The Hope Diamond, the rare Type IIb blue diamond enshrined at the Smithsonian, stepped into legend years ago but a companion stone from the collection of Henry Philip Hope just made it’s way into the record books, fetching over $1.4 million (£962,500) at Bonhams Fine Jewelery sale in London.
At $30,000 per carat this rare stone shot past the previous world record price per carat for a faceted Spinel which was $16,000 set in 2013. This is no ordinary stone and bidding came from round the world to claim what was once part of one of the world’s greatest gem collections. The last time this stone was offered for sale was in 1917 when it sold for £1,060. Before the auction, Bonhams set the estimate at £150,000 to £200,000.
The spinel is set in a 19th century silver and gold brooch, the 50.13 carats octagonal-cut stone is the size of a small plum and has a deep rosy hue. The transparency and cut make it an exceptional treasure. It is believe to have come from the famed ancient Kuh-i-Lal mines, in Tajikistan. Other historic gems from these mines include the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby both in the Crown Jewels and both are called rubies when, in fact, they are spinels. They are also known as balas rubies (a name believed to stem from the Badakhshan area of Tajikstan). For a fascinating account of a visit to these mines, check out an account by famed gem hunter Richard W. Hughes.
The stone’s origin is fascinating but it’s provenance is even more so. Henry Philip Hope was from a dynasty of merchant bankers who were global forces, running much of the world’s finance. Hope and his elder brother amassed important and very valuable collections.
Hope had a passion for the stones and extensive knowledge of their history. He kept them in a mahogany cabinet and purchased many of the world’s most prized stones including the Hope Diamond, the Hope Pearl (one of the largest baroque naturalpearls) and an emerald that once adorned a sultan’s turban. As with much of Hope’s collection, the story of how this stone was obtained is lost to history but Bram Hertz, the German jeweler who catalogued the collection before Hope’s death in 1839 described it as: “an extraordinary fine and large ruby balais, of an octagonal shape and of a fine light claret colour, very spread, beautifully cut, and free from any flaw or defect. Considering its extraordinary size and its great perfection, it may with propriety be called a matchless gem. It is set en medaillon and enriched with brilliants, it is kept in the 16th drawer.” The 16th drawer was the final and most precious of Hope’s collection and was where his finest treasures were lovingly housed.
Hope never married and had secretly arranged for his collection to be gifted to a nephew but the family fought over the 700-piece collection. In 1917 the stone was sold and later wound up in the collection of Lady Mount Stephen, who was married to a Canadian philanthropist living in the UK. The seller was a direct descendant.
The world awaits to see if this stone will remain in private collections, be resold, or hopefully, be exhibited where many can enjoy its beauty.