In the era of celebrity, the moniker of famous gemstones often has a lot to do with the gems’ attachment to a particular figure. While historically that was also true to some extent, its association was more a consequence of its immense size, beauty and rarity in earlier eras where the most spectacular gems were more commonly discovered. Despite the reality that there are literally dozens of world famous gemstones, here are ten that encompass different gemstone categories while also having a well-known history.
Not as much of a household name in the Internet Age, the 45.52 carat steel blue Hope Diamond was found in India back in remote times as a rough crystal weighing 112 carats. As the largest deep blue diamond in the world, legend says it came from the eye of an idol in a temple on the Coleroon River in India. Purchased by King Louis XIV in 1668, it was cut there into a triangular pear-shaped stone. Lore, legend and superstition have long been associated with gems and the Hope Diamond is said to be cursed due to several deaths associated with one of its owners in the early 20th century. Today it resides in the Smithsonian where thousands flock to view every year.
The “La Peregrina” pearl has 500 years of recorded history in its owners that include Spanish, French, and English kings and queens (Bloody Mary included). Its most famous owner of the modern era was the actress Elizabeth Taylor who received it as a gift from her equally famous actor husband Richard Burton. The large pear-shaped white nacreous pearl had an original weight of 223.8 grains (55.95 carats). In 1913 after the pearl was drilled, cleaned, and polished, it had a weight of 203.84 grains and remains one of the largest pear-shaped pearls ever discovered. It was photographed for its 2011 Auction by Christies.
The Star of India, at 563.35 carats, is the largest and most famous Star Sapphire in the world with a lineage that dates back some 300 years ago to Sri Lanka. Industrialist and financier J. P. Morgan presented the sapphire to the New York Museum of Natural History in 1900. Today, the Star of India is one of the most renowned objects in all of the Museum’s collections.
The Delong Star Ruby discovered in the early part of the 20th century in the Moguk mines of Burma is one of the largest and finest star rubies in the world at 100 carats. Its characteristic six-pronged star effect on its surface is where the star portion of its name is derived. The first portion of its name comes from its second owner, Mrs. Edith Haggin DeLong who purchased the gem for $21,400 in 1937 and donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in the same year.
In 1964, the Star of India and the DeLong Star Ruby were the objects of an infamous burglary carried out by Jack Murphy, also known as “Murph the Surf”, and two other men. The burglars ransomed the gems for $25,000 and both were recovered. The Delong Star was found at a designated drop off site – a phone booth in Florida.
The Cullinan Diamond was a massive 3,106 carats in its uncut state weighing 1-1/3 pounds and measuring just shy of four inches long, over two inches wide, and more than 2.5 inches high. While it is the largest diamond ever found, many experts believe that it’s actually only a portion of a larger diamond which has never been discovered.
It was cut into more than 100 smaller pieces, the nine largest belonging to the British Royal Family. The largest of the 9 large cut from the Cullinan Diamond came to be known as The Star of Africa, a pear-shaped diamond weighing 530.20 carats, aka the Cullinan I. It sits in the Imperial State Scepter of Great Britain and is on display with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
The Crown of Cortez Emerald is one of the most massive quality gemstones of any kind in the world. At 306 carats, the rare Columbian cabochon cut emerald is a vibrant green with a luster that rivals the finest Columbian emeralds. Currently, it is in the possession of the House of Louis XV.
The 422.99 carat Logan Sapphire from Sri Lanka is the heaviest mounted gem in the National Gem Collection, and is framed in a brooch setting surrounded by twenty round brilliant-cut diamonds, totaling 16 carats. The piece was a gift to the Smithsonian Institute from Mrs. John A. Logan in 1960.
The elegant silver and gold Napoleon Diamond Necklace was completed in 1811 and consists of 234 diamonds originally mined in India or Brazil. It was originally a gift from Emperor Napoleon to his second wife, Marie-Louise, to celebrate the birth of their son, Napoleon II, the Emperor of Rome. The necklace passed from Marie-Louise to her sister-in-law, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, who bequeathed it to her son, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria.
The necklace remained in the Hapsburg family until 1948 when Archduke Ludwig’s grandson, Prince Franz Joseph of Liechtenstein, sold it to a French collector who in turn sold it to Harry Winston, Inc. in 1960. Marjorie Merriweather Post (wife of the cereal magnate) acquired the necklace in its original case from Winston and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962.
While Tiffany & Co.’s iconic 128-carat Yellow Diamond was found in South Africa In 1877, its true claim to fame came as it adorned the neck of actress Audrey Hepburn in publicity photos for her most famous film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Today it’s on permanent display in the flagship New York Fifth Avenue store.
This short list of some of the world’s most famous gems only hints at a much larger list. While most gems will not necessarily gain notoriety outside of their own families, they nonetheless are prized symbols of enduring beauty, quality, and taste that mark the wearers.