The world of precious gemstones is so enchanting that once you get drawn into it, the pull and wonder only grows more intense. Which is why, during a vacation in the US, I succumbed to the urge to head to Washington DC just for the sake of visiting the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History which houses some of the most amazing gemstones and gemstone jewellery.
1. Hope Diamond
This is easily one of the most stunning pieces of magic that has unfolded in the earth's womb. The brilliant blue 45.52 carat diamond originated from the mines of India in the 1600s. Historical records show that it was originally a whopping 112.18 carat gem sold by Jean Baptist Tavernier to King Louis XIV of France! King Louis XIV then had the gem recut to 67.12 carats and had it set in ceremonial jewellery (Emblem of the Golden Fleece).
After being stolen in France around 1792, the exquisite diamond surfaced in London 20 years later and 20 carats lighter where it was eventually bought by King George IV.
Post King George's death, an English banker and gem collector Henry Phillip Hope acquired the gem... and this is where the blue diamond got its name! After changing a lot of hands across continents, Evalyn Walsh McLean bought the gem from Pierre Cartier, who had designed the gem in its current setting. This was later acquired by Harry Winston of New York, who eventually donated it to the Smithsonian's National Gem Collection in 1958. The Hope diamond is currently set in platinum, surrounded by 16 white pear-shaped diamonds, suspended from a chain also set with 45 glittering white diamonds. Only one in a 100,000 diamonds is sufficiently blue to be graded as a fancy coloured diamond. And the intense blue of the Hope diamond undoubtedly makes it one of the rarest objects in the world.
2. Logan Sapphire
This is another stunner in the National Gem Collection. Mined from the gem fields of Sri Lanka, this 423-carat beauty is probably the largest faceted blue sapphire and heaviest mounted gem in the collection. It has been designed as a brooch and is surrounded by 20 diamonds -- round brilliant cut. The luxuriously rich blue and intense lustre, along with its incredible size, makes it a really exceptional gem.
3. Bismarck Sapphire Necklace
This delectable stately piece is a 98.6-carat deep blue Burmese sapphire, set along with diamonds in a platinum necklace. Thee Bismarck Sapphire necklace was designed by Cartier and gifted by Countess Mona Von Bismarck to the National Gem Collection.
4. Napoleon Necklace
This is clearly a piece of art and exemplifies why the glitter of diamonds holds so much of the world in thrall. The Napoleon necklace was presented by Napoleon I to Empress Marie- Louise in celebration of the birth of their son in 1811. The total weight of diamonds in this necklace is close to 263 carats!
5. Marie Louise Diadem
The Marie-Louise Diadem, also a gift from Napoleon to Marie-Louise, is a dramatic tiara studded with 1006 mine-cut diamonds (approximately weighing 700 carats) and 79 exquisite Persian turquoise stones (totalling 540 carats). The Diadem is a part of a parure or set that also has a necklace, belt buckle, comb and earrings. Interestingly, the original commission was with emeralds; these were removed from the tiara by Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1950s and turquoise was mounted instead. Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the tiara from Van Cleef and Arpels in 1971 for the National Gem Collection.
6. Spanish Inquisition Necklace
The Spanish Inquisition Necklace has hardly anything to do with the Spanish inquisition. Featuring 15 exceptionally fine Colombian emeralds and 374 Indian diamonds, it is a brilliant piece of gemstone jewellery that has adorned the Spanish as well as French royalty. The way Indian craftsmen in the 17th century have drilled holes in the gemstones to attach them to the necklace -- almost imperceptibly -- makes this an exceptional piece. The necklace was acquired by the Maharaja of Indore in early 20th century and later by Harry Winston who bought it from the Maharaja's son in 1948. It was later bought by Cora Hubbard Williams who bequeathed it to the National Gem Collection.
7. Mackay Emerald Necklace
This regal opulence showcases a 168-carat Muzo mine (Colombia) emerald set in a diamond and platinum necklace designed by Cartier. It is the largest cut emerald at The National Gem Collection. It was presented by Clarence H Mackay to his wife Anna Case who later gifted it to the Smithsonian.
8. Rosser Reeves Ruby
The Rosser Reeves Ruby (138.72 carats) is one of the finest and the largest cabochon cut rubies from Sri Lanka, displaying the phenomenon of asterism -- a six-pointed star on its surface. The gemstone was donated in 1965 to the Smithsonian Gem Collection by Rosser Reeves, whose fondness for the gem was well known (he carried it around with him as his personal charm, and often referred to it as his "baby")
9. Star of Asia Sapphire
The splendid Star of Asia is an enormous pure blue sapphire (330 carats) from Burma. It is a cabochon cut gemstone with a domed top displaying a sharp six-pointed star. The phenomenon of asterism is amazingly intense and well defined. The deep velvety colour and the large size of the gemstone make it a mesmerising treat for gem lovers.
10. Hooker Emerald
The Hooker Emerald is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating emeralds in the world. This enchanting jewel is a 75.47-carat Colombian emerald that was once owned by Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire, who , legend has it, wore it in his belt. This spectacular emerald is currently set in platinum and is surrounded by 109 round brilliant and 20 baguette-cut diamonds. This emerald is set apart by its amazing clarity -- rare in emeralds -- and even, vivid colour. Mrs Janet Annenberg Hooker bought the brooch from Tiffany's in 1955 and later donated it to the National Gem Collection.
(All photographs have been taken by the author and reprint requires permission.)