Born in Paris in 1605, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was one of the most famous travelers of the 17th century who pioneered trade with India in various commodities. But it is his involvement with the trade of gemstones and his connection with the famous Hope Diamond for which he is most famous.
Tavernier was born in Paris into a family of Protestant geographers and engravers, originally from Antwerp in Belgium. Growing up, he heard much talk of travel and affairs in far off lands which inspired him to undertake his own journeys, and by the age of 16, he had already visited England, Holland and Germany. He then spent some time with other relatives who were able to introduce him to the Royal court. While continuing his exploration of the European continent, he also gained some military experience, all of which was to help him later on as he traveled in the Far East.
It was in September 1638 that he began the first of his famous journeys to India, a trip which would last some 5 years. He visited Agra and Golconda in Northern India. He also visited the court of the Great Mogul Emperor in Delhi and his diamond mines, which was the beginning of his career as a gemstone trader.
In 1642, while still on this first trip, Tavernier acquired the 112 carat diamond most likely found in the Kollur mine in Golconda which was later to become infamous as the Hope Diamond. At the time Tavernier first bought the stone it had been only crudely cut but he described it as having the "beautiful violet" color for which it is famous.
The legend of the diamond's curse began at this time; it was said Tavernier activated the curse when he stole the diamond from the eye or forehead of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita and that he was mauled to death by Russian wild dogs as a result.
Fortunately for Tavernier this did not actually occur. Instead the stone probably helped to established him as an elite merchant trading only in the most expensive of jewels and precious goods, with a clientele which consisted mainly of princes and emperors of the east.
He made 6 eastern journeys in all, traveling almost constantly until 1668, with India a key stop on each itinerary. It was only then that he returned to his native France some 26 years after buying the diamond which he then sold together with many other large and small stones to the French King Louis XIV.
Tavernier had an unparalleled knowledge of the overland trade routes to the East, and close and amicable relationships with many great Oriental nobles. At the request of Louis XIV he wrote of his journeys as a guide for others who wanted to establish trade with the Far East, his most famous book being Le Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier.
Tavernier life ended n Moscow at the age of 84 on yet another journey East to Persia. The reason for his final journey at such an advanced age remains a mystery.