Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: Wallis Simpson's Cartier Panther

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: Wallis Simpson's Cartier Panther

Wallis Simpson's famous panther bracelet is a gem among beaded jewelry! It was commissioned from the famous Parisian jeweler Cartier by the Duchess in 1952; she also helped co-design it. She wanted a life-like great cat which would stalk its way around her wrist. Cartier's head jeweler Jeanne Toussaint created an exquisite cat of pave diamonds and black onyx set in fully articulated platinum with blazing emerald eyes.

Wallis Simpson's Cartier Panther Bracelet

When it's not being worn, the great cat seems to rest completely at ease with one front leg outstretched. Once worn, however, the cat seems to spring to snarling life, baring its tiny platinum teeth and threatening anyone who approaches its wearer. No wonder it was one of her favorites! 

What other woman has ever had a King abdicate his throne to be with her? In celebration of their great love story, the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Windsor delighted in giving each other gifts of fabulous jewelry to celebrate each event of their nearly forty years together. This resulted in perhaps the greatest collection of contemporary jewelry amassed in the last century. When The Duchess of Windsor Collection was sold in 1987, the 214 pieces brought in a record $53.5 million. The panther bracelet was one of the stars and was purchased by Mohammed Al Fayed for over $1.4 million. He also purchased 19 other pieces of the collection.

Twenty-three years later, he put the twenty pieces up for auction again. The panther bracelet sold for just over a staggering $7 million! The collection brought in a total of $12.5 million, which Mr. Al Fayed earmarked for a children's charity in honor of his son, Dodi, killed in the car crash that also took the life of Princess Diana. It's fitting that jewels which once belonged to a woman scorned by the Royal Family went to benefit the type of charity beloved by another woman rejected by a member of the same family.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor collaborated on the design of each piece they commissioned and each piece immortalizes a chapter of their love affair. If you would like to commission a special piece for someone you love, contact us.

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Black Prince's Ruby

the black prince ruby - royalexhibitions.co.ukOf all the famous gems and beaded jewelry in history, the Black Prince's Ruby is one of the most exciting and intriguing. In fact, this "ruby" isn't even a ruby - it's actually a red spinel! The red and blue forms of spinel have been misidentified as rubies and sapphires for at least a millennia. It's very similar in color, found it similar places and is even rarer than its counterpoints. Like the Black Prince's ruby, many of the rubies and sapphires in the crown jewels of Europe are actually spinel!

This incredible stone began its journey to the British crown jewels in the middle of the 14th century when Don Pedro the Cruel of Castile acquired it, probably through the murder of its previous owner. In 1366, Don Pedro was forced to ask help from the Black Prince, son of Edward III of England, to put down a revolt. In exchange for his help, the Prince demanded the spinel and Don Pedro was in no position to refuse. That's the last that is known of the jewel until it resurfaces in 1415.

At the battle of Agincourt in that year, Henry V of England was struck on his jewel-encrusted helmet with a battle-ax. The king, along with his helmet and the Black Prince's ruby, survived and went on to win the battle. The jewel had another close call in 1649 or 1650 when Oliver Cromwell had most of the crown jewels disassembled; the stones were sold and the metal melted down for coins. Fortunately, a jeweler had the foresight to buy the gem and keep it safe until he could sell it back to the restored monarchy in 1660.

When Victoria was crowned Queen in 1838, her new, specially designed Imperial State Crown featured 3,093 gems, with the famous 170 carats, egg-sized ruby front, and center. In 1937, Victoria's crown was remade into the smaller, lighter crown which is still in use today and which can be seen here.

Contact us if you would like your own "crowning jewels" - we can design something very special just for you!

The History of the Kashmir Sapphire

The History of the Kashmir Sapphire

The Kashmir sapphire is renowned for its opulent history and powerful symbolism throughout the world. India's notoriety as the hotspot for the most decadent gemstones prevails throughout the world of jewelry. Beryls, pearls, rubies, and rose cut diamonds lapped in 18-karat gold swirls, embellish their jewelry markets.

Brazil, Thailand, Burma, Australia, Vietnam, Montana, Africa, and Ceylon are ripe with prized sapphire mines too.

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Sancy Diamond

Here it is!  There it is!  Who has it now? 

the sancy diamondKeeping up with the 52-carat Sancy Diamond was like playing a game of hide and seek.  Probably of all the Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Sancy Diamond has passed through more hands and disappeared more often than any other gem.

Experts even debate the diamond's origins, although its unusual shape leads them to believe it came from a mine in India.  Its whereabouts until the 16th century continue to confuse.  One story says the original owner Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, lost the gem in a 1477 battle.  At his death, it went either to a royal cousin in Portugal or to his conqueror the Duke of Lorraine of France. From there it drops out of history again.

The next question asks if one of the two men mentioned above sold it to Nicolas de Harley, Seigneur de Sancy in the mid-1500s or did he buy it while he was in Turkey?  What is certain is that the stone was named after Seigneur de Sancy, a late 16th century French Ambassador to Turkey.

The diamond had some adventures under Sancy's care.  It adorned the cap of the bald-headed French King Henry III.  It disappeared again during the reign of Henry IV and feared stolen.  Some fancy Sancy detective work found the gem in the body of his loyal servant who swallowed it to keep it safe.

Next, history says Sancy sold the diamond either to Elizabeth I or to James I of England.  Records of the Crown Jewels in 1605 reveal its purchase.  James set it with other gems in an elaborate hat pin, so the jewel sat on another royal head.

During the next several decades of the English Civil War and the French Revolution, the diamond was lost, found and lost again.  It appears to have traveled to France, Russia, India and back to France again.  Finally, in 1906, William Wallace Astor bought it.  It remained in the Astor family for 72 years until the Louvre purchased it in 1978 for $1,000,000.  Since that time, it continues to fascinate viewers with its lovely pale yellow color and shield-shaped cut. 

The Sancy Diamond might have been lost a lot, but fortunately you don't have to search for your perfect gem.  We make all of our beautiful jewelry by hand and would be happy to make something just for you. Contact us soon.

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: Koh-i-Noor Diamond

koh-i-noor diamondIn the history of famous gems and beaded jewelry, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond stands out for its dark tales of tragedy, torture and murder, of thrones, lost and gained. The legend is that whoever holds the diamond will be invincible, and men who believed the legend were willing to slaughter thousands for it. Even now, the gem is at the center of a dispute.

Its origin is a mystery. The strongest legend is that India's Kakatiya dynasty placed the 186 carat diamond in the eye of a Hindu goddess statue, probably starting an enduring trend of legends about cursed gems stolen from the eyes of statues. No one is even sure when it received its name, which translates to "mountain of light." Beginning in the 14th century, the jewel became a spoil of war, changing hands from warlord to warlord until in 1739, Persian ruler Nadir Shah sacked the Indian city of Agra and took Shah Jahan's magnificent jeweled Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor. The Peacock Throne disappeared, apparently broken up for its gold and jewels, but the struggle raged for possession of the Koh-i-Noor. The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were

Beginning in the 14th century, the jewel became a spoil of war, changing hands from warlord to warlord until in 1739, Persian ruler Nadir Shah sacked the Indian city of Agra and took Shah Jahan's magnificent jeweled Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor. The Peacock Throne disappeared, apparently broken up for its gold and jewels, but the struggle raged for possession of the Koh-i-Noor. The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were

The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were blindings, tortures, murders. One royal owner hid the diamond in the plaster wall of his cell. Finally, in 1843, young Dhulip Singh became the Maharajah of the Punjab and owner of the Koh-i-Noor. By 1849, the British stepped in and stopped the fighting by annexing India through the Treaty of Lahore, which specifically stated that the Koh-i-Noor was to be surrendered to Queen Victoria.

Afterward, the Maharajah, then living in London, was visited by the Queen and shown the stone, recut on the orders of Prince Albert to 108 carats. The young man reportedly said that it gave him great pleasure to place the stone in Victoria's hands.

In 1937, the diamond was set in the crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It glitters regally from the Maltese Cross at the apex. The crown is worn only by female royals; It's considered unlucky for men to wear it. Understandable, considering its history.

Controversy over the fabulous stone hasn't ended. In 1947 and in 1953, India asked that the stone be returned. In 1976, the Prime Minister of Pakistan submitted a formal request that the Koh-i-Noor be returned to Pakistan, one of the many claimants to the stone. Britain maintains that the diamond was not seized – as it was so many times in its history – but was presented under the Treaty of Lahore. India protested a handover to Pakistan, and recently Iran made its own claim.

So far, Britain holds fast to the Koh-i-Noor, the diamond that was so drenched in blood and grief. It rests now in majestic glory, marveled at by tourists, with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

If cursed jewels aren't your thing, contact us for exquisite beaded jewelry.



April 30, 2015 by Stephanie White
Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Amber Room

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Amber Room

In 1716, Prussia gave Peter the Great of Russia an extravagant gift honoring the peace between their nations - an entire room made of amber and encrusted with beaded jewelry. The panels were backed with gold leaf, which made the entire room glow with a topaz-like warmth.

The gorgeous Amber Room, made of real amber and beaded jewelry, glows like citrine or topaz. Image from Imaging-and-Art.com.

It was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Historians estimate that today it would be worth $146 million.

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Hope Diamond

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Hope Diamond

You’ve probably heard of the Hope Diamond—the 45.52 carat megalith of a gemstone, colored a deep ocean blue with hints of violet. Legend says the Hope Diamond was stolen from its setting in the eye, or the third eye, of a sacred Indian statue, adorned with priceless gems and beaded jewelry.
July 05, 2013 by Leslie Hedrick

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Flame Queen Opal


Australia’s Lightning Ridge region is known as the black opal capital of the world, and has produced thousands of opals for beaded jewelry, as well as loose stones. But the most famous opal it ever produced has to be the Flame Queen Opal.

the flame queen opalBack in the early 20th century, a miner in Lightning Ridge abandoned his claim in order to fight in WW1. The claim was soon taken over by three down-luck miners. For three weeks they dug in the earth, surviving on bread and water, hoping to strike it rich. When they got down to about 30 feet, they struck a hard black nodule. Only when they brought it into the sunlight did they realize what they had found.

One of the miners was very skilled in working beaded jewelry and polishing gems. The other two trusted him to bring out the beauty of the Flame Queen Opal, and he didn’t disappoint.

The Flame Queen Opal is a “red-on-black” opal, and has often been referred to as a “fried egg.” This is because the center of the opal filled in a deeper cavity, resulting in a different coloration. Depending on the light and the angle at which it’s viewed, the “yolk” of the Flame Queen Opal looks red, orange, bronze or yellow. The outer band is a beautiful blue or green, again depending on the angle it’s viewed at. It’s never been set in beaded jewelry, and may be too big for delicate beaded jewelry settings to comfortably hold. At 263 carats and three inches across, it can fill the palm of a hand.

The Flame Queen Opal also has a possible fossil on the back. Some Australian geologists believe there’s an imprint of what might be a ginkgo Biloba leaf in the veiny patterns on the back. An ancient tree may have existed on the site.

Unfortunately, by the time they found it, the three miners were so desperately hungry, they didn’t have time to hold out for a suitable buyer. They sold the Flame Queen Opal to a local dealer of opals and beaded jewelry for only £93, about $150 in the U.S. That’s got to rank as one of the greatest rip-offs, or one of the greatest deals, of all time—depending on which angle you view it from!

The Flame Queen Opal has been sold at several beaded jewelry and gem auctions, and is now in private ownership.

July 05, 2013 by Leslie Hedrick
Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Hortensia Diamond

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Hortensia Diamond

How do famous gems and beaded jewelry pieces get their names? Many are named after their owners, or after a famous place or incident. The Hortensia Diamond was named after Hortense de Beauharnais, a French woman who led an adventurous and illustrious life… but she never owned the Hortensia Diamond. There’s no record of her having even worn it!

Hortensia diamondSo why is the Hortensia Diamond named after her?

Hortense was the daughter of a Parisian Vicomte. Her parents’ marriage was unhappy, and ended in divorce. Hortense and her mother, Marie Rose Josephe Tascher de la Pagerie (say that one three times fast!), lost their social standing and most of their possessions, including their beaded jewelry, and moved back in with Marie Rose’s parents on the island of Martinique.

They may have gotten out just in time. Hortense’s father didn’t survive the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.

Hortense de BeauharnaisAfter enough time passed, Marie Rose (who now went by the name of Josephine) and Hortense moved back to Paris, and began to make a name for themselves once again in French society. Josephine caught the eye of the already famous general Napoleon Bonaparte, who lavished her with gifts of beaded jewelry, and married her.

This made Hortense Napoleon’s step-daughter. When Napoleon became Emperor, he also came into ownership of the French Crown Jewels, including the 20.53 carat Hortensia Diamond. Maybe the flat, peach-pink stone was named after the girl during this time, due to her love of gems and beaded jewelry.

Hortense married Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. In 1806, Napoleon appointed Louis as King of Holland, making Hortense the country’s queen.

In this picture, we see Hortense bedecked in beaded jewelry and a tiara. But even as Queen of Holland, when she had a treasure trove of gems and beaded jewelry, she had no direct connection to the Hortensia Diamond.

These were tumultuous years for Hortense. She and her husband were so unhappy that, like her mother, she was eventually divorced. This happened during Napoleon’s exile on Elba. Divorced or not, Hortense remained politically active, and when Napoleon escaped exile, she supported his return to power.

When Napoleon failed, Hortense was punished for supporting him with exile from France. She wandered Europe for awhile, before settling in Switzerland in 1817.

Most scholars think the Hortensia Diamond was named after her between 1806 and 1817, but no one knows why. It’s just one of those unsolved mysteries surrounding famous gems and beaded jewelry!

April 13, 2013 by Leslie Hedrick

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Orlov Diamond

Though it’s said to have come from India, like so many rare beaded jewelry pieces and gems, the Orlov Diamond’s story really takes place in Imperial Russia.

orlov diamondIn the 18th century, Grigory Orlov was quite the ladies’ man. He wasn’t of noble birth, or particularly well educated, but he was strong, handsome, and rich enough to give women expensive beaded jewelry whenever he liked. There came a time, however, when his eye fell on the wrong woman. Princess Kourakina was the mistress of one of Orlov’s colleagues, who was understandably upset at the affair. A great scandal ensued, which ended in a dual. Orlov killed his colleague, and never mind the damage to his reputation.

All this to-do attracted the attention of young Catherine, who was at that time only a Grand Duchess and Empress Consort, married to Peter III. She demanded to meet the rake Orlov, who could have any woman he wanted. It wasn’t long until they were lovers. That was when Catherine told him about her plans to take the throne from her husband. Orlov was intrigued, and when the time came, he organized and led the coup that dethroned her husband Peter. In return, she gave him a title, and he became Count Orlov.

Orlov was Catherine’s favorite counselor and confidant for many years. Over the course of their love affair, Orlov gave Catherine numerous gifts, included priceless gems, beaded jewelry, the throne of Russia, and a child.

But eventually, Catherine the Great turned her attentions to Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, and spurned Orlov.

He was devastated. He sought to win her back with gifts, like beaded jewelry. That’s when he came upon and purchased the enormous diamond that would eventually bear his name. He gave it to Catherine, but she couldn’t be bought back.

That didn’t mean she didn’t hold her former lover in high regard. She gave him as many gifts as he gave her—beaded jewelry, a marble palace in St. Petersburg, a title. She also named the diamond after him, and had it set in a beaded jewelry setting at the top of a royal scepter. A fitting place for the symbol of the man who helped her take the throne.

November 16, 2012 by Leslie Hedrick
Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Bahia Emerald

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: The Bahia Emerald

The story of the Bahia Emerald isn’t one of women flaunting dazzling beaded jewelry, but of Las Vegas heists and near blood baths in the desert. It is the largest emerald stone ever found, and the single largest emerald crystal ever discovered in embedded in rock. It weighs 840 pounds. That’s about 1,900,000 carats. It’s worth about $400 million. Chump change, right?

After it was found in Brazil, it exchanged hands several times between gem and beaded jewelry custodians, until it wound up stored in New Orleans—at exactly the wrong time.


October 16, 2012 by Leslie Hedrick
Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: La Peregrina

Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: La Peregrina

In the mid-1500s, an African slave working in the Gulf of Panama found the largest, most lustrous pearl ever discovered. The administrator of the Spanish colony in Panama took the pearl, but rewarded the slave with freedom.The pearl was given to Philip II of Spain, who gave it to his fiancé Mary Tudor of England. Mary wore the pearl as beaded jewelry, in a brooch. We still have a painting of her looking stern and royal, but well decked out in her gowns and beaded jewelry.Mary died in 1558, and the pearl went back to Spain.