The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Over 1,500 of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew lost their lives in the disaster.
One of the most famous stories associated with the sinking of the Titanic involves a large and extremely valuable blue diamond called the Hope Diamond. This legendary diamond was said to have been owned by a first class Titanic passenger and millionaire named Henry S. Harper, who was bringing it back to the United States from Europe. According to legend, the priceless diamond went down with the ship, never to be seen again. But is this story true? Did they ever find the Hope Diamond or any other jewels from the Titanic wreck site?
The Legend of the Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond is a 45.52 carat deep blue diamond that originated in India where it was first mined in the 17th century. The original stone was 115 carats but was later cut down to 67 carats. The Hope Diamond was purchased by Henry Philip Hope in 1839 and remained in the Hope family until 1901 when it was sold to settle debts.
Over the years, the Hope Diamond gained notoriety for supposedly being cursed as several of its owners suffered misfortune or death. Because of this curse, some began referring to it as the “Heart of the Ocean” or “Le Cœur de la Mer” as featured in the 1997 film Titanic. However, there is no evidence to suggest the Hope Diamond had anything to do with the Titanic.
Henry S. Harper
Henry Sleeper Harper was a real person who lived from 1861-1930. He was a wealthy American businessman who was living in France at the time of the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912.
Rumors began circulating that Henry Harper had purchased the Hope Diamond from Pierre Cartier in 1910 and had it with him when he sailed on the Titanic under the alias “Mr. Hoffman.” However, historians have thoroughly debunked this myth. At the time of the sinking, the Hope Diamond was actually in the possession of Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who had been wearing it publicly.
No Evidence for the Legend
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest Henry Harper, or any passenger on board the Titanic, was transporting the Hope Diamond. The rumor appears to have been fabricated and spread many years later. Additionally, Harper survived the sinking by boarding a lifeboat and had no need to take on an alias.
Valuable Items Onboard the Titanic
Although the legendary Hope Diamond was certainly not lost aboard the Titanic, there were still plenty of other valuable jewels, money, clothing items and cargo that went down with the ship. As a first class ocean liner, there were many extremely wealthy passengers traveling in luxury with expensive belongings.
Some of the wealthiest women sailing on the Titanic had packed their finest jewelry, including diamond necklaces, pearl earrings, emerald brooches, sapphire rings, and more. At the time, it was common for affluent women to travel with much of their jewelry wardrobe. Estimates suggest there was several million dollars worth of jewelry stored in first class cabins and luggage.
When the ship began sinking, women attempted to grab their jewelry boxes but had very little time to collect their valuables. Any items left behind would have sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor. A few survivors reported seeing other passengers wearing lots of jewelry during the sinking. One wealthy first class passenger, Charlotte Cardeza, famously filled a sack with expensive jewels and later had it tied it around her waist as her lifeboat was lowered.
Many passengers aboard the Titanic had significant amounts of cash money with them, as it was decades before credit cards were in common use. The ship was carrying prominent millionaires like John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim.
In addition, the purser’s safe held tons of cash and valuable paperwork. Estimates suggest there could have been anywhere from $400,000-$500,000 in various denominations of cash onboard the Titanic based on what would have been typical for transatlantic crossings at the time. All cash left on the ship was lost in the wreck.
In first class cabins there were also lots of expensive designer clothing items, mink coats, tailored suits, and lavish dresses packed in steamer trunks. Estimates suggest the lost clothing may have been worth as much as $700,000 collectively. Even the intricate carpets and tapestries decorating first class spaces were worth fortunes.
The Titanic also had a massive cargo hold filled with fine wares such as books, furniture, rugs, cases of wine and spirits, rolls of linens, boxes of cigars, cases of perfumes, paintings, and even a brand new Renault automobile being shipped across the Atlantic. The lost cargo was valued at over $425,000 at the time.
Salvage Attempts Over the Years
Considering the massive wealth rumored to have sunk with the Titanic, there have been numerous attempts over the decades to salvage the wreck and recover valuable items. However, the extreme depths and dangerous conditions of the North Atlantic made it treacherous and nearly impossible for early 20th century technology.
Shortly After Sinking
Immediately following the sinking in 1912, there was understandably little appetite for disturbing a gravesite. However, the first real salvage effort came just a month after the disaster when Canadian ship CS Montmagny recovered three tons of debris and lifejackets.
In 1913, a Norwegian seal hunting ship recovered a Gladstone bag filled with soggy banknotes worth about $5,000. This renewed public fascination with the possibility of salvaging Titanic valuables. However, the outbreak of World War I halted any serious consideration.
The 1980s and After
It wasn’t until 1985 that the Titanic wreck was even discovered by an expedition team led by Jean-Louis Michel and Robert Ballard using advanced sonar technology. The ship had split into two pieces on the ocean floor about 12,500 feet below the surface.
Finally in 1987, a secret French expedition collected nearly 2,000 artifacts from the debris field. This was followed by several other small private expeditions collecting minor relics. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that full scale organized salvage began.
The most significant effort came from RMS Titanic Inc., which eventually recovered over 5,500 items between 1987-2004. This included small personal artifacts like eyeglasses and playing cards, to more substantial pieces like the ship’s bell, chandeliers, windows, and a small number of jewelry items.
Critics condemned these salvage missions as unethical grave robbing. But supporters argued that important historical artifacts were being preserved. Most items were eventually auctioned off to collectors and museums by RMS Titanic Inc.
Key Jewelry Discoveries
Despite fantasies of finding a huge lost trove of valuable jewelry, only a few small pieces have ever been salvaged from the Titanic wreckage.
In 1993, RMS Titanic Inc. recovered a platinum ring with a 2.9 carat cushion-shaped diamond, appraised at about $200,000. They also raised a platinum-set necklace valued around $20,000.
In 1998, another expedition found a small jewelry case with mirrored interior that held a sapphire ring, brooch, gold bracelet, and necklace. The set was valued at approximately $15,000.
A few other minor items like cufflinks, pins, and earrings have also been salvaged through the years. But no major jewels have ever been discovered.
Why Wasn’t More Jewelry Found?
Most experts agree that the extreme water pressure and corrosion of the past century likely caused whatever significant jewelry was left behind to simply disintegrate or get buried deep within the wreckage. Delicate items made with precious gems and metals would not have survived the decades of harsh sea conditions.
The shipartifacts that have survived tend to be those made from more durable materials like enameled metal. So any substantial diamonds, rubies, emeralds or sapphires originally lost likely no longer exist.
Financial Value of the Titanic Today
The RMS Titanic itself has been valued by modern maritime experts at about $200 million restored, based on its construction costs and the price of similar luxury liners today. However, the ship was declared an international protected site in 2012 making it off limits to future salvage efforts. So the wreck itself will likely never be raised or profited from.
As for the total value of unique artifacts already salvaged, estimates range from $189 million to over $300 million. However, the artifacts are culturally priceless due to their history and may never actually be sold. They continue touring to museum exhibits and can be seen private auctions.
Titanic relics certainly generate money for their owners today through ticketed public viewings, private appraisals, TV/film licensing, and controlled sales at auction. But overall, most experts agree the artifacts are academically invaluable as historical objects representing the iconic ship’s legacy. Their worth can’t truly be measured in dollars alone.
Key Titanic Artifacts Value Estimates
|Titanic Bell||$1 million|
|Big Piece (hull section)||$2-5 million|
|J. Dawson’s Pocket Watch||$200,000|
|Jewelry Collection||$189 million|
Legalities Over Titanic Possessions
The ownership, rights, and future of Titanic artifacts have been tied up in messy legal battles for decades. Numerous groups have asserted their claims over the treasures.
RMS Titanic Inc. has salvaged the most items and claims to own title based on maritime law. However, the United States District Court of Virginia has declared that it only has rights to artifacts recovered in the court’s jurisdiction.
The UK and other nations argue ownership based on sovereign immunity since Titanic was a British ship. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claims jurisdiction over the wrecksite. And insurance firms like Lloyd’s of London assert entitlement due to their payouts.
Currently in 2022, the 5,500 artifacts recovered by RMS Titanic Inc. are on a long-term lease to a subsidiary of Guernsey’s auction house. They continue to be maintained, researched, and exhibited. But the long-term fate is undetermined.
The Titanic is essentially an international gravesite, so ethics dictate artifacts should be preserved respectfully. But legal battles seem likely to persist between government agencies, insurers, preservation groups, and even descendants who want control.
While the Hope Diamond legend captured popular imagination for decades, extensive research shows no truth to the myths that a famous diamond treasure was lost when the Titanic sank.
However, the ship did contain millions of dollars worth of opulent jewelry, cash, clothing and other valuables belonging to its wealthy passengers. Despite ambitious salvage efforts since the wreck’s discovery in 1985, very few significant jewels or other artifacts have actually been recovered.
This is likely due to the enormous water pressure and erosion effects over a century deep in the North Atlantic. Whatever expensive jewelry went down with the Titanic has long since disintegrated or been buried in debris, seemingly lost forever. While small relics continue to be raised, studied and exhibited, the Titanic’s greatest treasures may sadly never be found.