners, among them Marie Antoinette and Gilded Age socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.

The Hope diamond, though not the largest of gems, survived ownership by kings and knaves, an array of settings from brooch to necklace and at least three cuttings to become a modern cultural icon and the centerpiece of the Smithsonian's gem collection, visited by more than 6 million people each year. Geologist Chris Scott writes from Nashville.

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