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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Dom Pedro Aquamarine

The History of the Dom Pedro

The largest piece of the original crystal mined in Pedra Azul, Minas Gerais, Brazil was approximately two feet in length and weighed almost 60 pounds

The largest piece of the original crystal mined in Pedra Azul, Minas Gerais, Brazil was approximately two feet in length and weighed almost 60 pounds. Photo courtesy of Bernd Munsteiner.

In the late 1980s, an exceptionally large aquamarine crystal was found by three Brazilian miners in Pedra Azul, Minas Gerais, Brazil. These Brazilian prospectors, garimperos, accidentally dropped the meter-long aquamarine, breaking it into three pieces. A Brazilian buyer, whose identity is unknown to us, purchased the fragmented pieces. The finest and largest piece was saved and transformed into what is now known as the Dom Pedro Aquamarine. The other two pieces, both of exceptional color, were cut and faceted into gems that were sold commercially. The portion of the crystal from which the Dom Pedro emerged weighed almost 60 pounds and was approximately 2/3 meter (2 feet) in length. This fabulous aquamarine was considered too extraordinary to simply be faceted into many smaller gemstones. Ultimately, it found its way into the hands of gem connoisseurs and experts who realized its importance and potential.

In 1991, Jürgen Henn, a gem dealer from Idar-Oberstein, Germany visited the Brazilian miner who owned the aquamarine crystal, and he was permitted to examine and photograph the specimen. This was the largest, finest, most important aquamarine he had ever seen. Henn immediately thought of his friend and colleague, Bernd Munsteiner, as the person who could do something truly special with this aquamarine. However at that time, a deal could not be made.

The original aquamarine crystal, broken in three places but lined up together.

The original aquamarine crystal, broken in three places but lined up together. Photo courtesy of B. Munsteiner.

A year later when Henn heard the aquamarine was for sale, he immediately asked Bernd Munsteiner to make the trip to Brazil to inspect the crystal. Instead Bernd sent his son, Tom Munsteiner, also an accomplished gem artist, along with Jürgen’s son, Axel Henn, to Brazil to examine the crystal. The two "youngsters" had the responsibility to study the crystal and then to finalize a deal for their families. This rare aquamarine was too valuable to be handled by any one individual or firm, and therefore Jürgen Henn partnered with Dr. Hermann Bank, a renowned gemologist and head of the firm Gebrüder Bank, who had also seen the crystal on one of his many trips to Brazil. With the resources of both firms, and Munsteiner on board as the cutter, a consortium was formed with the Brazilian owner, and the project was financed. Axel and Tom faced many challenges while in Brazil: convincing the Brazilian owner to sell the aquamarine to them, staying under the radar of other gem dealers, getting it out of Brazil without harm to themselves or the gem, and safely transporting this extremely valuable crystal back to Idar-Oberstein. The story is not without intrigue, but in the end, the aquamarine was safely delivered into the hands of master cutter and gem artist, Bernd Munsteiner.

Bernd Munsteiner at a grinding wheel in his workshop.

Munsteiner at work. Photo courtesy of B. Munsteiner.

When Bernd Musteiner first laid eyes on the crystal, "it was love at first sight!" The aquamarine was exceedingly gemmy and a beautiful transparent sea-blue color. Except for hollow tube inclusions near the top of the crystal, the aquamarine had exceptional clarity. Munsteiner decided to incorporate these inclusions at the base of the sculpture. From 1992-93 Munsteiner focused on the "project of his life." He spent months staring at the crystal and drawing facet patterns until finally he was ready to begin the cutting. This crystal was the largest and finest gem aquamarine ever found, and perhaps there will never be another.

Munsteiner spent four months studying the crystal and six months cutting, faceting, and polishing. The aquamarine was transformed into a spectacular obelisk that stands 35 cm (13.75 in) tall, 10 cm (4 in) wide at the base, weighing 10,363 carats (about 4.6 lbs). Munsteiner made numerous sketches before he decided on the lozenge-shaped negative cuts that are "stepped" along the two backsides of the obelisk. When viewing the Dom Pedro from the front, the way the light reflects and refracts throughout the gem makes it appear to glow from within.

When viewing the Dom Pedro from the front, the way the light reflects and refracts throughout the gem makes it appear to glow from within.

The Dom Pedro was first unveiled in 1993 at the annual gem fair in Basel, Switzerland. It continued to be exhibited and traveled as an ambassador for the German government to showcase its unique contemporary cutting style. But in the late 1990s, the Dom Pedro was in peril. The Brazilian partner wanted it sold to recoup his investment. Fortunately, Jane Mitchell, a gem collector and connoisseur, came to the rescue. Mitchell, on an earlier trip to Idar-Oberstein in search of fine gems, made the acquaintance of Jürgen Henn. Over the years she continued to hear about "the aquamarine" and followed its journey from crystal to gem. In 1996, she even helped to organize an exhibit in Palm Beach, Fl, where the Dom Pedro was displayed along with other gem carvings and sculptures to showcase the genius of the gem artists of Idar-Oberstein. When she heard the Dom Pedro might be cut up into many smaller gemstones, she and her husband Jeffery Bland decided to purchase the aquamarine in 1999. After much thought, and several exhibitions, they decided that the Dom Pedro should be in a museum where it could be viewed and admired by many and an inspiration to all. The Dom Pedro was generously gifted to the Smithsonian Institution in 2011, and here it has taken its place in the National Gem Collection Gallery among some of the world’s finest gems.

The Dom Pedro Aquamarine at the Smithsonian

The Dom Pedro Aquamarine at the Smithsonian. Back row, left to right: Jürgen Henn, Cristian Sampier, Jeffery Bland, Dr. Jeffrey Post. Front row: Loretta Cooper, Sigrid Henn, Jane Mitchell, and Russell Feather. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.



Beryl

Aquamarine is a gem variety of the mineral beryl. The striking blue-green color on display in stones like the Dom Pedro is produced by trace amounts of iron in the crystal lattice.

Other impurities in beryl produce different, equally vivid colors, and a wide variety of gems come from this single mineral.

Gem Varieties of Beryl

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