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Georgette Proves a Gem at PR

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was another press conference in Washington Wednesday morning. Yawn.

A foundation gave money to renovate a gallery in one of the national museums. Snore.

And there were speeches, smiles, handshakes and press kits. No, thank you.

But six television cameras showed up. And four rows of reporters were there--pert, pens posed and in their seats.

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In what has to be one of the more brilliant publicity stunts in the history of the U.S. bureaucracy, Georgette Mosbacher, the flaming-red haired wife of a member of George Bush’s Cabinet, was at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Wednesday wearing the Hope diamond. All 45.5 shimmering blue carats of it.

“My husband said to me before I left this morning,” she told the gawkers before her, “ ‘Make sure that your neck doesn’t swell and you can get it off.’ ”

But Mosbacher, 43, is more than some guy’s wife to gossip-gorging Washington. (In this case, the guy is Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher Sr., former Texas oilman and a major fund-raiser for the President.) This is a woman who has attracted more attention than any other big shot’s wife merely by her sexy, glamorous, high-fashion presence in this city of pearls and silk dresses, and carefully constructed resumes.

Most every publication has told the story of “Georgette” and none too flattering.

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And Mosbacher was in no mood Wednesday to generate more snide ink. In fact, when asked why she chose a high-necked, mauve dress to model the Hope diamond, which screams out for a strapless blue number, Mosbacher explained her dilemma:

“Of course a diamond looks best on bare skin but I thought in Washington . . .” she paused here, blue eyes narrowing with cynicism, “I’d be setting myself up for more than what I wanted.”

Mosbacher agreed to participate in Wednesday’s ceremony, she said, because “it did provide me with the opportunity to emphasize particularly in this season of giving the importance of generous gifts from the private sector. . . . The Hope and this contribution today are examples of the generosity that is absolutely vital to the survival of our national museums and the performing arts.”

Harry Winston, late founder of the jewelry empire, gave the diamond to the museum in 1958. Wednesday his son, Ronald, chipped in $1 million to renovate the Geology, Gems, and Minerals Hall where the Hope diamond sits in its vault. It is the most popular exhibit in the museum.

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The last woman to wear the Hope was Evelyn Walsh McLean, the socialite daughter of a Washington-area industrialist who liked to top it off with the 94.80-carat Star of the East diamond. She would hook them together and wear them when she went shopping, according to lore.

In fact, there are many legends attached to the diamond. All women who have worn the Hope, supposedly found in India and said to have been worn by Marie Antoinette, have had bad luck. McLean died in 1949 after watching her husband go insane and her daughter commit suicide.

Mosbacher seemed unconcerned about past curses, although she recently had her own streak of bad luck with jewelry. As she exited a Manhattan hotel elevator last June, a robber armed with a submachine gun stole $30,000 worth of jewels, including her engagement ring.

“I’m not upset about it anymore,” she said. “I’ve worked it through and I refuse to be a victim.” Wednesday, she wore large faux pearl earrings and a simple gold wedding band.

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Mosbacher looked like she wanted to cry as the diamond--an incandescent shade of midnight blue ringed by white diamonds and hung on a diamond-studded chain--was put on her. “This is soooooo thrilling,” she cooed. “It would be for any woman.” Soon after she had it on, her eyes scanned around her as if, by instinct, seeking a mirror.

For almost 30 minutes she modeled the necklace while the cameras caught her from every angle. She also held it in her hands. “It’s warm, it’s so warm,” she said. “It’s even hot.”

For all the talk of scientific properties of diamonds, Mosbacher pointed out that to a woman a diamond represents love. And she apparently couldn’t resist at least one other cliche: “They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. This is soooooooome friend.”

Nevertheless, it was the kind of event that made a woman wearing her .9-carat engagement diamond, set high in its prongs to make the stone look bigger, feel kind of small--and, well, unloved.

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In addition to the Hope diamond, the gallery exhibits such items as a 330-carat sapphire, a 138.7-carat ruby and an entire display case filled with California gold nuggets.

Pamela Baker, 27, the media aide for the museum who coordinated the event, would not divulge whose idea it was to get Mosbacher as a model. “She certainly has the style to wear the Hope and she has ties to both Washington and New York, where Winston is based.”

No one was more thrilled to see her than Ronald Winston. The seemingly self-effacing scion of the family business, Winston hung in the background, for personal security reasons, during most of the event.

“When we opened our store on Rodeo Drive, we couldn’t get any reporters to come,” he said, a bit perplexed. When it was suggested that Mosbacher might have been the draw at the museum, he observed: “I suppose. She really wore the jewels well. This was great.”

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Jeff Post, a bespectacled museum geologist, wanted to show how a blue diamond becomes phosphorescent in the dark after it is exposed to ultraviolet light. So for about 15 minutes the crowd watched while he tried to figure out how to turn off the gallery’s lights.

The museum director nervously tittered, “I feel like I’m in one of those movies when the lights go off and the gem is gone.”

When the lights finally went off and the ultraviolet light captured the diamond, not much evidence showed of the deep red-glow of phosphorescence.

But Mosbacher lit up. “Am I glowing?” she squealed.

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Gushed a smiling Post: “You sure are.”

Curse of Hope

According to legend, the wearer suffers bad luck. Louis XIV wore it once, then died. Louis XV’s mistress, Countess Du Barry, wore it and was beheaded. So was Marie Antoinette. A Dutch diamond cutter had the Hope. His son stole it and the jeweler died of grief. The son killed himself. Washington socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean was the last to wear it regularly. She died in 1949 after her husband went insane and her daughter killed herself.


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