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Dom Pedro Aquamarine

Axel Henn — Gem Dealer

Axel Henn (left) and Dr. Jeffrey Post at the Henn Gallery in Idar-Oberstein, Germany

Axel Henn (left) and Dr. Jeffrey Post at the Henn Gallery in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1992, Axel Henn, the son of Jürgen Henn, and Tom Munsteiner, the son of Bernd Munsteiner, made a trip of a lifetime to Brazil to inspect "the crystal" that they had heard so much about. Axel was representing his father and the Henn family business to make the financial deal with the owner and bring the crystal back to Germany.

"One thing I have learned working with gems — you can never own a gemstone — you can just be its guardian."

Axel Henn, fourth generation gem expert, comes from a family of gem connoisseurs and dealers. Axel’s role was to view the crystal and then convince the Brazilian owner that they had the ability, knowledge, and vision to make a piece that would be unique and special – something that no one had ever done before. This was clearly a test for the "youngsters" (Axel Henn and Tom Munsteiner) to see what they had learned and what they could do without their fathers’ guidance. Axel was accepted in Brazil because of his father’s reputation and their family name. Of course once you get there, you have to prove yourself. After 3-4 days of being with the Brazilian owner, they finally began discussions. Axel promised that something very special would come from this crystal and assured him that it would not be cut into many small faceted gemstones. Once the decision was made for the consortium to purchase the rough crystal, the deal was done - no contracts, just a handshake. This is the way gem business is conducted. The next hurdle was to get the aquamarine out of Brazil and safely to Germany. With rumors about the large transaction and fabulous crystal, word spread, and they were being followed. Finally after a week of organizing the departure with bodyguards and private planes, and the headaches of customs, with the help of a well-connected friend, the plan was set. After sleepless nights and the stress and pressure of finalizing the deal, it would be a dangerous and risky trip. Axel carried the Dom Pedro in a duffle bag on to the international flight and almost had to buy a first class ticket for it; fortunately, it fit in the overhead compartment.

Axel Henn with pieces cut from the Dom Pedro's parent crystal

Axel Henn with pieces cut from the Dom Pedro's parent crystal. Photo courtesy of B. Munsteiner.

Axel visited the Smithsonian when he was 16 years old. He didn’t know if he would be in the gem business, the family business. He had grown up around gems – it was not a big deal. But this visit had a huge impact on Axel. It led him to the decision to continue the family tradition because he realized that he did indeed have the passion for gems. He hopes the Dom Pedro will inspire all who see it, and he believes that many young people will have the same impression and experience that he had as a teenager and hopes that they too will carry the inspiration with them throughout their lifetime.

Axel Henn, like his father Jürgen, also has a philosophy: "One thing I have learned working with gems – you can never own a gemstone – you can just be its guardian. Today the public will be able to see a precious one-of-a-kind piece which reflects the cutting optimum of our decades. Important gems find their own way – what happens is meant to happen – you can’t push it – money doesn’t matter." Axel said what he finds so interesting is that it has been almost 20 years from the start to finish for the Dom Pedro Aquamarine. He said it brings up memories. "Like a child growing up, you remember the day it was born, you remember its first steps. The last couple of months have been very rewarding – finally seeing the Dom Pedro at home in the Smithsonian." Axel has the highest respect for Bernd Munsteiner, for his expertise and the quality of his work. He didn’t know if it was possible, but believes everything was meant to happen. "Mother earth created it, it was unearthed and mined at the right time, the owner was willing to sell it, Jürgen had the vision, Tom and I had the guts to make the decision, Bernd accepted the invitation, and the right people understood how precious it was – enjoyed it and then donated it to mankind. The timing was perfect for all."



Dom Pedro In Depth

Learn more about the people and places that shaped the Dom Pedro on its long journey from Brazil to the Smithsonian:

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