Most of us covet glittering diamonds, sparkling rubies, rich blue sapphires, and other precious gemstones. However, some special jewels are truly a cut above the rest. Get to know the most famous gemstones in the world and what makes them so extraordinary.
The Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond is a striking blue gem named after wealthy London banker Thomas Hope. Traces of boron trapped within the diamond give it its distinctive hue. It weighs more than 45.5 carats and is reportedly insured for $250 million USD.
The Hope Diamond’s roots can be traced all the way back to an enormous rough diamond in India. French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased the gem in 1666. That jewel, known as the Tavernier Blue, was cut down and sold to France’s King Louis XIV. The newly created Blue Diamond of the Crown of France was stolen in 1791 and smuggled to London. The Hope Diamond is the largest portion of the recut regal gem.
French, British, and Turkish royalty and collectors in the United Kingdom and the United States have all owned the Hope Diamond. Don’t envy them; so many met with misfortune that some believe it may be cursed. No wonder its last owner, diamond merchant Harry Winston, donated it to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It is on permanent display at the Washington, D.C., museum to this day.
The Taylor-Burton Diamond
Weighing in at nearly 70 carats, the Taylor-Burton Diamond commands attention. Richard Burton purchased the flawless clear diamond in 1969 after a lover’s spat with his glamorous wife. He accused her of having masculine hands, so she insisted she needed something to draw attention elsewhere. Nothing can do that quite like a necklace featuring what was the largest and most valuable diamond on the planet.
The Taylor-Burton Diamond comes from a 241-carat rough diamond found in a South African diamond mine. Harry Winston cut it into its current pear shape for original owner Harriet Annenberg Ames, sister of publishing mogul Walter Annenberg. However, she was so nervous about wearing it she decided to sell it at auction. Cartier outbid Burton, who told his jeweler to spend no more than $1 million. However, he decided he simply had to have it and told Cartier he wanted the gem at any cost. He spent $1.1 million on the diamond and another $80,000 on its setting.
Elizabeth Taylor wore the necklace regularly, including to Princess Grace of Monaco’s 40th birthday celebrations and the 42nd Academy Awards. However, she sold it to a New York jeweler after divorcing Burton in 1978. He sold it to Lebanese jeweler Robert Mouawad, who retains ownership of the enviable gem.
The Star of India
Weighing more than 563 carats, the Star of India is one of the largest star sapphires on the planet. Traces of rutile inside the stone create the star effect and unusual milky finish. Rutile reflects light into the star pattern, giving the Star of India an ethereal glow. A cabochon shape enhances the golf ball-sized gemstone’s natural beauty.
The Pearl of Lao Tzu
Originally known as the Pearl of Allah, the Pearl of Lao Tzu is the world’s largest known pearl, weighing an impressive 14 pounds, 1 ounce. It’s a beautiful gem that may have a colorful history.
Legend says a Filipino diver became trapped in its giant clam and died retrieving it. His tribe brought his body to shore and were stunned by the enormous pearl bearing the face of the Prophet Muhammad inside the clam. American Wilburn Cobb, who was traveling through the Philippines, attempted to buy the pearl, but the tribe was reluctant to sell an item with such religious significance. However, when the chief’s son contracted malaria, Cobb cured him with Atabrine. Impressed by the foreigner’s help, the chief agreed to the sale.
Cobb put the pearl on display at Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, where a wealthy Chinese gentleman, Mr. Lee, came upon it. Visibly moved, Lee claimed it was the long-lost Pearl of Lao Tzu, featuring the faces of Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu himself. Lee apparently offered to buy the pearl, but Cobb refused to sell it.
At least, this is the story that Wilburn Cobb told. His daughter is skeptical, believing the truth about her father’s fantastic pearl is much more mundane. We may never know the truth, but we do know the pearl was sold to American businessmen after Cobb’s death in 1979. They retain possession of the unusual gemstone to this day.
The Andamooka Opal
Australia is famous for its opals, but few are as breathtaking as the Andamooka Opal. The vivid gemstone, measuring a hefty 203 carats, was discovered in 1949 at South Australia’s Andamooka Opal Fields.
If you were thinking a gem like this is fit for a queen, you’d be right. It was set into an ornate diamond and 18-karat palladium necklace and presented to Queen Elizabeth II, along with a pair of matching opal earrings, during her first state visit to Adelaide in 1954. What a generous gift.
The Queen wore the necklace during her Australian visit but retired it to the vault on her return to England. She rarely wears opal jewelry, so perhaps it simply wasn’t to her taste. What a shame this stunning piece doesn’t receive more love.
The team at AaLand Diamond Jewelers thinks these are some of the world’s most famous gemstones but are there any we forgot? Did we miss a gemstone that has a special place in your heart? Let us know about it. We’d love to hear about your favorite famous gems.