World's Most Famous Gemstones

Bernie Gaboury, geologist and host of Travel Channel's Gem Hunt, shares the stories behind some of the world's most famous (and infamous!) gemstones.
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The Hope Diamond

Named after rich London banker Thomas Hope, this gem has been owned by royalty in France, Britain and Turkey, as well collectors in the UK and the US. The Hope Diamond was cut from The Blue Diamond of the Crown of France, a gem that was smuggled to London during the French Revolution. The “French Blue” was itself cut from the Tavernier Blue, a huge rough diamond that mysteriously made its way to France from India in the late 17th century.

The Hope Diamond

Most of the Hope Diamond’s owners have suffered misfortune, and it changed hands often in settlement of debts. This led to the legend of the Hope Diamond Curse. In 1958, diamond merchant Harry Winston was persuaded to donate it to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where it’s now on display. I have had the pleasure of viewing this marvellous gem there.


This gem was said to have gained its name -- meaning "Mountain of Lights" -- after an exclamation by its owner, the Shah of Iran, in 1739. But the Shah was only one of many owners: since some time in the 13th century -- when it emerged from a mine in Andhra Pradesh -- the diamond went from country to country, changing hands as a spoil of war.


Ownership last changed in 1839 as the British took possession of the Punjab. The diamond was taken to London and presented to Queen Victoria. After her death, it was set into the crown worn by the consort of the Monarch of the UK, and can be seen today as part of the Crown Jewels. Kate Middleton is next in line to wear it. Descendants of many former owners claim ownership of the gem, including India and the Taliban.

The Black Prince’s Ruby

The gem’s origin is thought to be a mine in what is now Tajikistan. During the middle of the 14th century, it was owned by Abū Sa'īd, the Moorish Prince of Granada, who was murdered by Don Pedro the Cruel. Don Pedro took the jewel, but was obliged to give it to the Black Prince, son of Edward III of England, in return for help to put down a revolt. Technically, it’s not a ruby but a spinel, which is now considered different, since it is not quite as dense or hard as a "true ruby." The Black Prince’s "Ruby" is uncut, but polished, and is about the size of a chicken’s egg.

The Black Prince’s Ruby

At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 Henry V of England, who wore the gem on a jewel-encrusted helmet in battle, nearly lost the gem, the helmet and his head when the French Duke of Alençon struck him. When Oliver Cromwell defeated the British monarchy, he had the crown jewels melted down, and the gem was sold. It was bought back after the monarchy was restored and was set the Imperial State Crown. Today, it may be seen displayed with the Crown Jewels.

Star of India

This is one of the largest star sapphires in the world, and the most famous. Light bouncing from the mineral rutile, which is included in the stone, forms a star pattern. The size of a golf ball, the gem has been polished to the shape of a dome to enhance the star’s beauty.

Star of India

The gem was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in 1900 by financier J. P. Morgan. In 1964, it was stolen from the museum along with other famous jewels, including the Midnight Star, the DeLong Star Ruby, and the Eagle Diamond. The gems were later recovered from a locker in a Miami bus station, except for the Eagle Diamond, which was never seen again.

Pearl of Lao Tzu

This pearl -- the largest known pearl in the world -- was discovered by a Filipino diver; then acquired by American Wilburn Cobb in the Philippines in the 1930s. It was previously known as the Pearl of Allah, because of its resemblance to a turban. When Cobb died in 1979, Peter Hoffman and Victor Barbish bought the pearl, using some money borrowed from Joseph Bonicelli. Today, the gem is owned equally by heirs of these 3 men, and is not on public display.

The Andamooka Opal

Discovered in 1949, the Andamooka Opal is said to be the finest opal ever discovered. It’s particularly praised for its size (203 carats) and the depth and vibrancy of its colors.

The Medusa Emerald

This gem was uncovered from the Kagem mine in Zambia in 2008 by a gemstone mining company. It was sent to the US where quartz that surrounded the emerald was removed, millimetre by millimetre, to reveal the long, thin emerald crystals.

The Andamooka Opal

The gem was set into a diamond necklace and presented, along with matching earrings, to the new Queen Elizabeth II on behalf of the people of South Australia at a state banquet in Adelaide in March 1954.

The Medusa Emerald

The gem has recently been on display at the Vault in British Natural History Museum.

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