by Kim Kelly

pearly

DEADLY TREASURE

Legend has it that if you don’t want to suffer misfortune at the hands of your jewellery, then it’s probably wise not to acquire it by wrongful means. Gems of exceptional beauty have gathered wild tales of theft and retribution about them over the centuries, curses no doubt fabricated to increase their allure, and their value.

Probably the most famous rogue jewel is the Hope Diamond. A brilliant stone of deep ocean blue, it was said to have been stolen from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, sometime in the seventeenth century.

Passing through many illustrious hands, including those of the ill-fated King Louis XIV of France, she vanished during the French Revolution, only to surface a little over a century later in the coat pocket of London banker, Henry Hope.

Hope sold the gem – with its rich provenance – to the daring American heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, and that’s when the curse really came into its own. Tragedy clouded Evalyn’s life from then on: her son was killed in a car accident; her husband Ned ran off with another woman, lost their fortune, and then died from alcoholism; her daughter died from an overdose of valium, and the next year, Evalyn died too, after which the diamond was sold off to pay all the family creditors.

hope diamond

It now lives in the Smithsonian, and as far as anyone knows, none of its seven million visitors a year have perished after looking at it. Well, no-one’s complained, anyway. Perhaps it’s a civic-minded sort of diamond.

A little digging turns up an enormous array of similarly bedevilled minerals: there’s the Black Prince’s Ruby, thieved from the corpse of a sultan by Pedro the Cruel of Castile (seriously) in the fourteenth century, and which Henry V was said to have worn at the bloody battle of Agincourt; there’s the Purple Sapphire of Delhi that’s really only an amethyst but despite which has managed to leave a trail of suicides, disasters and financial ruin in its wake ever since it was looted from a temple to the god Indra; and of course there’s the Star of the Sea, the glittering necklace that was said to be aboard the Titanic when she plunged to the icy depths – at least in the movie.

But then there’s the Roseate Pearl, a perfectly round, perfectly pink, perfectly massive pearl, which legend says really did take down a ship – the SS Koombana, a luxurious liner that was mysteriously lost off the coast of Western Australia in a cyclone in 1912, just one month before the sinking of the Titanic. This pearl sits at the centre of my latest novel, Jewel Sea, as a symbol of greed and desire, but apart from destroying a ship and all aboard her, this pearl, too, had a string of gruesome murders and untimely deaths to her name.

This rosy, deadly pearl was said to have been stolen from a humble pearl diver, finding its way onto the ship some years later via a well-respected and popular pearl dealer, Abraham de Vahl Davis.

But why on earth would Mr Davis – in real-life an extremely wealthy and highly principled gentleman – have purchased a stolen pearl? Rare beauty or not, why would he risk his reputation on such a grubby, backdoor deal? And why was this pearl so accursed, so angered, that it took out its revenge on a ship full of innocents?

These were the questions that drove my curiosity in writing and researching Jewel Sea, but the one thing Rosy couldn’t tell me was where she is today. Unlike all the other jewels of infamy, this pearl appears to have been successful in her quest to escape human clutches. Perhaps she remains with the ship, somewhere on the ocean floor. Perhaps she never existed at all. Or perhaps she floated free, returning to the warm, turquoise waters that made her. Perhaps she simply went home.

broome

 Jewel Sea can be found at your favourite retailers here.