The other day we brought out a collection of lovely stones that Polly bought at auction, with a view to deciding which we’d use first. They’re lovely pieces but none of them are perfect (which makes them perfect for us, of course) and it got me thinking about the really high end ones of their ilk and which are the most famous and why. Although we don’t have a diamond among this collection, diamonds seemed to be the obvious place to start because everyone has heard of at least one famous diamond, but which is most famous and why?
When I asked Polly this question her immediate answer was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and the search began.
Not the largest diamond ever found but probably the oldest, the Koh-i-Noor, which means Mountain of Light in Persian, was discovered in India in either the 13th or 14th Century, and has had a life time of being fought over, died for, stolen, sold and bought. When it landed in the hands of the British it was displayed at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 and no one could understand the fuss and fighting it had caused; it was just a big stone without much brilliance or allure. So Queen Victoria had it recut, and while it lost a lot in size it gained everything in beauty. At last the facets allowed the brilliant play of light that is so captivating. The Koh-i-Noor is 105.6 carats and lives in the Queen’s crown in the Tower of London.
When I started writing this I hadn’t really thought about what qualifies a gem as being the most famous; is it value, or size, or age? I suppose that depends on your line of enquiry but for me it can be any of those things so while I went for age with the diamond, I’m going for a combination of things with the ruby.
The largest ruby, for instance, is the Liberty Bell which was mined near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It weighs 4 lbs and as its name suggests, it has been carved in the shape of the Liberty Bell, guarded by an eagle and surrounded by diamonds. It’s not gem quality ruby, obviously, but is nonetheless an extraordinary thing, and in 2011 it was stolen and has still not been recovered. Treasure hunt, anyone?
For size and value, I’ve chosen the Carmen Lucia ruby which is quite exceptional in every way. It is one of the finest faceted rubies known and at just over 23 carats, one of the largest. The story behind it is lovely. In 1965 a gent by the name of Dr. Peter Buck lent his friend, Fred DeLuca, $1000 to start his sandwich shop which was intended to help pay his college fees. From this little acorn grew the mighty Subway and Dr Peter Buck became a very rich man. He bought the ruby for his wife, Lucia, who was very ill but who had loved and admired the stone for some time. Sadly she never got to wear it, but Dr Buck donated it to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History because he knew Lucia would love the idea that anyone could admire it as she had done.
When it comes to sapphires there are lots to choose from but for me it’s a no-brainer – the Blue Giant of the Orient, and what a giant it is! Mined in Sri Lanka in 1907 it was sold immediately to an anonymous American buyer and disappeared from sight until 2004 when it unexpectedly came up for auction at Christie’s. Amazingly it didn’t sell, but after the auction an anonymous British buyer made a deal with Christie’s and bought it for £1 million. It has since disappeared again so this extraordinary gem still can’t be seen, but just imagine – it’s 2 ½” long, 1 ¾” wide, ¾” thick and absolutely clear and perfect. What a treat it would be to see that!
Last but by no means least we have the most famous emerald. I’ve chosen the largest uncut and the largest cut emeralds as my A-Listers because both have great stories attached to them.
The largest uncut emerald is called The Duke Of Devonshire emerald which is an amazing 1383.93 carats. It’s enormous. Mined in Colombia, the stone was bought by the then Duke of Devonshire from Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil in 1893. While it is the most wonderful colour, it’s full of inclusions and faults and this might be what saved it from being cut into smaller stones for jewels. It lives in the Natural History Museum for everyone to admire.
I read that the largest cut emerald is called The Queen Isabella emerald. Named for Queen Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539) this emerald, which was already cut, was given to the explorer Hernan Cortez by the Emperor Montezuma. Queen Isabella had heard of it and really badly wanted it, and Cortez was going to trade it with her for a promise that her husband, King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, would support Cortez’s expeditions by supplying men and arms. This never happened, but that’s beside the point… Cortez loaded the emerald and hundreds – literally – of crates of emeralds and gold and other treasurers from Colombia and sent them to sail for home. The ship sank in the Bermuda Triangle and the treasure lay undiscovered on the sea floor for hundreds of years. In 1992 a company called Archaeological Discovery Ventures found the ship and all its treasure, including this magnificent emerald which, apparently, they still own. This emerald is a whopping 964 carats and is enormous. What a find!
One of the many things I’ve learned while writing this article is that the subject of enormous and wondrous gems is huge and I’ve only scratched the surface. This is good news though, because a magpie will only welcome another venture into the world of glittering A-Listers.