Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Ruspoli Sapphire
Not every amazing gem is faceted, polished and set in beaded jewelry. We’ve already discussed the uncut Bahia Emerald, and the near-deadly, super-expensive battles surrounding its ownership. This month, let’s talk about the Ruspoli Sapphire—one of the most unique, priceless sapphires in the world.
The Ruspoli Sapphire may have come from India. Instead of faceting gems at multiple angles and setting them in beaded jewelry, Indian gem-cutters of the past sometimes kept things simple. The Ruspoli Sapphire was cut with only six sides, like a three-dimensional rectangle. It’s a remarkably transparent blue stone, and it’s almost flawless, weighing in at 135.8 carats. Some gem experts think the Ruspoli Sapphire’s characteristics actually point to an origin in Sri Lanka or Burma.
One way or another the stone did make its way to India. It was described by a 19th century Bengali writer, Sourindro Mohun Tagore, who wrote that a poor wooden spoon seller from Bengal found it. For this reason, its first name is “The Wooden Spoon Seller’s Sapphire.”
After that it was owned by a beaded jewelry and gem collector, the Italian Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli. That’s where its second name comes from.
But the stone has yet a third name—the “Great Sapphire of King Louis XIV.” King Louis bought the sapphire and kept it with his crown jewels, along with the French Blue and other priceless beaded jewelry.
During the French Revolution, the crown jewels were confiscated and put on display. The display was shut down during a wave of violence, but that didn’t prevent thieves from coming in to loot the gems and beaded jewelry. They made off with the French Blue and plenty of beaded jewelry, but they left the Ruspoli Sapphire. They probably didn’t believe it was worth much, due to its flat, unimpressive cut.
After Napoleon III fell, the new president of the third republic in France decided the crown jewels should be auctioned, so no one would get ideas about restoring the monarchy. Every gem and piece of beaded jewelry had to go, unless it had historical or educational value. The director of the Louvre was allowed to choose a few educational pieces to keep, and one of these included the Ruspoli Sapphire.
The Ruspoli Sapphire’s rhomboid cut has kept it safe, where other gems were stolen or auctioned to the highest bidder. Sometimes it pays to be simple!