World’s largest cut-gem aquamarine is unveiled

Beryl variety aquamarine; The Dom Pedro aquamarine; 10,363 cts; Pedra Azul, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Photo by Donald Hurlburt)

Beginning today, the largest cut-gem aquamarine in the world, the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, will go on display at the National Museum of Natural History. It joins an illustrious cast of famous gemstones already on exhibit, including the Hope Diamond and Marie Antoinette’s earrings. Jane M. Mitchell and Jeffery S. Bland donated the gem, whose quality, size, exquisite blue-green color and distinctive cut make it exceptionally rare.

“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 museum Director Kirk Johnson. “The Dom Pedro is enriched by all the people and places that have been a part of its fascinating journey from the crust of the Earth to its home here in the National Gem Collection. We are grateful to Jane Mitchell and Jeffery Bland for their wonderful gift.”

Mined from a Brazilian pegmatite in the late 1980s, the magnificent aquamarine was named for Brazil’s first two emperors, Dom Pedro Primeiro and his son, Dom Pedro Segundo. Before cutting, the portion of the beryl crystal from which the obelisk-shaped gem was fashioned measured 23.25 inches long and weighed nearly 60 pounds. The obelisk, designed by world-renowned gem artist Bernd Munsteiner, stands 14 inches tall, measures 4 inches across the base and weighs in at 10,363 carats or 4.6 pounds. These impressive dimensions render the Dom Pedro the largest cut-and-polished gem aquamarine known. A pattern of tapering “negative cuts” faceted into the reverse faces of the sea-blue obelisk serves to reflect the light within the gem, giving the piece surprising brightness and sparkle. With the proper lighting, this remarkable sculpture appears to be illuminated from within.

Museum Director Kirk Johnson borrows a camera from a school child who did not have a good view of the unveiling in order to take a picture for her. (Photo by Johnny Gibbons)

Munsteiner, the “Father of the Fantasy Cut,” is considered one of the greatest gem artists of the 20th century. He combines traditional methods with dynamic modern forms to create gem sculptures. Munsteiner was born to a family of gem carvers, and his work is the manifestation of an art form that has been passed from generation to generation. He became an apprentice in the family trade at the age of 14 and later went on to become a student at the School of Design in Phorzheim, Germany, where he graduated as a designer of precious stones and jewelry. It was in school that Munsteiner was first challenged to take the traditional cameo to a new form, and he has been stretching boundaries and defying traditional methods ever since. Munsteiner spent four months meticulously studying the crystal and an additional six months carving, polishing and faceting to create this unmatched work of art.

The Dom Pedro Aquamarine joins the Smithsonian’s famous gem and mineral collection of more than 10,000 gems in addition to 350,000 mineral specimens. The Smithsonian’s gem and mineral collection is one of the largest of its kind.

Posted: 6 December 2012
About the Author:

Kelly Carnes has been the press officer at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History since 2005. She received her Master of Science in Anthropology from Virginia Commonwealth University, a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from George Washington University, and is currently completing an Master's degree in Communications and Corporate Public Relations from Georgetown University.

One Response to World’s largest cut-gem aquamarine is unveiled
    • Johnny Gibbons
    • Dom Pedro so upstages the Hope Diamond. It’s incredible and a new “must see” destination at the Smithsonian!