Home button
Trade log-in:HERE
Get password  |  Forgot password
Gem News title image

2015.3 | 2015.2 | 2015.1
2014.3 | 2014.2 | 2014.1 | 2013.3 | 2013.2 | 2013.1 | 2012.3 | 2012.2 | 2012.1
2011.3 | 2011.2 | 2011.1 | 2010.3 | 2010.2 | 2010.1 | 2009.3 | 2009.2 | 2009.1
2008.3 | 2008.2 | 2008.1 | 2007.3 | 2007.2 | 2007.1 | 2006.3 | 2006.2 | 2006.1
2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000

Subscribe to Gem News:   

September – December 2015

September 2015 Newsletter

Catalog cover image
Time is up? Tomorrow, lovely jewels from the estate of Rita Dee Hassenfeld are offered in Chicago by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. See more on the sale below.

If you're unable to see the newsletter properly, click here.

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Pala Presents

Shows and Events

Leslie Hindman: A Tale of Two Ritas

Coming up quickly are two sales featuring the collections of "two Ritas": Rita Dee Hassenfeld and Rita Bass Coors. While both sales demonstrate the women's wide-ranging love of color, we'll focus on opal and jadeite from the hundreds of lots available by way of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago.

Rita Dee Hassenfeld was a skilled ballet dancer, eventually becoming a prolific philanthropist after marrying Harold Irwin Hassenfeld, who belonged to the family that founded Hasbro Inc. (manufacturer of everything from Monopoly to Trivial Pursuit). When the couple traveled to New York from their homes in Nashville and Palm Beach, they went jewelry shopping at Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston. (The latter firm employed a family member in the diamond division, and so they would take a meal together at the Diamond Dealers Club.) Trips abroad brought to them new perspectives on jewelry designs, reflected in this sale, which takes place tomorrow, September 16. Catalog and lot browsing are available here.

Lot 59 is one of four that feature a starfish design in the Hassenfeld collection. This brooch, by Nicholas Varney, shows off a fire opal (26.00 x 24.07 x 20.93 mm) surrounded by curving arms filled with 328 round brilliant-cut yellow diamonds and 45 colorless round brilliants set in 18 karat yellow gold. (Photo courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)
Ring photo image
Lot 240 is a ring by David Webb from the Hassenfeld collection. It features two semicircular pierced jadeite plaques (17.47 x 12.71 mm) that appear to be carved in the form of stylized butterflies. (Photo courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)

Like Rita Hassenfeld, Rita Bass Coors dedicated herself to philanthropy as well, but she also was a businesswoman, partnering with her first husband, and later founding several companies in the areas of collections, medical billing and commercial real estate, among others. In 1995, she married William Coors of Coors Brewing Co. The sale of her collection takes place on September 17 and 18 in Chicago. Catalog and lot browsing are available here (search on "Coors" to see the Bass Coors collection).

Ring photo image
Lot 33 from the Bass Coors collection is a gray opal (12.28 x 9.35 mm) surrounded by twelve oval mixed-cut demantoid garnets of varying hues. (Photo courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)
Lot 367 from the Bass Coors collection features a mottled jadeite hololith (23.96 x 2.17 mm). It comes with a GIA jade identification certificate. (Photo courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)

[back to top]

First International Emerald Symposium:
October 13–15, 2015

Details are now available regarding this symposium, sponsored by Fedesmeraldas, the Federación Nacional de Esmeraldas de Colombia. It will be held in Bogotá at the Sheraton Bogotá Hotel. Visitors to the symposium website can sign up for more information.

The speakers list is too long to reproduce here, but it includes many familiar names in the realm of emeralds. Symposium tracks are four: Product Confidence, Promotion, Traceability, and Wellness.

A post symposium mine trip, October 16–18, takes visitors to the three prominent emerald districts of Chivor, Muzo, and Pita.

Symposium image

[back to top]

Mineralientage München 52nd Munich Mineral Show:
October 30 – November 1, 2015

Munich show logo image

Pala International's Bill Larson and Will Larson will attend this year’s Munich Show.

When: October 30 – November 1, 2015
Where: Munich Trade Fair Centre
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM each day
   Friday, October 30 (Trade only)
   Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1 (Trade and public)

In Gemworld, for the fourth year, the Munich Show will highlight the work of recent graduates, in Young Designers' Corner. As well as being a showcase, this is a competition. You have until August 31 to submit your entry. More information on the show is forthcoming.

African Stones photo image
Just one of many displays from the "African Secrets" exhibition at Munich 2012. For great enlargements of these images, visit MinBlog. (Photos courtesy Eloïse Gaillou)

For more information visit the show website. See the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

Statue photo image
Wall of Golden Fleece. This is one of the great highlights of the Munich Residenz Treasury, which visitors to the Munich Show can take in as a side trip. In July 2010 we examined the relationship between the stone that would become the Hope Diamond and a ceremonial pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece (look for the little sheep hanging from some of these insignias. (Photo courtesy Eloïse Galliou)

[back to top]

Lapis Leaving

In June we pointed to a rare exhibition, Lapis Lazuli: Magic of Blue, at the Medici Treasury in Florence, Italy. With less than a month to go—the show ends October 11, the New York Times has published an overview of the history of lapis and a look at the exhibition. "Absorbing and sometimes dazzling," is how British writer Roderick Conway Morris characterizes the exhibition in the Times. The article includes three new images from the show.

Chessboard photo image
Game of kings. Peeking from behind a potted plant, a regal chessboard is spotted in a sumptuous setting. (Photo: S. Tavernier)

[back to top]

Pala International News

Amongst the more desirable rough and cut gem minerals is the iconic Himalaya Mine bi-color tourmaline. San Diego County has been referred to as a "gem basket." Seeing is believing. The classic tourmaline crystal form and the striking color banding have made these a must-buy for the dedicated collector.

This month we offer you both: a crystal that has in it a beautiful center section showing the gem potential, and alongside it the finished gem. Production at this location has been sparse and availability is now difficult to obtain. This is a rare opportunity.

Tourmalines photo image
Tourmaline var. elbaite from the Himalaya Mine, Mesa Grande District, San Diego County, CA. Rough (Inv. #22831) measures 7.5 x 1 cm and the 11.32-carat cut stone (Inv. #22814) measures 1.6 x x 9.2 cm. (Photo: Mia Dixon)
Tourmaline photo image

Interested? Call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Laboratory News

Gübelin Gem Lab Offers Enhanced Reports

As of yesterday, Gübelin Gem Lab of Lucerne, Switzerland is offering "a completely redesigned Gemmological Report," according to its News-Flash #9 of September 10. Details of the redesign were not included in the Report other than to mention that a new Gemmological Profile can now accompany reports on Burmese rubies and Sapphires, Kashmiri sapphires, and Colombian emeralds "of a certain quality." Visitors to the Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, which begins tomorrow, can query the lab about the new offerings. At the Fair, two from the Gübelin staff will present:

  • The Age of Gemstones by Dr. Daniel Nyfeler, Managing Director, Gübelin Gem Lab, 9–10 a.m.
  • The History of Gemstones by Helen Molesworth, Managing Director, Gübelin Academy, 10–11 a.m.

Lotus Gemology

Bangkok-based Lotus Gemology has offered enhanced reports on fine gemstones since its inception a year ago.

On September 4, the lab announced a new take-in office in Colombo, Sri Lanka:

No. 46, Abdul Caffoor Mw.
Colombo 00300
Phone: +94 11 501 4546
E-mail: lotuslab.colombo@lotusgemology.com

Two days earlier, Lotus reported on a new ruby find in Madagascar. A friend sent the lab a photo of several rough, blood-red stones on a scale. Then some faceted stones walked through the door, supposedly from Mozambique. But these reminded Lotus's Richard Hughes of Madagascar stones he'd seen on a visit to that country ten years before. As can be seen from the image below, these are gorgeous rubies. Read the full story here, copiously illustrated as usual.

Rubies photo image
Four untreated rubies from the new find in Madagascar, ranging in size from 4.0 to 6.5 ct. As can be seen, the new production is extremely gemmy. Most gems fell into the Lotus Gemology proprietary "Royal Red" color type. (Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology)

[back to top]

Industry News

Hope Spinel Offered Next Week

Bonhams will offer the rare and beautiful Hope Spinel next week as part of its Fine Jewelry sale on September 24 in London. Originally coming from the collection of London banker Henry Philip Hope, who died in 1839, the spinel last was up for sale in 1917, when it fetched the now-equivalent of about $133,000. Its current presale estimate is $230,000 to $310,000. A Bonhams news release states that the 50.13-carat spinel, set in a 19th century silver and gold brooch, "is the size of a small plum and of similar coloring with a splendid rose hue."

Spinel photo image
Photo: Bonhams news release

If the name of the Hope Spinel has a familiar ring to it, the Hope Diamond came from the same collection. Henry Philip Hope died without issue and attempted to pass the collection to a nephew, to avoid an estate tax, omitting it from his will. The nephew's other two brothers were not pleased, and a decade-long legal feud ensued. Most of the important gems from the collection were separated from it in order to settle the dispute, including the Hope Diamond and Hope spinel, going to nephew Henry Thomas Hope.

Henry Thomas Hope's widow, Anne Adele, skipped a generation by bequeathing the jewels to her second grandson, since her only daughter was married to a "profligate and notorious gambler." Gambling ran in the family and the grandson, Lord Francis Hope, found himself bankrupt nine years after having received his inheritance. A 1917 auction at Christie's sold off the last of the collection, including the Hope Spinel. Since that time the spinel has been in the family of Lady Mount Stephen, who was connected to Queen Mary. [back to top]

Diamond News

Two stories about diamonds caught our eye recently…

Businessman Arrested for Blood Diamond Involvement

Diamonds photo image

Three years ago, Liberia's ex-president Charles Taylor was tried and convicted of having collaborated with Sierra Leone rebels, who killed tens of thousands of people during that country's civil war in the 1990s. Taylor had purchased arms for the Revolutionary United Front rebels using proceeds from so-called "blood" diamonds that were mined by enslaved civilians.

Now, the first businessman involved in the blood diamond production and trade has been arrested on related charges, as reported by CBS News and others. Michel Desaedeleer, a 64-year-old American-Belgian, was arrested in late August at a southern Spain airport, preparing to fly the the U.S. It was Belgian authorities who had asked for his arrest, and he agreed to be handed over. Desaedeleer is being accused of enslavement and diamond pillaging in Kono, a district in eastern Sierra Leone, between 1999 and 2001.

Memorial Diamonds

If the subject of blood diamonds makes one squeamish, consider reading no further.

Algordanza, a firm based in Switzerland with partners around the globe, is in the business of making an unusual memento for survivors of a departed loved one: creating synthetic diamonds from the deceased's cremated remains. According to the firm's website, the small amount of carbon that endures in cremains, less than 5%, is isolated in the laboratory and then used as "the foundation for the diamond growth" after conversion to graphite. That graphite is the seed used by the firm's HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) process. The finished diamond is then cut according to the client's wishes. Beyond that, according to an article last fall in The Atlantic, no manipulation of the material takes place—i.e., the diamonds are not colored artificially. It is the trace elements present in the cremains that can affect color: dentures, titanium prostheses, even the residue from chemotherapy.

Algordanza comes from the Romansh language, which is spoken in the area where the firm resides; it means "remembrance." About 800 urns are received by the company a year. The cost for this type of memorial is about the same as a typical burial and gravesite maintenance.

Lithotripsy Unnecessary

A Chinese woman visitor to a Bangkok jewelry fair last Thursday was found to have ingested a 6-carat diamond after swapping it for a fake at a booth, as reported by Associated Press. Jiang Xulian, 39 years old, and another Chinese man were arrested at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, having been identified by surveillance video at the fair and the booth owner. Unable to pass the stone naturally or with the aid of laxatives, it was removed from the woman's large intestine using a colonoscope during a twelve-minute procedure on Sunday. The woman had denied a role in the theft, but X-rays revealed the stone. The diamond was valued at 10 million baht ($278,000). [back to top]

Burma Bits

Climate Change Threatens Jade Land

Sapphire photo image
Moody hues. A deep red Burma ruby, 1.59 carats, heated. Inventory #22635. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Jade rich Kachin State's capital of Myitkyina is under threat of flooding and landslides according to Burma weather expert Tun Lwin, as reported by Democratic Voice of Burma August 24. Artificial lakes have been created in the foothills by a combination of high precipitation and Himalayan glaciers melting owing to warming. Due to the instability of soil beneath the lakes, their waters can burst forth, he said. Tun Lwin reminded readers that the capital was flooded in August 2004 when lakes overflowed.

Flooding did take place in Kachin's jade mining center Hpakant in late August, on top of flooding that began early in July, as The Irrawaddy reported on September 1. Floods and landslides across Burma have affected more than 1.6 million people in the last two months, displacing more than 384,000 households and covering 1.4 million acres of farmland.

Weather isn't the only scourge in Jade Land. The Irrawaddy reported August 21 on the perennial problem of drug use in Hpakant, paying special attention to how women are affected.

Meanwhile in Kachin, London-based Aurasian Minerals announced it will not conduct mineral exploration after submitting three applications less than a year ago, according to The Irrawaddy September 7. Apparently it was the bureaucratic quagmire that contributed to the call-off. The company's applications were for 734 square miles, and one was speculated to have been for Kachin's Hpakant, Burma's key mining area. Aurasian's optimism regarding the resolution of armed conflict in the area also may have played a role; security remains an issue.

But another foreign firm, Scotland's Terex Trucks, a subsidiary of Sweden's Volvo, announced on August 25 a first order of trucks that would be used in Hpakant, as reported by The Irrawaddy on the 29th. But, the magazine noted, the firm's Twitter account had published photos in June 2014 of trucks destined to work on jade mining.

Gems and Minerals Bank Forming

A new bank for the gems and minerals industry joins other sector-specific banks in Burma if all goes well this month. Myanmar Times reported on September 2 that founders of the Gems and Minerals Development Bank will apply for licensing now and within two or three months will have paperwork completed. Capital is being raised by 400 billion-kyat shares; the goal is 20 billion ($15.7 million). Some feel the share price is too high; others think sector specificity is too risky.

Tourism Up 30%

During the first eight months of 2015, the number of tourists in Burma rose to three million, up 30% from the same period in 2014, as reported in an undated story by Eleven Media Group. This number is the same for all of 2014. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism predicts that the number of workers in the tourism industry could rise from 800,000 currently to three million.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Myanmar Times: $2.4 billion in legal border trade masks illegal gem trade
  • The Irrawaddy: $20 billion in dirty money left Burma in fifty years
  • Myanmar Times: And then there's illicit capital flow into the country, too
  • Myanmar Times: Burma is ideal for criminal finance

[back to top]

Pala Presents

Avarice and Alienation: The Jewels of the Romanoffs

Not long ago, by chance I ran across Associated Press accounts dated July 24, 1929, with one titled "Americans Eager to Buy Crown Jewels, Gasp at Price," regarding an unofficial American delegation touring Russia on a fin-de-décennie shopping spree. As the story in the Atlanta Constitution reported, "Although members of the [delegation] today purchased many thousands of dollars worth of paintings and other art objects from the soviet government, they came to one place where even American wealth was powerless." The Americans were allowed to view a portion of the Russian crown jewels, which were then appraised at $264 million, including Catherine the Great's coronation crown and the 190-carat Orloff diamond given to her by her former lover of that name. The Russians, being strapped for cash, wanted "to convert these gems into plough shares, locomotives and tractors." But when the Americans expressed interest in purchasing, they were told that the cheapest item would cost $1 million. That soured the deal, but it may not have killed it.

Intrigued, I did a survey of major newspapers regarding the crown jewels, beginning with the 1917 revolution to see if there had been such offers before. There had, or rather there had been kinda-sorta offers reported in the press. The jewels, or portions thereof, were forever (and somewhat contradictorily) being stolen, sold, smuggled, pawned, publicly displayed, and privately hoarded. What follows are some of the highlights that caught my eye, and I quote liberally from the wiggly words of these organs that for many would have been their only source of news on the subject. This is not a comprehensive account, but rather the sort of thing that the papers' browsers would read over the years.

We begin with coverage of the crown jewels during the first five years following the removal of the Romanoffs, 1917 to 1922.

— David Hughes

Crown Jewels photo image
One-stop shopping? This likely is the first photograph ever taken of the Russian crown jewels, from an album issued in 1922, and included in the collection of George F. Kunz, now at the U.S. Geological Survey Library. The album ostensibly was crafted to create interest amongst buyers. Or was it? Click for very large zoom. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)

No Sale

As early as May 16, 1917, just two months after the start of the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian crown jewels were being discussed by columnist Marquise de Fontenoy (Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen), a Kitty Kelly of her day. No stranger to empire and royalty, she led off that day's column with, "If the socialist and ultra radical element of the provisional government at Petrograd has its way some of the very finest jewels in the world will shortly be placed on the market, for its leaders are anxious to convert into cash and, above all, get rid of the magnificent crown jewels, so as to be able to convince people at home and abroad that there will be no restoration of the monarchy in Russia." Appropriately enough, as described by La Marquise, the royal jewels had a power beyond their beauty. Speculation on their sale, however, was made complicated when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on September 2 that "the Romanoff crown jewels, a hoard which no other collection in Europe can approach for magnificence—have disappeared."

According to the Post-Dispatch account, officials of the revolutionary government in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) had been charged with performing an inventory on the jewels in a vault in the Hermitage museum. "It was opened, and apparently every piece was in place, with the exception of a few decorations and minor jewels." Well, not so fast...

The sight which seemed to meet the eyes of the commissioners was the most imposing which the rejoicing eyes of a connoisseur of precious stones and pearls might ever hope to behold. In the midst of the heap appeared to glimmer the Orloff diamond […]. There were more than 40 strings of what appeared to be the finest and largest pearls in the world, outside of India, besides many of the biggest and purest rubies and emeralds known.

But when experts were summoned the astounding revelation came to light that every jewel and pearl remaining in the safe was simply paste and imitation.

The same had been done with many of the masterworks of art that had hung in the museum and Winter Palace. It was surmised that Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna (Alix of Hesse) had spirited the valuables out of the country—likely to her German homeland. She never was really liked, the article said, even by the aristocracy.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's

Nine months later, a June 5, 1918 AP story reported on a plot to smuggle the jewels into the U.S. Seized were $150,000 of $2 million worth of jewels, with federal agents being "on the trail of the rest." Two days later, federal authorities removed from a New York safe deposit box $350,000 worth of what were alleged to be Russian crown jewels, according to the Boston Daily Globe. But as late as May 2, 1919 a Post-Dispatch editorial asked, "Where Are the Russian Crown Jewels?", mentioning the Orloff diamond once again. "If the Russian jewels are in Hesse-Darmstadt"—the "ancestral seat" of the czarina—"they may fall into the hands of the German revolutionaries; if in Russia, into the hands of the Bolshevists. In either case, it is possible they may be broken up and sold and the jewels that once adorned the Princes of an imperial line may eventually glitter on less aristocratic fingers in London, New York or San Francisco." Just who deserved ownership of the jewels is a theme that would sounded over the years.

Market Mess

A July 29, 1919 article in the Washington Post, regarding the global diamond market, dropped this little tidbit: a Chicago importer just back from Europe was told by Russians that "there was a big demand for the gems in their country despite the chaotic condition of finances and society there. They said that at least $200,000,000 worth of diamonds had been taken out of Russia by the exodus of the noblemen after the bolsheviki came into power." And this didn't include the crown jewels—still missing and worth millions. (The article's market details are of interest: American demand for diamonds couldn't be met; Japan, Argentina, Germany and Austria were big buyers; Brazil had taken up production from faltering India; returning World War soldiers were thought to be heating up the market as they contemplated marriage.)

Three months later, on October 16, several papers including the Atlanta Constitution reported, "Crown jewels of Russia in possession of Prince Youssoupoff, in whose palace in Russia the notorious monk Rasputin was killed, have been stolen from his flat in the West End, of London. The theory is that the theft was the work of bolshevists who traced the crown jewels to England, burgled the flat of the temporary possessor and intend to send them back to Russia to swell the soviet's depleted coffers."

Diamonds from the Romanoffs were back in the news in mid August 1920 when customs agents in New York seized 131 pristine stones intended for Ludwig Martens, "self-styled Soviet Ambassador to this country," as reported by the Post-Dispatch August 13. Government officials theorized that the "loot" was to be sold in the furtherance of Bolshevist propaganda efforts here. But Assistant U.S. District Attorney John Walker laughed at the notion, as did Martens, who said that the crown jewels were under lock and key in the care of the Soviets, per the New York Times the next day.

On January 16, 1922 the Times had it "on good authority" that German war profiteer and politician Hugo Stinnes had the crown jewels in his possession. "They have been 'pawned' to him for 60 percent of their 'estimated value,' an amount that is kept secret."

Two months later, the Los Angeles Times reported on March 12, 1922:

South African newspapers in close touch with the diamond trade state that $10,000,000 worth of stolen Russian diamonds were thrown on the market in the months [sic] in 1921, and the crown jewel collection of Russia, was particularly rich in diamonds.

The diamond production industry has been seriously disturbed by the large number of these gems coming out of Russia, but now the situation is reported as more stable. Some South African mines that stopped producing to await a demand for their stones are at work again.

The article then quotes Los Angeles gem expert W. C. Shaw, who said he'd possessed two snuff boxes from the royal collection.

These boxes have gone to swell the collections of American connoisseurs.

Mr. Shaw explained that while very little is known of the fate of the Russian crown jewels, agents of the soviet government are known to have sold jewels in Turkey, Holland and other places.

"Jewelry of wonderful workmanship," he said, "has been sold by peasants, in some cases, for ridiculous prices. A piece that was worth $100,000 has sometimes been sold for $50 in the first trade. […]

"The greatest part of the jewels that have come from Russia lately have gone to London. Many diamonds, however, have been sent to Holland to be recut. There does not seem to have been any fear of pieces being identified. […]

"Moreover, the artistry of the Russian settings enhances the value of the gems. The niello work, patterns of black alloyed metal on white, and the beautiful enamelling are too much admired to be recklessly destroyed."

Shaw went on to say that 90% of the diamonds in old collections, like that of the Russian crown, suffered from "old-mine cutting," performed by hand, and that they could benefit from machine cutting in terms of brilliance, even with the loss of about 20% of material in the process. Shaw said that the Russian crown collection was considered the most tasteful in the world and, excepting for pearls, probably the finest. "The oriental strain which the Russians inherit from the Tartar invaders accounts for the Russian love of jewels," he said. "It is a common trait in peasant and prince. The Russians of all classes have a way of saving their money by investing in jewels, and the crown collection represented the greatest expression of that Russian trait."

The Los Angeles Times then provided a list of some of the 1600 objects in the royal collection: "golden goblets, innumerable gold plates, some encrusted with gems, a chalice cut from a single great amethyst, jewels of famous orders, Tiaras, coronets, necklaces and thrones, all blazing with the sparkle of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds." And the crowns of the czars, including that of Peter the Great, "brilliantly ornamented with 900 diamonds and had for its piece de resistance a great ruby surmounted by a cross of diamonds." And, of course, the Orloff diamond, which was added to the imperial scepter by Catherine the Great.

On June 11 that same year of 1922, the New York Times itself discussed a postwar "world market flooded by gems." Production of precious stones had slumped during the World War (1914–1918), and just as production was to ramp up, Russians and others saturated the market. "Ruined by the war and Bolshevism, members of noble Russian families, likewise other Russians who had grown wealthy under the Czarist régime, found themselves with no assets of real value except their holdings in jewelry," the Times wrote. "The jewel traders were aghast" when the market was flooded. "They had laid their plans, counting almost entirely on the regular output from the mines; the sudden stream out of Russia swept away all their hopes and brought some of them face to face with ruin." That was followed by a second wave—"and there is danger of still another flood!" That third wave was heralded by a July 14 Times headline, "Soviet Has Thrones for Rich Americans: Also Has Crown Jewels for Sale, but They Will Come High […]."

Up to the present it has been impossible to ascertain exactly what jewels the Soviet delegates brought with them from Russia, but [Soviet diplomat] M. Litvinoff has stated that his Government still has jewels, which have been nationalized, amounting to millions of dollars, and that it intended to make a detail [sic] catalogue of these jewels with photos so that people from all over the world will be enabled to come and purchase them in Russia or buy from the catalogue.

Among the treasures are diamonds from crowns of France, which had long been lost and, as Litvinoff said: "There are even thrones for millionaire Americans, but these will be very expensive, in fact, everything will be expensive."

Czars Catalogue

Six weeks later, the catalogues were issued, as reported in the August 23, 1922 Post-Dispatch. [1] The crown jewels were either to be sold, or pledged for a loan. The gems were estimated to be worth $500 million. Surprisingly, according to the Post-Dispatch, it was writer Maxim Gorky who was "one of the custodians investigating the possibilities of selling the jewels abroad." After being critical of the Soviet government, Gorky had agreed to exile himself in Germany the previous fall. Stateside, feelers were being put out by former Indiana governor James Goodrich, who had been appointed by President Harding to the Russian Relief Commission.

Title Page image
Not Russia's "noblest jewel." Hand-colored title page from the 1922 album, Russian Diamond Fund, from the Kunz collection at U.S. Geological Survey. It is believed to be the only copy in existence. Click for very large zoom. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey)

Highlights from the article: "emerald-sprinkled breast-plates"; the "imperial crown bears in the center a glowing rose diamond of 265 carats, surrounded by Brazilian rubies"; "a bouquet of diamonds, colored by some secret process never duplicated, so that they resemble natural roses"; "the Shah seal, with Persian inscriptions which never have been deciphered"; and "a magnificent dog collar of emeralds and rubies." Previous reports notwithstanding, the entire collection "is practically intact," it having been guarded since the czar's fall. As tantalizing as the above descriptions were, the catalogue images were monochrome. They had to be seen in living color.

Seeing Is Believing

Three days later, on August 26, 1922, New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty reported that he and Sam Speewak of the New York World had seen the crown jewels in person, calling the experience an "Arabian Nights vision of the Romanoff treasure." They viewed "diamonds as big as walnuts, rubies, emeralds, bright, blooded or vivid green, large as a pigeon's egg, pearls like nuts set in row after perfectly matched row, platinum, gold and flashing diamonds shimmering like running water with the rainbow colors of a fountain in the sunlight. Over all and through all flash diamonds, rose diamonds, black diamonds, blue, white, yellow, even greenish diamonds, thrilling and throbbing as if alive with inner flames: jewels of Golconda, jewels of Indian emperors for each of whose flashes gallons of human blood flowed like water, jewels of wars of dominion and triumph, jewels without a price or equal in all the known world." (See if you can match a given object in the photo above with its description that follows.)

Lifting a wooden box from a steel chest stamped with the crown of Imperial Russia, the correspondents were shown the real deal: "a square foot of incandescent fire." An unnamed jewelry expert who was present explained, "Thirty two thousand eight hundred karats [sic] of diamonds. […] Please note the unrivaled rose diamonds, twelve of them, averaging thirty karats each. There are fifty big diamonds altogether. The big one which is polished but not cut is Balai, a ruby really, a sort of red diamond. It came from Peking in the seventeenth century and weighs 389 karats." [2] When placed upon Speewak's head, "his face flushed dark, then went ivory pale," Duranty wrote. "For this was the symbol of the world's biggest white empire, the Imperial Crown of Catherine the Great, designed by Pauzier Mauer, jeweler of Geneva, and without peer in his art today." [3]

Schorr and Hugheses photo image
Catherine II (the Great) desired a contemporary coronation crown, in contrast with the traditional sable-trimmed Cap of Monomakh shown below. If Peter the Great is credited with Russia's cultural and political sea change, Catherine was inspired by her predecessor. In the portrait above, painted by Aleksey Antropov about three years after her 1762 coronation, the empress holds the imperial scepter, not yet set with the diamond she received from her former lover Grigory Orloff. The diadem she wears echoes the design of the full-size, five-pound crown at left.

After being shown the Orloff diamond in its scepter setting, the New York correspondents viewed an orb, "an ordlasie gold ball, six inches in diameter, surmounted by a sapphire of 100 carats supporting a diamond cross, 173 carats in all." Next was a "crown of 1,933 diamonds made for Catherine the Great […]. There are 487 carats altogether in this crown, set with diamonds so as to quiver like a mass of jelly." Also shown "was a truly imperial diadem of the style one sees as a laurel wreath gracing the brows of royal Caesars, but here the laurel leaves' weight was as of leaves on the trees of jewels Aladdin saw in the wonder garden beneath the earth. In the centre there was a pear-shaped diamond an inch and a half long of seventy carats with a round stone of twenty carats above it. Of all the jewels we saw this was the most regal." The diadem of Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great featured a "huge oblong rose diamond in the centre [that] weighs 125 karats [sic] and is without peer outside the fabled treasures of an Indian Rajah. Its full fire is lost because it is set in a gold locket, which the tradition of the imperial dynasty forbade to alter. Above it there is a row of diamonds as big as a finger nail and below a second row of pear-shaped pendants, of which one is missing."

Schorr and Hugheses photo image
A photogravure of the Cap of Monomakh, dated to the 13th or 14th centuries. It was used to crown the rulers from Ivan Vasilievich (the Terrible) in 1547 to Ivan Alexeevich in 1682. (Image: Sherer & Nabholz, before 1884, Archives of the Moscow Kremlin Museums)

A diadem fashioned to mimic "ears of wheat," with "fat chunks of diamonds gleaming in the harvest sun" aroused the enthusiasm of the communist officials. "This is the true wealth of Russia," said the head of the jewelry commission, "not platinum, or diamonds wrung from the sweat of workers, but Russia's own natural grain—her noblest jewel." Indeed, crown jewels cannot be eaten, and a month after this article appeared, a Times headline on September 21 warned that "1,000,000 Face Starvation in Russia." (Duranty himself wrote in the October 16 Times that as many as eight million might perish within five months.) More wealth followed, of the gemmy sort: eleven uncut emeralds each an inch long, roughly polished, pierced and dangling from a diamond pendant necklace; the 1.5-inch-long Shah diamond (the "Shah seal" mentioned above?), looking "like the cut glass stopper of a decanter," inscribed in Arabic but otherwise uncut and unpolished; two brooches of diamonds surrounding enormous sapphires, one measuring 1.5 by 1 inches, 250 carats, and the smaller about an inch square, 142 carats, "and deep azure blue"; Empress Elizabeth's neck ornament with rubies that a workman called "big as the signal lamps of a liner," but this was "outshone by an emerald brooch with two huge oval stones like giant green eyes," weighing 174 carats, "and another beneath them as a pendant [of] 226" carats; a Cossack-style suit of 22,000 diamonds weighing more than 5,000 carats; and "two brooches, the first a light water green aquamarine of the Urals as big as the palm of the hand, and the second item a larger Brazilian aquamarine, the blue of sky and sea, both set in diamonds." About these last two, the expert exclaimed, "For such as these men go mad," adding "with an obvious effort at calm," that "the blue stone is over 1,000 carats. We cannot compute its value, for it is utterly unique."

For his part, Duranty felt that the "most beautiful of the lot" was a jeweled snuffbox, "a tabatière of the fifteenth century, probably Italian, of black enamel on gold with perfectly harmonized flowers, sprays and insects on rose, white, yellow and blue diamonds."

No Sale (Again)

If Duranty's sumptuous verbal depictions on August 26 extended expectations that the Romanoff jewels would be sold off, such hopes were dashed the next day by his mouthpiece, the New York Times. "Charles Recht, the legal representative of the Soviet Government in this country, said yesterday that he received no word of any intention on the part of the Soviet Government to sell the vast treasury of gems in its possession, described yesterday morning in a cable dispatch to The New York Times from Walter Duranty in Moscow." Recht couldn't even discuss the gems being used as collateral for a loan.

Nevertheless, the Times reprinted portions of its June 15, 1922 article about a sale in Paris by Cartier of the "largest known emerald in the world," which "once had adorned the neck and shoulders of Catherine the Great of Russia." Pierre Cartier, in the June article, had said that the Russian revolution had brought into private hands many of the world's most important jewels. "I cannot escape a certain feeling of sadness," he had told the Times while holding up the stunning necklace, "at the thought that this historic work must be destroyed and the stones parted with singly. But the last rightful owner is dead and all he has left his descendants is the title." Ironically, it was French emigrants, fleeing that country's revolution, who had sold their jewels to Russian aristocrats; now the tables were turned.

Besides Recht's rejection of the notion of a gems sale, there was some good news in the August 27 article. "The market has since recovered" from the gem glut of the previous three years, "although a general dumping of Soviet treasures would cause a tremendous break, it is believed." In May it had been reported by gem experts that $80 million worth of jewels had been sold to French jewelers by Russian, German and Austrian nobility during those same three years. Others put the figure at $200 million. And many a charlatan was thought to have passed off a bauble or two as having royal provenance. "There exists in Europe a large number of 'easy-money' individuals of suave manner and pleasing address who make it their business to sell gold bricks of this kind," New York Jeweler Julius Wodiska told the Times. "A not unusual performance for them is to burst into tears and tell how the plight of their family forces them to sell their heirlooms."

"Ensanguined stones"

We'll close our look at the fate of the Romanoff jewels during the first five years of Soviet Russia with the following, the New York Times' own supercilious commentary on Walter Duranty's effusive prose regarding the gems, and regarding the Russian workmen's demeanor in the presence of treasure. From the August 28 editorial:

These jewels have a heightened lustre and brilliance in the contrasting setting they give to the plain, drab, indifferent Bolshevistic régime with which they are now associated. Communist officials handle them with an unconcerned air and with hands that do not itch though they tremble [quoting Duranty] "ever so little" over the crown of the Emperor. A Russian peasant in his smock holds for the moment a sceptre that has lost all but its innate beauty and power. Workmen sit down to their lunch in the midst of this surpassing spectacle with no more avaricious wish—even if this one comes into their thoughts—than that those stones might be commanded to be made bread. And the Soviet head of the jewel commission with careless gesture tosses into its place the "most wonderful and historic stone civilization has known," the diamond that hung before the throne of Akbar the Great, Mogul of Hindustan, under whose mild rule (ending in 1630) India was as well governed as France, Spain, Italy, Germany or Russia. To Akbar every ruby of price was "the magnificent ruby." To the Communist the most magnificent seems to have become the commonplace.

These stones would, heaped together, build such a "cairn of remembrance" as no other collection in the world—remembrance of glory, of romance, of misery and of hideous death; for some are such as the Duke of Clarence dreamed of in his imprisonment in the London Tower, all scattered in the slimy bottom of the sea: "Wedges of gold, * * * heaps of pearl, inestimable stones, unvalued jewels." Some of them lay in dead men's skulls; and in the "holes that eyes did once inhabit" there had crept "reflecting gems." So one cannot look upon these imperial jewels, which the Bolsheviki have guarded so scrupulously, without seeing them all turned to rubies—not, as Akbar's, to "magnificent rubies," but to ensanguined stones.

While acknowledging the bloodshed that comes with empire, the Times is critical of the jewel commission head, not to mention the "peasant," in their refusal to quaver before its emblems, and in their defiance: "that those stones might be commanded to be made bread." This having taken place five years since the revolution, it would be five more years before the 1927 publication of Karl Marx's 1844 unfinished manuscript on the subject of the very alienation exemplified by the workers with whom Duranty interacted. In that famous essay, "Alienated Labor," Marx wrote, "Just as [man] creates his own production as a vitiation, a punishment, and his own product as a loss, as a product which does not belong to him, so he creates the domination of the non-producer over production and its product. As he alienates his own activity, so he bestows upon the stranger an activity which is not his own." If only, the Times suggests, the workmen had felt American avarice, rather than universal alienation.

To be continued…


1. The Post-Dispatch stated that the "soviet authorities are issuing this week three elaborate albums containing photographs of the Russia crown jewels," but the catalogue in the personal library of George F. Kunz, now housed at the National Geological Survey Library, consists of a single volume.

2. See Richard W. Hughes, Ruby & Sapphire (Boulder: RWH Publishing, 1997), pp. 234, 247, 282, for identification of the stone as a spinel weighing either 414.30 ct or 398.72 ct.

3. Prince Michael of Greece, Jewels of the Tsars: The Romanovs & Imperial Russia (New York: Vendome Press), p. 14, states that Catherine II commissioned Swiss jeweler Jérémie Pauzié to create the crown, for which he selected the imperial treasury's largest stones.

[back to top]

— End September Newsletter • Published 9/15/15 —

2015.3 | 2015.2 | 2015.1
2014.3 | 2014.2 | 2014.1 | 2013.3 | 2013.2 | 2013.1 | 2012.3 | 2012.2 | 2012.1
2011.3 | 2011.2 | 2011.1 | 2010.3 | 2010.2 | 2010.1 | 2009.3 | 2009.2 | 2009.1
2008.3 | 2008.2 | 2008.1 | 2007.3 | 2007.2 | 2007.1 | 2006.3 | 2006.2 | 2006.1
2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000

Note: Palagems.com selects much of its material in the interest of fostering a stimulating discourse on the topics of gems, gemology, and the gemstone industry. Therefore the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those held by the proprietors of Palagems.com. We welcome your feedback.