World’s Largest Gold Crystal Weighs Nearly Half a Pound and Is Worth $1.5 Million

April 23rd, 2014 Terry

With the help of a neutron scanner, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory confirmed that a remarkable 217.78-gram specimen was, in fact, an enormous single crystal of gold— the largest ever discovered.

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So rare is a single gold crystal of this size and weight that, although the precious metal is worth about $10,000, the specimen’s value is estimated to be $1.5 million.

The difference between a gold nugget and a gold crystal is that a nugget is formed from numerous crystals. The largest gold nugget ever found weighed 173 pounds.

A typical gold crystal is about 250 micrometers in size, or about 1/100th of an inch. The gold crystal specimen tested at Los Alamos National Laboratory was about the size of a golf ball, or 150 times the size of a normal crystal. It weighed slightly less than ½ pound.

The record-holding gold crystal, which looks like an origami flower, is owned by an individual from North Carolina, who collected this and other similar specimens over a 30-year period in the jungles of Venezuela. Seeking to verify whether four of his specimens originated from single crystals, he called in an expert in gold crystallography, geologist John Rakovan.

“The structure or atomic arrangement of gold crystals of this size has never been studied before, and we have a unique opportunity to do so,” said Rakovan, a professor at the University of Miami.

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Typically, X-ray analysis would be used to determine the crystal structure of an element, but gold is so dense that X-rays can’t penetrate deep enough. The geologist had to turn to neutron imaging technology instead.

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The experts at the National Laboratory confirmed that three of the four specimens were single crystals. The trapezohedral specimen was determined to exhibit a more common multiple-crystal structure.

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World-Class 17.4mm Natural Pearl Could Fetch $400K at Auction; Owner Didn’t Realize What She Had

April 16th, 2014 Terry

An incredibly rare 17.4mm round natural South Sea pearl could sell for $400,000 or more when it goes under the hammer at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury, England, on May 1.

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Almost as amazing as the pearl itself is the story behind it. Apparently, the woman who owned the pearl as part of a matched pair of drop earrings, didn’t realize that one of the two was a world-class natural pearl.

When she decided to put her earrings up for auction, the experts at Woolley and Wallis suspected that one of the pearls was not like the other.

“I thought there was a difference between the two because one had an outer layer of about one millimeter thick, but the other seemed to be solid,” Jonathan Edwards, head of the jewelry department at Woolley and Wallis, told the Daily Mail. “It is very difficult to tell if a pearl is cultured or natural by looking at it and you can never be 100 percent sure unless you have it X-rayed.”

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Labs in London and Switzerland affirmed that the pearl was, in fact, natural. It is nearly three-quarters of an inch in diameter and took at least 10 years to develop. A grading report described the natural pearl as having an attractive white color with weak rosé and green overtones, often referred to as the “orient of pearls.”

Edwards reported that the mollusk that produced the natural pearl was likely a Pinctada maxima gold-lipped oyster, which can grow up to 12 inches in diameter.

Natural pearls are organic gems, created by a mollusk totally by chance, without human intervention. When a foreign irritant gets into the mollusk’s shell, the bivalve secretes layer after of layer of nacre to protect itself. Over time, the layering of iridescent nacre produces a pearl. To find a natural pearl is a rarity. To find one 17mm in size and completely round is almost unfathomable.

Cultured pearls, by comparison, are grown under controlled conditions, where a bead is implanted in the body of the mollusk to stimulate the secretion of nacre.

Woolley and Wallis noted on its web site that the natural pearl, which weighs 33.14 carats, could be the largest to ever hit the auction block. The presale estimate was conservatively set at $200,000, but auction officials believe the final selling price could rise to $400,000 or more.

In April 2011, Christie’s in Dubai sold a 59.92-carat irregular-shape natural pearl for $254,500.

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Spanish Historians Say Jewel-Encrusted Golden Chalice Is the Authentic Holy Grail

April 10th, 2014 Terry

The search for the Holy Grail may be over. Two historians claim that the jewel-encrusted golden chalice displayed in Spain’s San Isidro Basilica is the actual cup shared by Jesus Christ and his Apostles during the Last Supper.

The surprising revelations of León University medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian José Manuel Ortega del Rio were published last week in their book, “Kings of the Grail.”

News of the much-sought-after chalice, which played key roles in the 1970s British comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Dan Brown’s controversial thriller The Da Vinci Code, resulted in a deluge of visitors to the basilica’s small museum. Curators were forced to pull the chalice from its exhibit while they tried to find a larger space to accommodate the crowds, according to The Guardian.

“It was in a very small room where it was not possible to admire it to the full,” museum director Raquel Jaén told AFP.

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The oversized onyx chalice, which is adorned with agate, gold and other precious stones, is actually two goblets connected bottom to bottom. The historians believe that Christ drank from the top chalice long before it was doubled in size and bejeweled.

Before del Rio and Torres identified the chalice as the holy grail, the vessel had been known less spectacularly as the goblet of the Infanta Dona Urraca, the daughter of the King of León, who ruled from 1037 to 1065.

A piece of Egyptian parchment found three years ago by the historians at Cairo’s University of Al-Azhar offered clues regarding the whereabouts of the Holy Grail. Torres and del Rio traced the origins of the chalice to the early Christian communities of Jerusalem.

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Credit: José-Manuel Benito Álvarez/Wikimedia Commons.holygrail

The historians are convinced that the chalice was transported to Cairo by Muslim travellers and then handed to an emir in Spain who had assisted victims of an Egyptian famine.

Torres reported that Spanish royalty originally obtained the grail in the early 11th century as a peace offering from the emir of the Muslim part of Spain.

Torres and del Rio further backed their claim with a carbon dating test on the chalice that revealed it was fabricated between 200 BC and 100 AD.

“The only chalice that could be considered the chalice of Christ is that which made the journey to Cairo and then from Cairo to León — and that is this chalice,” Torres said.

Before you accept the historians’ conclusion that this chalice is the real deal, keep in mind that Europe holds claim at least 200 “Holy Grails,” all believed to be the sacred vessel from which Jesus himself drank on the night before he died.

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Chupa Chups’ Clever April Fools’ Campaign Incites Lollipop Lovers in 150 Countries to Hunt for 50-Carat Gemstones

April 4th, 2014 Terry

Chupa Chups candy lovers in 150 countries were thrilled when the confectionery company announced that it had released exactly five 50-carat precious stone “lollipops” into worldwide distribution — a promotion that reminds us a lot of Willy Wonka’s five Golden Tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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But the excitement soon turned to disappointment when the gemstone giveaway was exposed as an April Fools’ Day hoax designed to generate a lot of buzz for the company’s line of faceted lollipops in colors that include sapphire blue, ruby red and emerald green.

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Chupa Chups, which is owned by a multinational Italian company and sells more than five billion lollipops each year, had stated in a press release that five lollipops made entirely of emerald, ruby, sapphire, diamond and giant black pearl were distributed randomly across the world “as part of a marketing campaign to surprise and delight customers everywhere.” Each precious stone was reported to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

At a press conference held at holding company Perfetti Van Melle headquarters in Milan, Italy, chief marketing officer Marco DiPaulo added more fuel to the fire when he reported that the campaign had created overwhelming excitement in Argentina, where the first gemstone lollipop has been discovered by a 16-year-old boy.

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A YouTube video supposedly shows a news report about lucky winner Antonio Lorenzo and his mother in a convenience store where he bought the gemstone sucker that was believed to be an “uncut diamond.”

In the report, the young man and his mom visit a jewelry store, where the jeweler estimates the value of the rough “diamond” to be $1 million to $2 million.

“You may ask why Chupa Chups has decided to do this,” said DiPaulo. ”Well, just imagine if the next person who happens to be lucky enough to uncover a precious gemstone is you.”

All the buildup came crashing down when Chupa Chups’ various international Facebook pages started to let their fans in on the hoax.

“Lollipops filled with rare stones?” asked the Australia-based Chupa Chups Facebook page. “Sorry to break the bad news, fans, but it’s April 1, and you know what that means! Sorry if we’ve left you feeling glum, but you can still grab your favorite Chupa Chups and suck away those sad faces!”

Added Chupa Chups’ Malaysia Facebook page, “Congratulations, everyone — you’re on the ball today! Yes, of course the precious stone range was just an April Fools’ prank. And did you see this video circulating across the Internet, too? Yep, that was just a prank as well. But unwrapping a Chupa Chups is like unwrapping a precious stone so you can still experience the joy.”

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Graff’s ‘Hallucination’ — The Most Expensive Watch in the World — Serves Up a Wild Mosaic of Candy-Colored Diamonds and a Price Tag of $55M

March 31st, 2014 Terry

Set with a wild mosaic of candy-colored diamonds in nearly every conceivable shape and hue, the $55 million “Hallucination” by London’s Graff Diamonds is said to be the most expensive watch in the world.

The whimsical ladies’ timepiece, which has a petite pink dial and boasts 110 carats of rare colored diamonds, was unveiled last Thursday, the opening day of the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair in Switzerland.

Graff Diamonds chairman and founder Laurence Graff called the watch a “sculptural masterpiece” and told Britain’s Evening Standard, “For many years I have thought about creating a truly remarkable watch that illustrates our all-consuming passion for diamonds. The Hallucination has made my diamond dream a reality.”

Hallucination features a fun array of candy-colored diamonds, including various shades of pink, yellow, blue, orange and green. Graff’s designers worked with a grab bag of diamond shapes, including round, oval, pear, marquise, heart, princess, shield, hexagonal and emerald cuts.

A team of designers, gemologists and master craftsmen collaborated on the Hallucination, which reportedly took thousands of hours to complete.

Graff is famous for owning a number of world-class colored diamonds, including the 31.06-carat fancy deep blue Wittelsbach-Graff, the 118.08-carat fancy vivid yellow Delaire Sunrise and the 23.88-carat Graff Pink.

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Necklaces Dubbed the ‘Tremendous Trio’ to Headline Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Sale

March 26th, 2014 Terry

Three highly important necklaces — dubbed the “Tremendous Trio” because of their phenomenal proportions — will headline Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Spring Sale in Hong Kong on April 7.

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Among the trio is “The Red Emperor,” a fabulous Burmese ruby and diamond necklace set with 60 pigeon’s blood rubies weighing 104.51 carats. The cutting and polishing of the pear- and heart-shaped rubies, which range in size from .72 carats to 5.04 carats, was reported to have taken eight years. The rubies are complemented by a series of brilliant-cut, pear-shaped and oval diamonds weighing a total of 59.06 carats. Designed by James W. Currens for Fai Dee, this necklace is estimated to sell for $8.7 million to $11 million.

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The second of the group is a spectacular 85.33-carat diamond necklace by celebrated jewelry designer Nirav Modi. The necklace boasts 17 brilliant-cut flawless D-color diamonds graduating in size from 1.27 to 10.51 carats. The larger dangling diamonds are connected by 40 smaller D-flawless round and marquise-shaped diamonds. Sotheby’s expects this necklace to fetch from $7.3 million to $8.3 million.

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The storied Hutton-Mdivani necklace, with a provenance spanning from imperial China to the West, is the third member of the “Tremendous Trio.” Formerly in the collections of socialite Barbara Hutton and Princess Nina Mdivani, the necklace features 27 jadeite beads ranging from 15.40 mm to 19.20 mm. Sotheby’s noted that the necklace has a “majestic green color, excellent translucency, extremely fine texture and majestic proportions.” The piece, which boasts a jeweled clasp by Cartier, carries a high estimate of $12.8 million.

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The trio is part of a larger offering of 320 lots expected to yield $99 million, according to Sotheby’s. The most exceptional of these is a 102.61-carat cushion-shaped royal blue sapphire-and-diamond necklace that could sell for up to $3.8 million.

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Scrap Dealer Buys Genuine Fabergé Egg at Flea Market for $14,000; Once Prized by Russian Royalty, It Could Be Worth $33 Million

March 25th, 2014 Terry

A Midwestern scrap metal dealer made the find of a lifetime when he unknowingly scooped up a genuine Fabergé egg at a flea market for $14,000.

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His original intention was to make a quick profit by melting down the egg for its gold content, but he soon learned that he possessed one of the eight missing Fabergé imperial eggs that dated back to the late 19th century. The value of the jewel-encrusted egg once prized by Russian royalty is estimated at $33 million.

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The Fabergé egg measures slightly more than three inches tall and is distinctive because it has a ladies Vacheron Constantin watch cleverly hidden in its top half. The watch has a white enamel dial and openwork diamond-set gold hands.

When the scrap dealer Googled the words “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin,” he came up with an article about the lost Fabergé eggs and an image that seemed to match his flea market find.

Quoted as an expert in the article was Kieran McCarthy of Wartski, a British art and antiques dealer, so the scrap metal dealer decided to head to London with a photograph to attempt to verify the authenticity of his piece.

After viewing the photo and then visiting the piece in person, McCarthy was able to confirm that the egg was made in the workshop of Fabergé’s chief jeweler, August Holmström, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1886 or 1887. It was given by Czar Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, as an Easter gift in 1887.

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Wartski noted that the jeweled and ridged yellow gold egg stands on its original tripod pedestal, which has lion paw feet. The egg is encircled by golden garlands suspended from cabochon blue sapphires topped with diamond-set bows.

“The second I saw it, my spine was shivering,” McCarthy told the Associated Press, adding that the egg is a “Holy Grail” for collectors.

After the Russian Revolution, the egg somehow lost it provenance and made its way westward. It was sold at a New York auction in 1964 for a mere $2,450. The auction house’s description of the egg makes no mention of Fabergé.

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McCarthy also reported that Wartski helped negotiate the sale of the egg to an unnamed collector for an undisclosed price. That sum is presumed to be upwards of $33 million.

Fabergé created exactly 50 imperial eggs for the Russian royal family, and seven still remain missing after this most recent find. Only three of the seven are believed to have survived the Russian Revolution.

The flea market Fabergé egg will be on display at Wartski in London from April 14 to 17. It’s the first time in more than a century that the public has gotten a glimpse of this historical piece.

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Peridot-Like Impurity Trapped in ‘Ultra-Deep’ Diamond Signals the Presence of a Vast Water Reserve 300 Miles Below the Earth’s Surface

March 21st, 2014 Terry

A microscopic peridot-like impurity trapped under high pressure in a Brazilian “ultra-deep” diamond signals the presence of a vast water reserve about 320 miles below the Earth’s surface, according to a report published in Nature.

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Scientists at the University of Alberta reported that the microscopic crystal of ringwoodite, a green mineral with a chemical composition similar to that of the August birthstone peridot, contained 1.5% water. With ringwoodite comprising much of the Earth’s “transition zone,” the scientists theorized that the reservoir could be immense.

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“When you realize how much ringwoodite there is, the transition zone could hold as much water as all the Earth’s oceans put together,” said Graham Pearson, a mantle geochemist at the University of Alberta and the lead author of the study.

Ringwoodite had never been found on the Earth’s surface because it is only exists under immense pressure in the Earth’s “transition zone,” an area sandwiched between the upper mantle and lower mantle. In the case of the Brazilian diamond, the ringwoodite was trapped within its super-strong host, allowing it to maintain its original high-pressure form. At lower pressure, the material is called olivine. Peridot is gem-quality olivine.

Before this discovery, the presence ringwoodite in the Earth’s mantle was theoretical. The material had been seen in meteorites and was synthetically produced in laboratories.

According to Nature.com, most diamonds form at depths of about 100 miles and are propelled to the surface by volcanic eruptions through kimberlite pipes. The diamond containing the ringwoodite is considered an “ultra-deep” diamond because it formed in the Earth’s “transition zone,” more than 300 miles below the surface.

“These high-pressure diamonds give you a window into the deep Earth,” Pearson said.

Pearson’s diamond specimen is no beauty compared to the faceted gems in a jeweler’s showcase. It looks battered from its 300-plus mile journey to the surface. It has a silvery-brown color and is 5mm wide. The trapped ringwoodite grain, by comparison, measures a mere .04mm across.

Ringwoodite was named after the Australian earth scientist Ted Ringwood, who was a pioneer in studying olivine and other mantle materials at high pressures.

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‘Peruvian Gold’ Exhibition at National Geographic Museum to Feature 100 Precious Artifacts Dating Back to 1250 BC

March 14th, 2014 Terry

“El Tocado,” the largest and most ornate pre-Columbian headdress ever discovered, will be the centerpiece of a golden exhibition of 100 artifacts excavated from Peru’s legendary royal tombs. The National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, will present “Peruvian Gold: Ancient Treasures Unearthed” during a six-month run that will open April 10.

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Although it’s about 1,000 years old, “El Tocado” is in pristine condition and looks as if it was fabricated yesterday. Unearthed in 1991, the piece — whose name means headdress in Spanish — will be making its first-ever U.S. appearance.

The items in the “Peruvian Gold” collection date from 1250 BC to 1450 AD and include gold and silver ceremonial and funerary masks, ceremonial ornaments, ceramics and jewelry. The collection has an estimated value of $3.5 million to $5 million.

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Moche headdress is one of the masterpieces that will be on display in the Peruvian Gold exhibition. Photograph by Joachim Rubio, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru.

From nose rings and gold feathers to elaborate headdresses, the diverse selection of artifacts offers a sweeping view of the rich artistic culture of early Peru, whose artisans rivaled the ancient Egyptians. According to National Geographic, Peruvian gold was a symbol of status, power and eternity.

“National Geographic has been sharing the stories and the archaeology of ancient Peru for more than 100 years,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions. “This exhibition is an opportunity to walk into the pages of National Geographic magazine and see unique treasures from Peru’s golden past.”

Guest curated by National Geographic’s Archaeology Fellow Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, “Peruvian Gold” features treasures on loan from three Peruvian institutions: Sican National Museum, Larco Museum and Museum of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru.

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Guided tours of the “Peruvian Gold” exhibition will take place each Monday at 11 a.m. General admission is $11 for adults; $9 for National Geographic members, military, students, seniors and groups of 25 or more; $7 for children 5-12; and free for local school, student and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required).

At the end of September, the exhibition will head south to close out the final three months of 2014 at the Irving Arts Center in Irving, TX.

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‘Dom Pedro’ Aquamarine Joins the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection

March 4th, 2014 Terry

Standing nearly 14 inches tall and weighing 1,363 carats, the obelisk-shaped fantasy-cut “Dom Pedro” aquamarine is one of the few objects in the world that can hold its own in a display case just 30 feet from the Hope Diamond. The Dom Pedro is the largest faceted aquamarine in the world and, arguably, the most beautiful example of March’s official birthstone.

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The Dom Pedro is the masterwork of Bernd Munsteiner, an Idar-Oberstein-based gem cutter, who has been called “The Picasso of Gems” and “The Father of the Fantasy Cut.” Munsteiner spent four months studying a 57-pound rough aquamarine crystal before embarking on a grueling six-month adventure to meticulously cut, facet and polish the stone.

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In December of 2012, the Dom Pedro was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection and is now a top attraction at the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology.

The Dom Pedro was originally part of a larger crystal that was discovered by three Brazilian prospectors — garimperos — in the state of Minas Gerais in the late 1980s. While being transported, the one-meter-long, 100-pound crystal fractured in two places. Two pieces were eventually cut into smaller gemstones, but the largest piece had much greater potential. Its exquisite green-blue color and pristine clarity opened a window of opportunity for a cutter with the skill of Munsteiner.

The legendary gem cutter was commissioned in 1992 to take the Dom Pedro, a 23-inch-tall rough aquamarine, and transform it into a design he would call Ondas Maritimas, or “Waves of the Sea.”

Munsteiner is famous for his “fantasy cuts,” where he facets a pattern of “negative cuts” into the back of a gem, which reflects the light from within.

“There is so much about the Dom Pedro that is remarkable, but what excites me most is that we are able to preserve the story that goes along with it,” said Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Dom Pedro, which was mined in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and appropriately named after Brazil’s first two emperors, Dom Pedro Primeiro and his son, Dom Pedro Segundo, has a fascinating backstory.  An unidentified Brazilian purchased the three fragments of the broken original crystal and sold the largest chunk to Munsteiner and a consortium of gem connoisseurs in 1992.

When Munsteiner viewed the gem for the first time, “it was love a first sight!” according to an account at Smithsonian.com. From 1992 to 1993, he focused on what would be called the “project of his life.”

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Smithsonian.com reported that Munsteiner made hundreds of sketches before deciding on the lozenge-shaped “negative facets” that are “stepped” along the two backsides of the obelisk. In certain lighting conditions, the gem gives the illusion of being illuminated from within.

He was reportedly pleased that the original crystal had been broken into three pieces, as it gave him confidence during the cutting process that the internal stresses of the stone were no longer a concern.

While cutting the gem completely by hand, he was never concerned with the eventual carat weight. His attention was purely on the beauty and the brilliance. “When you focus on the carat weight, it’s only about the money,” he said. “I cannot create when I’m worried about the money.”

Unveiled at the annual gem fair in Basel, Switzerland, in 1993, the gem became a traveling ambassador for the German government, a tangible example of German craftsmanship and ingenuity.

But, by the late 1990s, the gem’s future was in jeopardy. The Brazilian consortium partner wanted the gem to be sold so he could recoup his investment. Gem collector Jane Mitchell and her husband Jeffery Bland stepped in to purchase the Dom Pedro in 1999, ensuring that it wouldn’t be cut up and made into many smaller aquamarines.

The stone was generously gifted to the Smithsonian in 2011 and made part of the permanent exhibition at the very end of 2012.

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