The gay connection to the rarest jewel of all

By David Bjorgen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his great-grandmother’s purchase of the Hope Diamond, Nashville resident Joseph Gregory released a new book to honor its history.

The Hope Diamond: Evalyn Walsh McLean and the Captivating Mystery of the World’s Most Alluring Jewel examines the mysteries of the 45.52 carat blue diamond. This excellent tome also explores the life of gold mining heiress and Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was the longest and last private owner of the jewel.

The Story of the Hope Diamond Which Ruined Its Owners'

The Hope Diamond is now valued at $250 million and currently stands as the most popular exhibit at the Smithsonian.

"The Hope Diamond went into the Smithsonian in 1958, and it's still the Number One exhibit," Gregory says proudly. "Over 9 million people view the diamond each year and stand in line for two hours (to do so)."

Originally from Louisville, Ken., Gregory splits his time between Nashville and New York. He travels around the world to speak about the Hope Diamond and its important legacy.

"I feel like the luckiest person in the world to share the history of the Hope Diamond," says Gregory, who had previously authored the book Queen of Diamonds: The Fabled Legacy of Evalyn Walsh McLean. "It's my obligation in this generation that we live in. We need to hear these stories of our grandparents and great-grandparents. They lived harder than we did. But I'm just trying to have fun with it and get people to realize what they have. I love that this legacy is continuing on."

Evalyn, only 22, purchased the Hope Diamond in 1911 from Cartier for a mere $180,000. This after an illustrious list of former owners had faced turmoil during their ownership.

Evalyn herself experienced difficulties in the years after she bought the jewel: her first son died while she and her husband Ned were traveling to the Kentucky Derby; Ned was later committed to a mental institution; and the death of her only daughter, Evie McLean, in 1946 was a particularly troubling loss.

Her great-grandson acknowledges the diamond’s legendary curse, but accepts the fact that "She always said that bad luck objects are lucky," Gregory notes. "She said it made her fingers tingle when she felt it. Many kings and queens have come to tragic ends while they were in possession of it. Marie Antoinette was sent to the guillotine (after wearing it). But my mother (Mamie) used to tease on it (the curse)."

Gregory instead chooses to focus on Evalyn's philanthropic efforts. In describing Evelyn as a "caretaker, mother and friend," Gregory takes special note of her warm and welcoming spirit and how she used the jewel to improve the lives of others. She acted as one of the founding members of the Red Cross and assisted veterans in World Wars I and II. Her extravagant life---"She threw such lavish parties and you'd never know who you'd see there," Gregory says---left her and the family under financial strain upon her death.

"Their big curse was money and that's what I've been taught," Gregory says. "It ruined the family. Evalyn died cash-poor and asset rich. When she died, the diamond went into probate and was going to be cut up into sections for the three other grandchildren. No one wanted to touch the diamond because of the curse."

Gregory took on the challenge that his family members would not. With business and life partner Chuck Rapp, Gregory formed Hope Diamond Collection, Inc. His fragrance Fable was nominated for a FIFI award (the leading award in the perfume industry) in 2000, and in recent years he's carried a firm commitment to telling the story behind the Hope Diamond. It's a story that, according to Gregory, revolves around life's most vital forces: family, friends and faith.

"Anyone can write a check out for anything, but it's how you spend your time and how you give your time," he says. "I try to teach the next generation to do that; I try to be the best example to what I can with what I have. I'm using what I have to help others."

"I encourage those who are afraid to have a voice and speak out," he adds. "You need to get out and show who you are and be proud of that. I always say, 'It's you that has you.'"

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