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World’s Largest Cut Aquamarine Gives the Hope Diamond a Run for its Money

A dazzlingly blue obelisk comes to the Natural History Museum after a long journey from the mines of Brazil to the stone cutting capital of Europe

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Move over Hope Diamond! The Dom Pedro obelisk, a Beryl variety aquamarine, is in the house. Photo by Donald E. Hurlbert, courtesy of the Natural History Museum

Vinophiles like to repeat the fanciful Galileo line that wine is sunlight, held together by water.

Well, at 14 inches tall, the aquamarine obelisk known as the Dom Pedro is pure light. Like a cool oasis on the horizon, the cut gem stands as a pale blue beacon. It is the largest cut piece of aquamarine in the world and, after journeying from miners in Brazil to dealers in Germany and collectors in the States, the Dom Pedro, named for Brazil’s first two emperors, is now the newest addition to the Natural History Museum’s gem collection, making its debut Thursday, December 6. Joining other noteworthy stones, including the much-loved Hope Diamond, the obelisk is a one-of-a-kind, according to the museum’s curator of gems and minerals Jeff Post.

“You take the cover off the case that this thing is in and I’ve never yet had a situation where people didn’t gasp, just a gasp of astonishment because people have never seen anything like it,” says Post.

When the gem was first discovered in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in the late 1980s, it was so large and heavy that it didn’t make it to the surface in one piece. “It’s hard to know exactly what happened, but all we know is that it came out of the mine in three pieces,” Post says. The two smaller pieces were used for jewelry. Meanwhile, the remaining stone weighed an impressive 60 pounds and stood nearly 24 inches tall. “It’s still,” says Post, “probably the largest gem quality aquamarine crystal that has ever been found.”

Miners and dealers knew instantly that the find was special. Eying the piece from the stone cutting capital of Europe in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, dealers there purchased the piece with one man in mind: artist Bernd Munsteiner, who is famous for inventing a new technique known as “Fantasy Cuts.” Munsteiner sent his son to Brazil to look the stone over and see how special it truly was. Pretty special, he concluded.

Munsteiner spent the next four months studying the piece before even beginning the six-month procedure of sculpting and cutting; a process that would eventually transform the raw stone into an eye catching sculpture infused with light. Munsteiner’s faceting technique cuts into the stone to catch and reflect light, illuminating it from within with starbursts of lines.

“It’s intended to be shown as a gem piece itself,” says Post, “it’ll look very different from anything else we have on exhibit in our gem gallery and will represent this more contemporary idea of how gems might be cut.”

Post still remembers the first time he saw the Dom Pedro, back in the mid 90s. A dealer approached him with a briefcase and brought the gemstone to his museum office. “But they wanted a huge amount of money for it,” Post remembers, “so all we could do was admire it.”

Post put the piece out of his mind. More than a decade later, the gemstone would eventually come to the museum by way of a donation.

Today, the cut gemstone now weighs nearly five pounds, but Post doesn’t think the Dom Pedro is likely to ever beat the Hope Diamond with its 300-year history of royalty, thefts and curses, in popularity polls.

The two gems showcase different stories. Where the Hope Diamond represents intrigue and allure, the Dom Pedrois is a work of art in its own right. “The miracle of this whole piece,” says Post, “is the fact that the earth produced a crystal that was not just large enough, but perfect enough, that an artist could cut something like this.”

“In many ways, it will become its own iconic piece,” he says.

 

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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