Of 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 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.
Nature makes them. Men sweat for them, cut them, polish them, steal them and also kill for them. Gemstones impress everyone, but some stones seem to take on a life of their own. These famous gemstones still fascinate us today.
Probably the most famous gemstone in the world, the Hope Diamond hides quite a tale in her lovely steel-blue facets. Mined originally in India, the owner sold it to the French King Louis XIV in the mid-1600s. About 100 years later when Louis XVI lost his throne and his head, the diamond disappeared along with the other French crown jewels. It turned up in the hands of Henry Hope in 1839 and received the name we know. Hope died shortly after he bought it. In 1910 an unfortunate lady named Evalyn Walsh McLean acquired it. She lost a daughter to a drug overdose, a son to a car accident and her husband to a sanitarium. She also lost her fortune. Henry Winston purchased her estate jewelry in 1949 and later donated the diamond to the Smithsonian Natural Museum of History. He seems to have escaped the curse the stone acquired through the years. Today, it is one of the most popular displays at the Museum.
The Museum also houses another famous gemstone, the Star of India. About the size of a golf ball, the Star is one of the largest sapphires in the world. It weighs in at 1563 carats! Its value lies not only in its size and color but also in the rare double star it carries. Mined in Sri Lanka, J. P. Morgan owned the stone before donating it to the Museum in 1900. Due to poor security, in 1964 thieves took it from the museum along with several other stones. It was later recovered from a bus terminal in Miami and returned. It currently rests safely in the museum with improved protection.
The British Crown Jewels displayed at the Tower of London contain several famous gemstones. The Koh-i-Noor diamond came originally from Indian mines. It's name means "mountain of lights" for its dazzling pure white color and near flawless beauty. It was given to Queen Victoria and set in the crown by Albert. Like many other famous jewels, it carries a curse. It's said that if a man wears it he will die. Only women of the British royal family have ever worn it. After Queen Elizabeth, it will pass to Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
The Black Prince Ruby in the Imperial State Crown of England is also called the "Imposter Ruby." It isn't a ruby at all, but a huge spinel. Mined in what is now modern Tajikistan, it originally belonged to the Moorish Prince of Granada. It passed through several hands before coming to the son of England's Edward III where it was given its present name.
One more gemstone became famous only in the 20th century. La Peregrina Pearl was found by an African slave in the Gulf of Panama in the 16th century. It passed through so many hands it was given the name Peregrina meaning "wanderer." Philip of Spain gave it to Queen "Bloody" Mary of England, then took it back to Spain when she died. It was later looted from Spain by Napoleon. It continued its "wandering" until Richard Burton bought it in 1969 for a mere $37,000. He gave it to Elizabeth Taylor who had it set in a gorgeous necklace. After her death, it sold at auction for 11 million dollars in 2011.
These stones were famous for their size, their beauty, their perfection and, in part, who wore them. All gemstones become personalized by their owners and have a story to tell. What is your favorite gemstone and your story? Contact us and let us help you find out.
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.
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.
Back 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.
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!
So 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.
After 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!
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.
In 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.
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.