Over the centuries that fine gemstones have fascinated us, there have been some very special, very rare, stunning gems that have become so famous they have earned their own names, myths and stories. Here are five great gems of history …
The Le Grand Mazarin
The Le Grand Mazarin is one of the most famous gems ever discovered. The pastel pink cushion-cut diamond weighs about 19.07 carats and has been owned by some of the most well-known kings of Europe monarchs from the 1600s to until the early 20th century.
Named after Cardinal Mazarin, who became France’s Chief Minister in 1642, the diamond originates from the Golconda mines, on India’s Deccan plateau.
The stone eventually became part of the French crown jewels and would remain a favourite of the French royal family for more than 200 years, passing from Mazarin to King Louis XIV — The Sun King — in 1661, according to a history of the Le Grand Mazarin by Christie’s Auction house which sold the gem in 2017 for US$14.6 million.
During the French Revolution, the Le Grand Mazarin along with all the French royal jewels were stolen in 1792, and disappeared, with the Le Grand Mazarin only being returned after one of the thieves was caught and confessed to having it in his possession. Many of the other amazing royal jewels were never seen again.
Eventually Emperor Napoleon used the Le Grand Mazarin to create a crown for his wife, Marie-Louise in 1810, then King Louis XVIII got it back in 1814, before a plan was created to sell off the royal French jewels in 1887.
Frédéric Boucheron, founder of Boucheron Jewellery, bought the famous stone and kept it in the family. The Le Grand Mazarin was only publicly on show after this time until the recent auction, in 1962 at an exhibition at the Louvre, before passing into the hands of a private buyer.
Although this gem doesn’t have any particular myths attached to it, being part of both the highs and lows of perhaps the most extravagant royal family in history, makes you wonder about the stories the Le Grand Mazarin could tell.
Grace Kelly’s Engagement Ring
Wildly popular American actress Grace Kelly served two different roles in her life, the first as one of the most popular actors from the 1950s and other as the Princess of Monaco.
After spending a glamorous career as an actor, Grace married the then crown prince, Prince Rainer, who first proposed in January 1956, with a Cartier eternity band of rubies and diamonds, but when he saw that other Hollywood stars were flashing larger diamond rings, he immediately ordered a stunning 10.5-carat emerald-cut diamond ring flanked by two baguette-cut diamonds, also from Cartier.
Grace loved it so much that she never took it off; she even wore it in her final film High Society.
Princess Diana’s Engagement Ring
The famous sapphire and diamond ring that now belongs to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was first given to Princess Diana by Prince Charles in February 1981. The ring featured a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-karat white gold surrounded by 14 brilliant cut diamonds, but was a rather unusual choice.
This was not a unique ring designed especially for her, but one taken from then-crown jeweller Garrard’s general collection and available for anyone to buy. Stories have it that Princess Diana chose the ring because it reminded her of her own mother’s engagement ring, but it’s also said to be similar to another royal gem, the sapphire-and-diamond wedding brooch given to Queen Victoria by her husband Prince Albert.
In a romantic touch, Prince William used the same ring to propose to his now wife Kate Middleton saying that he wanted his mother to be part of the ‘excitement’ of his wedding. Although some commentators started to call the ring the ‘Commoner’s Sapphire’ – since neither Diana nor Kate were royals – replicas of the ring sold out around the world, and led to the trend of coloured engagement rings. There are some people who say the ring has bad luck, after Diana’s sad marriage and tragic death, but others point to the obvious happiness of the young royal couple, and say that a mother’s love has been a gift to the pair.
The Bahia Emerald
One of the largest emeralds ever found and still the largest single shard, the Bahia Emerald has had a crazy history since it was discovered in 2001 in the Carnaiba mine in the Bahia region of Brazil. It’s never been turned into a cut stone, the emeralds are still embedded in the host rock as it was when first found, it’s been valued from US$75 million up to US$925 million, but its value and ownership has never been clear.
In 2017 the Bahia Emerald was in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vault with no ‘rightful owner’ after an eight-year long criminal case. For over 10 years there have been four lawsuits with at least 14 people, plus the country of Brazil, claiming the Bahia Emerald is theirs. One man says he was kidnapped by the mafia for the stone, others say the gem is ‘hellspawn’ but that they’re still obsessed with it.
Some experts have said that if the Bahia Emerald was actually cut it wouldn’t be worth anything at all as the actual quality of the stones isn’t very good. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the people ‘cursed’ by their obsession with the Bahia Emerald.
The Star of India
Sourced by Tiffany’s famous gemstone expert George Kunz for JP Morgan’s gem exhibition at the Paris Exposition of 1900, the true origin of the Star of India is unclear, apart from the generally accepted fact that it came from Sri Lanka.
The Star of India is considered to be the largest sapphire in the world and it’s a ‘star’ sapphire of 563.35 carats, almost flawless and unique in that it has ‘stars’ on both sides of the stone. It’s a greyish-blue in colour due to traces of rutile that cause the asterism, the pattern that creates the ‘star’. Star sapphires are said to have mystical properties that will protect people from the ‘Evil Eye’ and are sometimes called a ‘stone of destiny’.
After the gem was donated to the American Museum of Natural History by Morgan in 1900, it remained a popular exhibit until it was stolen in 1964, along with three other famous gemstones. Although the thieves were caught within two days, the stones stayed missing until in 1965 one of the criminals broke and led the police to the gem in bus locker in Miami where the Star of India was recovered.
At The Jewel Box, we have a vast selection of amazing gemstones for you to discover, and would love the opportunity to discuss your bespoke sapphire jewellery needs with us. Call us on +65 6733 4100 to make an appointment.
Read more about the importance of choosing the right gemstone in our story: The story of our gemstones and how you should choose the right one.