National Geographic : 1971 Dec
sale, had been cut from the French Blue-but when and where remains a mystery. A gem resembling the Hope appears at the neck of Queen Maria Luisa of Spain in a noted por trait painted by Goya in 1800. If she came into possession of the largest part of the French Blue, where is the rest of it? The answer might well involve the former collection of Karl II, Duke of Brunswick, which included two deep-blue diamonds when sold in 1874. At least one, weighing about six carats, is thought to have come from the French Blue, but today the whereabouts of both are unknown. Slave's Find Leaves Trail of Death Also taken in the famous 1792 theft was the glorious diamond known as the Regent, 143 carats of yellow fire. It had been found in 1701 by a slave working in the Parteal mines on the Krishna River in India. The poor man wounded himself in the leg and concealed the diamond in the cut. Making his way to the coast, he enlisted the help of a British sea captain, who offered to help him escape for half the profits of the diamond. Once at sea, the captain killed the slave. After selling the great gemstone, the cap tain squandered his small fortune and hanged himself. In time, the stone was purchased by Thomas Pitt, an ancestor of William Pitt and then the governor of Madras, India. Pitt had the gem cut to its present form and sold it to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France. Unlike the French Blue, the Regent Dia mond was found shortly after the robbery, in a ditch near the Champs Elysees. Napoleon later had it set in the hilt of his imperial sword. It is now a treasure of the Louvre.* The third great diamond in the thieves' bag was the Sancy, named for the man who pur chased it in Constantinople in 1570. The Sei gneur de Sancy later became the French su perintendent of finance. His king, Henry IV, asked to borrow the diamond to use as secur ity against a loan. A messenger was sent with the gem toward Paris, but he never arrived. According to one account, Sancy followed his route and found the lad dead, slain by robbers, and the diamond missing. But he trusted the boy's loyalty and, after a grim search, found that he had swallowed it. After its theft in 1792, the Sancy popped up several times in different parts of the world. In 1906 William Waldorf Astor bought it as a wedding present for Virginia-born Nancy Witcher Langhorne, who married his son, 848 later Viscount Astor. Upon the famous Lady Astor's death in 1964, the British declared the jewel a national treasure. In 1962, when I delivered the Hope to the Louvre, I had the rare thrill of holding in the palm of one hand all three of these famous gems-the Hope, the Regent, and the Sancy -reunited 170 years after the theft. Unlike diamonds, the number of other pre cious stones with long histories and honored by names is small. One is the Black Prince's Ruby, reputedly worn by Henry V in his helmet at the Battle of Agincourt, during which the helmet deflected a nearly fatal sword blow. The great gem, not a true ruby but a red spinel, has never been fashioned, only polished in its natural, irregular shape. Today the Black Prince's Ruby occupies the central position in the Imperial State Crown of Britain (page 843). Actually, rubies and sapphires are the same mineral, corundum, a very hard substance consisting of aluminum oxide. Corundum with a rich red hue is called ruby. Corundum of any other color is called sapphire, of which the blues are most favored. Gravel Glitters With the Rays of Stars The finest rubies and sapphires come from Asia, and the finest rubies from the gravels of Burma, with the richest deposits at Mogok, where mines have been worked since prehis toric times. The production, now under gov ernment supervision, is auctioned each spring in Rangoon (page 853). Thailand and Ceylon also have ruby- and sapphire-bearing deposits; their blue sap phires rival the Burmese in quality. Corundum is one of the gemstone materials in which impurities-inclusions of needle like foreign material-are advantageous. Three sets of inclusions, in different direc tions, produce the effect known as asterism; light is reflected in three intersecting bands. Such gems are called stars. One set of inclu sions forms a single ray of light, giving us the cat's-eye gems. Chrysoberyl cat's-eye, found chiefly in Ceylon, is most valuable. Large rubies of superior quality are among the most valuable gems, exceeding even dia monds in price. The United States is fortunate in having two exceptional star rubies on dis play-the 100-carat DeLong Ruby at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the finest star ruby anywhere, *See "The Louvre," by Hereward Lester Cooke, Jr., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, June 1971.