Danger and Drama: How a Record-Breaking Aquamarine Crystal Escaped Brazil and Became the Dom Pedro

4 Dec 2012

 

The Dom Pedro, Ondas Maritimas, 10,395-carat fine, gem-quality aquamarine. Photo: H.P. Hoffmann

If your idea of gem collecting is more Indiana Jones than gem shows, we have a treat for you.

In the November 1995 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, Si and Ann Frazier recounted the escapades of a record-breaking beryl crystal in "Rough Trip to Brazil: Intrigue and adventure surround the mission to spirit a giant beryl crystal out of Brazil."

"In the late 1980s, three poor Brazilian prospectors discovered a meter-long aquamarine at Tres Barras, in gem-rich Minas Gerais, Brazil. Besides having immense size, the lovely natural blue beryl was transparent and exhibited beautifully formed crystal faces, making it an exceptionally fine piece," the Fraziers share. "As luck would have it, the garimperos (the local term for these itinerant miners) dropped the specimen, and it broke into three pieces." Even then, the largest of those three pieces was still a record-breaking two feet tall and nearly 60 pounds.

In the Fraziers' exciting insiders tale, you'll learn why that unfortunate drop turned out to be rather fortunate after all, thanks to some unique gemological properties of beryl crystals, as well as the rest of the soon-to-be Dom Pedro aquamarine crystal's secretive escape from behind a bed in Brazil with renegade gem dealers Axel and Chico.

After lots of local rum, lugging two bodies through the airport (not really--you'll see!), fancy fishing, hair-raising flights, and a few lessons about the level of trust and honor often hidden in the gem trade, the infamous crystal arrived safely in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.

But that's just half the story.

The Fraziers continue the crystal's tale in "Fit for An Emporer," through its carver's months of "step-by-step thinking and not sleeping" to the sculpture's unveiling at the gem show in Basel as a 10,395-carat (about five pounds), nearly 14-inch-tall beauty. The Dom Pedro holds the record as the world's largest cut and polished gem aquamarine, the Fraziers share, after meeting the gem carver, seeing the sculpture themselves, and proclaiming it "beautifully gemmy . . . transparent . . . [and] clean except for one area of natural tubes near the top, as a mineral collector would orient it."

But not Bernd Munsteiner, the Dom Pedro carver and arguably the world's most famous gem artist, who chose "to orient the crystal upside down," putting its included tubes at the bottom of the sculpture, "where they lead the eye into the carving" and "add light, brightness, and movement." Munsteiner believes that "another crystal as suitable for sculpture as the Dam Pedro rough has never been available at any time, anywhere in the world."

 
Photo: Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
Munsteiner's brilliance and this legendary-crystal-turned-gem-masterpiece are in the spotlight again--soon, literally--as Brian Vastag recounts "The Dom Pedro aquamarine's long and winding path to the Smithsonian" in The Washington Post. Vastag shares more of the Dom Pedro's history, including how it was cut  ("Each lengthwise buzz of the blade shaved a quarter of a million dollars of aquamarine into dust. The sewers of Idar-Oberstein ran rich for weeks.") and its life since it was unveiled in Basel, right up to this Thursday's unveiling at the Smithsonian.

The Dom Pedro will be on display next to the Hope Diamond--an honor those who have seen it know it deserves. "The eye cannot rest on Dom Pedro," Vastag writes. "It is drawn upward to the pyramid tip by an eight-fold set of climbing carved starbursts that flare and shimmer like the beating wings of iridescent angels."

See a glorious large photo of the Dom Pedro

Learn More:

The Huffington Post: Smithsonian Dom Pedro Aquamarine Gem Goes On Display

Smithsonian Mag: World's Largest Cut Aquamarine Gives the Hope Diamond a Run for its Money

Washington Post Travel: Smithsonian to unveil world's largest aquamarine gem at nearly 5 pounds, more than a foot tall


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