Friday, January 02, 2009

Really The Blues; The Hope & Wittelsbach Diamonds





New Dope: Who Cut the Hope ...Diamond?:

by Richard W. Wise

© 2009

One dark Parisian night in 1792 someone stole the 69 carat “Le diamant bleu de la couronne de France” better known as the French Blue from the Garde-Meuble (royal storehouse) where it was kept along with the rest of the crown jewels that had been confiscated from Louis XVI. The gem was never heard of again. (computerized image above left: French Blue diamond based on a newly discovered lead model, courtesy Scott Sucher, www.museumdiamonds.com)

In 1812 a 45.52 carat blue diamond surfaced in London (Mawe 1813). In 1830 it again emerged in the collection of the Anglo-American financier Henry Phillip Hope. Since that time, many scholars have come to believe that the Hope Diamond was actually a whittled-down version cut from The French Blue.

Blue diamonds are extremely rare and the Hope, even in its reduced state, is one of the largest blue diamonds known. Is the Hope truly the remains of The French Blue and if so, when was it re-cut and by whom? A recent discovery in the dusty archives of The French National Museum may provide the definitive and final answer to both questions (above left: The original 115 carat Tavernier Blue prior to the 1st. re-cut ordered by Louis XIV).

In January of 2008, Francois Farges, curator of the gem collection at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris located a lead model of the original French Blue diamond along with the model of another rare diamond, known to history as The Mirror of Portugal. The model was donated to the museum in 1850 by Charles Achard, the scion of a famous family of French gem cutters. Perhaps more important is a small hand-written label that was found with the model.

The label identifies the stone as “belonging to Mr. Hoppe of London.” Lapidary historian, Scott Sucher, who recently created a Cubic Zirconium replica of the French Blue using the newly discovered lead model, (Image left: Computer image of French Blue, courtesy Scott Sucher). www.museumdiamonds.com maintains that the museum label "suggests" that Henry Phillip Hope bought the French Blue in its original form and ordered the re-cut to mask the stone's identity. Achard and Hope did know each other, and Sucher's point is well taken; how else would an accurate lead model have been made? According to Sucher, the re-cut did not improve, but rather "darkened" the gem.

Henry Phillip Hope was a major player in European finance. It was his Hope & Company that put together the financing for The Louisiana Purchase. He would not have been anxious to incur the wrath of Napoleon, who despite decreeing a twenty year statute of limitations on crimes committed during the French Revolution, had made it his personal quest to recover the stolen French Crown Jewels. Hope had something to lose. Why commit the lapidarian travesty of cutting 20 carats off of the world's rarest diamond?

Francois Farges, together with Sucher and Fourcault, are about to publish a comprehensive article on the history of the Hope which should appear in the next issue of GIA's Gems & Gemology magazine. Will this intriguing question be finally put to rest? Stay tuned.

World Famous Wittelsbach Blue Diamond Sells At Auction

One of the rarest and oldest known blue diamonds, The Wittelsbach, recently sold at Christie's for $24,311,191, the highest price ever paid for a gem at auction. The 35.56 carat gem carries a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grade of Fancy Deep Grayish-Blue, the same grade as the famous Hope Diamond. Despite having the same color grade, the Wittelsbach is lighter in tone, less saturated in color, and has a distinctly stronger gray component than the Hope. (image left: The Wittelsbach, a view through the window.)

Both gems hail from India's famous Golconda Mines, mines that have been the source of many historically important diamonds including the Hope and the Regent. This complex of mines was worked out in the early 19th century. The Wittelsbach has a longer history; it was given as a gift in 1634 by Philip IV of Spain as part of the dowry of his daughter Margarita Teresa. The Hope first appears in history in 1669 when it was sold to Louis XIV of France by the French merchant-adventurer Jean-Baptist Tavernier.

Buyer Plans Recut!

“We’re looking at the stone for what the stone is,” he said. Graff Diamonds will re-cut the diamond with the intention of making the slightly chipped stone flawless and a deeper color, he said: “We’ll lose a few carats, but nothing too substantial.”

Francois Graff


The buyer, who was billionaire jeweler Lawrence Graff, plans to re-cut the gem. Unlike the Hope, which was originally 115 carats and twice re-cut, the Wittelsbach has remained in its original form--a Stellar cut--which historian Herbert Tillander describes as: “one of the earliest brilliant cuts.” Oddly, most modern photos, including the one published by Christie's, have been doctored (Compare Christie's image below right to image above left) to hide the fact that with a mere 38% depth percentage, against an ideal of 60%, the Wittelsbach sports a window beneath the table wide enough to drive a truck through. As a result of this window, a substantial portion of the light that enters the diamond’s crown passes through the window and leaks out the back of the stone.


A diamond’s sparkle is a result of light entering the crown, (through the top) bouncing, reflecting back and forth inside the stone, and refracting back out the way it came. Think of a ray of light bouncing around like a billiard ball. This is called the light path. Each time it bounces off a wall it picks up more color. The longer the path the more color. Graff believes that a re-cut will diminish the gray by strengthening the blue. The question is, what effect will Graff's proposed re-cut have on the gem’s provenance?


Provenance is about who and what. Who owned it and what its place in history is. A famous owner can have a dramatic effect on price. Several years ago a hundred dollar strand of faux pearls formerly owned by Jackie Onassis brought over one hundred thousand dollars at auction.


In 1990, another historic diamond, The 32.34 carat Agra Pink, was purchased at auction by the SIBA Corporation for 6.9 million dollars. The new owner re-cut the stone from an Old European cushion into a 28.15 modern radiant cut, a total loss of 4.19 carats. In so doing, the owner successfully pumped up the color. When GIA regraded, the re-cut gem jumped two grades, from Fancy Light Pink to Fancy Intense Pink. Normally that would bump the price up at least 100%, but the stone also, unfortunately, lost some of its historical character. Will that affect price? Hard to say, the stone is still in the hands of its owner, and as far as I know, is not for sale.


As for the Wittelsbach, given its overall depth, a good re-cut will require the loss of a good deal more than 4.19 carats. Graff’s strategy is fairly easy to deduce. If he re-cuts the stone he is gambling on punching up the blue hue sufficiently to get a GIA certificate upgrade from Fancy Deep to Fancy Vivid. Is a 25 carat vivid worth more than a 35 carat deep blue? Given recent auction prices, that is doubtful, so Graff will not risk radical surgery. But whatever he does, it will change the character of a famous diamond forever. Many experts believe that re-cutting the Wittelsbach would be a mistake. Scott Sucher makes it clear: "Re-cutting such a historic stone would be an act of historic vandalism." I can't help but agree. Stay tuned!


A Trip To The Gem Mines of Colombia


Colored Stone Magazine has just published my travelogue on a trip to the Emerald mines of Boyaca, Colombia. Visit the CS website and read it free: http://www.colored-stone.com/stories/jan09/columbian-emeralds.cfm



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8 comments:

Antoinette Matlins said...

Dear Richard:
Very nice blog on the "blues" ...and I'll stay tuned for more on the Hope.
With regard to recutting the Wittelsbach blue, for me, should Graff decide to do so, it will be a very "blue" day for sure...I agree that it would be "historic vandalism"!
Antoinette

Anonymous said...

It's been re-touched, but not in the way you think. The only change is that in this 'catalogue' photo the background has been carefully cropped out and replaced in white. The actual bit with the gem in it is unenhanced (the reason why it looks weird is because the true background behind the gem is not white!).
My ex-boss saw the stone a few years ago, and at that time there was a conical piece of sapphire glued to the large culet: this is why old photos look so strange. At some stage this was removed.

Richard W. Wise said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the interesting information. My point had to do with the size of the window, which is quite visible in the first image.

I was unaware of the sapphire glued in, do you have an image where that shows?

Richard

Anonymous said...

Amusingly, I've just found a version of the original photo, which is here...
http://www.gia.edu/gemsandgemology/18578/31388/2750/back_issue_article_detail.cfm

...you can see from this photo why the 'window' looks grey.

The pattern of sparkles and reflections is identical. Judging by what Christie's told me, YOUR website photo has been cropped but not re-touched from the original version (apparently, none of the auction photos needed re-touching in this particular case because they got lucky with a couple of photos - although Christie's did admit that they do routinely use Photoshop in their catalogues). However, at some point the GIA's version of the photo HAS been re-touched - but not cropped! Notice that there are additional blurry white 'sparkles' added, particularly towards the left-hand edge of the stone!

The sapphire 'doublet' bit is not well-known. I know someone who saw it in person maybe a year or two ago. However, the photo in "Famous Diamonds" by Ian Balfour shows it clearly: you can see 'culet facets' within the window which don't exist on the stone, so this must be the glued-on sapphire. N.B. I'm referring to the edition from last year - the newest version of this book just came out a few weeks ago and they may now be using a different version of the photo.

Incidentally, I'd very much like to examine the 're-cut Agra' in person. I saw the Agra when it was up for auction at Christie's years ago (must have been in 1990, according to your earlier post). With the best will in the world, I find it difficult to believe that such a pale stone could possibly have been bumped up to Fancy Intense Pink. It was sold as a Fancy Pink but, as far as I can remember, it was an old GIA certificate even at the time - I remember thinking to myself that if they had re-submitted it for grading before the auction I would have bet that it would have been downgraded. I also find it surprising that they could re-cut the stone from a cushion to a radiant and only lose 4.19ct. I would like to examine the stone, firstly to check that it hasn't been switched, and secondly to see how they did it!

Richard W. Wise said...

Anonymous,

I have a 1st edition of Balfour and it indeed shows a blue 'cap' at the behind the culet--hardly possible to tell what it is, looks really like the Christes photo only darker in hue.

On the Agra, I got my information from a very reliable source who has seen the Agra since the recut.

Great stuff, wish I knew your name.

Thanks for your comment

RW

Anonymous said...

Fair enough - it must have been a pretty remarkable re-cut job in that case. Nevertheless, I can't bring myself to congratulate the polisher: as with the Wittelsbach, this was an example of 'historic vandalism', in my opinion. Nowadays it is possible to scan a stone, measure its spectral absorption and simulate it on a computer, showing you what colour you will get if you alter the proportions and angles. But I don't think that many people in the industry are using this software routinely yet.
But I still find it extraordinary that it could go Intense. I think it ought to be re-submitted to the GIA anyway because it's an important stone that would have been graded during the alleged 'certifigate' period.

Ragemanchoo said...

The Wittelsbach had a doublet attachment to its culet during the 1970s and 1980s. The photo of it in the brooch surrounded by white pear-shaped diamonds shows it. I have it on good authority this was a sapphire... whether it was natural or synthetic, I don't know. It was to help mask the culet and improve the gem's color.

I have a hard time believing Graff will actually recut the stone. Its already very spread -- there's not much to work with. Beyond possibly lessening/removing some of the girdle chips, I can't see what else could be done without hurting the stone's appearance too much.

Ragemanchoo said...

Also, the Agra is a radiant cut now???? I've seen photos of it and they show it as a nice stellar cushion cut. I assumed these photos were taken after the recut down to 28 carats.

So its really an actual radiant cut now???