The doors were locked.
Tense looking security guards took their positions.
In rolled a cart, a white cloth covering its contents.
Smithsonian Institution officials lifted the cloth. "The Hope Diamond naked," proclaimed Jeffrey Post, curator of the National Gem Collection.
The world's largest blue diamond went on public display Wednesday, for the first time without its ornate setting.
Perched atop a light gray display post, the Hope Diamond will be on view by itself for several months while a new setting is prepared.
Called "Embracing Hope," the new setting will surround the star gem in a ribbon of white diamonds. It was chosen from three proposals in an online vote, winning 45,000 out of a total 110,000 votes cast, said Cristian Samper, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
The new display is part of a celebration of the Hope Diamond's half-century at the museum. It was donated in 1958 by jeweler Harry Winston, whose firm is preparing the new setting.
Long rumored to carry a curse, the diamond has brought the museum "nothing but good luck," said Post, noting that it inspired many other gifts and forms the basis of the National Gem Collection.
That was Winston's plan, he added, noting that the jeweler once commented that even though the United States doesn't have a king or queen, it should have crown jewels.
Previously the Hope Diamond has been shown in a platinum setting, surrounded by 16 white pear-shaped and cushion-cut diamonds, suspended from a chain containing forty-five diamonds. The Hope will return to this original setting in late 2010.
Formed more that a billion years ago, the diamond was mined in India and later is believed to have been part of the French crown jewels, having been stolen during the French Revolution. It later came into the possession of Henry Philip Hope, whose name it carries.
It's blue color comes from the element boron included in the stone itself. Exposed to ultraviolet light, the Hope Diamond glows red-orange.