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392 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
Among the French crown jewels, four are pre-
eminent. The 140.62 ct Regent and the 52.23
ct Grand Sancy diamonds (Balfour, 2009) are
held in the Louvre Museum. The approximately 69
ct French Blue diamond was stolen in 1792 and recut
to become what is now the Hope diamond (Farges et
al., 2009; Post and Farges, 2014), housed at the Smith-
sonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural
History. The 135.74 ct Grand Sapphire, shown in fig-
ure 1, was donated to the National Museum of Nat-
ural History (MNHN) in Paris in 1796 (Morel, 1988)
and has remained there ever since.
Like the Grand Sancy and French Blue diamonds,
the Grand Sapphire was added to the French crown
jewels during the 72-year reign of King Louis XIV
(Bapst, 1889). Morel (1988) reports that the gem was
purchased from a merchant named Perret, who ac-
quired it from a German prince, who bought it from
the Ruspolis, an Italian noble family. This is how the
gem also became known as the Ruspoli sapphire.
Morel added that it once belonged to a poor Bengali
spoon merchant, explaining its other nickname, the
Wooden Spoon Seller’s sapphire.
While researching the historical archives for the
French Blue diamond, we found no evidence of a jew-
eler named Perret serving Louis XIV. In fact, no such
name is found among the registries of jewelers work-
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE OF LOUIS XIV AND
THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE:HISTORICAL AND
François Farges, Gérard Panczer, Nassima Benbalagh, and Geoffray Riondet
Since it was added to the French crown jewels in 1669, the 135.74 ct Grand Sapphire has been regarded
as one of the world’s most magnificent sapphires. Newly discovered archives indicate that Louis XIV
obtained the Grand Sapphire at about the same time he acquired the Tavernier Blue diamond; both
gems were mounted in gold settings in 1672. Although the Grand Sapphire is often referred to as the
“Ruspoli” sapphire, this study shows that these are, in fact, two different gems. Microscopic and spec-
troscopic evidence (Raman, UV-Vis-NIR absorption, and laser-induced fluorescence) suggest that the
Grand Sapphire originated in the metamorphic/detrital terrain of Sri Lanka.
See end of article for About the Authors and Acknowledgments.
GEMS & GEMOLOGY, Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 392–409,
© 2015 Gemological Institute of America
Figure 1. The 135.74 ct Grand Sapphire, measuring 38
× 29 × 28 mm, was acquired for the French crown jew-
els during the 72-year reign of Louis XIV (1643–1715).
Since 1796, it has been housed in the National Mu-
seum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN, inventory
number A.67). Photo by François Farges, © MNHN.
ing in 17th century Paris (Bimbenet-Privat, 2002).
Furthermore, no mention of the Ruspoli family sur-
faced until much later (Barbot, 1858); royal sources
from the 17th and 18th centuries never refer to this
origin. Because the connection between the Grand
Sapphire and the Ruspolis appeared questionable, we
conducted a thorough study of the French National
Archives in Paris, along with the city’s archives, to
better understand this confusing pedigree. We also
performed an on-site gemological study, using
portable instruments, to determine the Grand Sap-
phire’s physical properties. Due to the heightened pre-
cautions surrounding the preservation of the
historical gemstone, this study was conducted in a
single day, in the controlled confines of the MNHN,
using portable spectrometers and complementary
equipment. From the measurements obtained, we
propose reasoned assumptions as to the geological
and geographic origin of this famous sapphire.
The earliest dated documentation of the Grand Sap-
phire is the 1691 inventory of the French crown jew-
els (Bapst, 1889). The sapphire is described as a “violet
sapphire,” “lozenge-shaped” and set in gold. Until the
end of the 17th century, violet encompassed a color
range from indigo blue to purple (Pastoureau, 2000).
This range is consistent with the observed color, a
medium blue with pale violet hues. The six-sided
lozenge cut was rare for the 17th century (and even
later). Its weight (“7 gros ½ et 12 grains,” equivalent
to 28.74 g) is given with its gold setting. That year,
the gem was appraised at 40,000 livres, the standard
French currency at the time. On average, one livre in
1691 is roughly equivalent to US$15 in 2015 (based
on the calculation by Allen, 2001).
In 1739, King Louis XV was inducted as a knight
of the Order of the Golden Fleece (Farges et al., 2009).
His jeweler, Pierre-André Jacqumin (or Jacquemin),
was commissioned to create an insignia of that
chivalric order. We recently discovered (Farges et al.,
2008) that Jacqumin submitted two proposals: one
with two main diamonds, including the French Blue
(figure 2, left), and another with two large sapphires
(figure 2, right). For the second version, the Grand
Sapphire almost certainly would have been recut, as
the king asked Jacqumin to use the existing crown
jewels in the emblem (Morel, 1988). Because the king
chose the diamond insignia, the sapphire was pre-
served, though its 1672 gold setting had disappeared:
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 393
Figure 2. The two de-
signs created by royal
Jacqumin (ca. 1749) for
Louis XV’s Order of the
Golden Fleece emblem.
The version on the left
shows the approxi-
mately 69 ct French
Blue diamond below
the Côte de Bretagne, a
107.5 ct red spinel
carved as a dragon. The
version on the right,
adorned with two large
would have entailed re-
cutting the Grand Sap-
phire. Louis XV
selected the first de-
sign, though the jewel
was stolen in 1792.
Courtesy of the Herbert
The sapphire is described without any gold setting in
the 1774 royal inventory, kept in the French National
Archives. Its weight is listed as 132 old Paris carats,
equivalent to 135.18 ct (Morel, 1988). Like all the
other jewels of the French Crown, the sapphire was
kept within the Garde-Meuble (the royal storehouse),
which is now the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la
Concorde in Paris. Hence, it was also known as the
“saphir du Garde-Meuble.”
French crystallographer Jean-Baptiste Romé de
l’Isle (1772) studied the unmounted sapphire and con-
cluded that it was a natural, uncut gem. He even clas-
sified the Grand Sapphire as the most ideal crystal
form for his fifth crystallographic system, the “rhom-
bic parallelepiped” (figure 3). In the second edition of
his Crystallographie, Romé de l’Isle (1783) seemed
somewhat uncertain about his 1772 conclusion, writ-
ing that the gem’s facets might be related to human
polishing. But Romé de l’Isle later received two crystal
models of ruby shaped like the Grand Sapphire, caus-
ing him to reassert his original hypothesis (Romé de
l’Isle, 1787). That same year, Mathurin Jacques Brisson
published the stone’s density (equivalent to 3.9941
g/cm3, consistent with corundum), but stated that the
stone’s shape was “most likely man-faceted” (Brisson,
1787). Despite this observation, the 1789 royal inven-
tory (also kept in the National Archives) describes the
sapphire as “not cut”; no appraisal is given. In 1791,
another royal inventory now housed in the National
Archives (Bion et al., 1791) characterized the sapphire
as “a large chunk of sapphire, lozenge, six-sided, pol-
ished flat on all its facets. Two clear edges and
rounded, bright and clear, weighing 132 k 3/16.” This
was equivalent to 135.88 modern metric carats, with
“k” representing old Paris carats. The sapphire’s value
was appraised at one hundred thousand livres, roughly
equivalent to US$1.5 million in 2015.
In September 1792, at the height of the French
Revolution, rioters looted the royal treasury and stole
most of the crown jewels, including the Regent,
Grand Sancy, and French Blue diamonds. According
to Morel (1988), the Grand Sapphire was not stolen.
In the National Archives, however, we found an in-
ventory completed immediately after the theft,
which did not list any sapphires among the few re-
maining gems (Farges and Benbalagh, 2013). We
therefore conclude that the sapphire also disap-
peared. A subsequent inventory from the Paris
archives, dated December 23, 1792, contains the
Grand Sapphire and other important sapphires of the
French crown jewels (see box A). Presumably, these
were recovered shortly after the looting, along with
other notable gems, including the Peach Blossom and
Hortensia diamonds (Bapst, 1889).
394 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
Figure 3. Left: Plate IV
from Romé de l’Isle’s
shows the Grand Sap-
phire (number 2 in this
figure). Romé de l’Isle
thought that sapphire,
with calcite (number 1),
exhibited the primitive
shape of his fifth system
of crystallography, the
“rhombic parallele -
piped.” Right: An
unglazed ceramic model
of the Grand Sapphire
(13 × 3 × 3 mm) made
for Romé de l’Isle ca.
1770. This model, redis-
covered in 2015 at the
MNHN, is among the
earliest ever produced.
Photo by François
Farges, © MNHN.
The Grand Sapphire was among the royal gems
donated to the MNHN’s mineralogy gallery in 1796
(figure 4) for the purpose of “public education”
(Morel, 1988), most likely because state officials ac-
cepted Romé de l’Isle’s belief that the sapphire was
an uncut crystal. Louis Jean-Marie Daubenton, head
professor of mineralogy at the MNHN, probably
knew of the gem’s cut and prestigious pedigree
(Morel, 1988). Indeed, his most distinguished scholar,
René-Just Haüy (later regarded as the “father of mod-
ern crystallography”), soon recognized that the sap-
phire shape bore the “polish of art” (Haüy, 1801).
Since the sapphire’s acquisition by the museum,
little has happened with it. Barbot (1858) wrote:
The most beautiful sapphire known is oriental; it is de-
scribed in the Inventory of the French crown jewels,
performed in 1791; its history is quite intriguing. This
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 395
Soon after the looting of the royal storehouse, a first in-
ventory was conducted on September 21, 1792. Offi-
cials established a loss of more than 95% of the
treasure inventoried a year earlier (see Bion et al., 1791).
But in October 1792, several of the thieves were iden-
tified. On his way to the guillotine, a man named De-
peyron confessed (in exchange for his life) where he had
hidden several large gems, including the Hortensia and
one of the Mazarin diamonds (Bapst, 1889). As the in-
vestigation progressed, many jewels were eventually
recovered. Inventories were thus regularly compiled to
demonstrate that the police were conducting an effi-
cient investigation. This is how the Grand Sapphire of
Louis XIV resurfaced in December 1792. Eventually,
the Grand Sancy and Regent diamonds were discovered
during the spring of 1794. The only large gem never re-
covered was the French Blue, which was not considered
as important as the colorless diamonds.
Once most of the French crown jewels were recov-
ered, a committee decided to contribute the pieces to
various museums for the public’s benefit. Other royal
collections were also dispersed, including artworks, pre-
cious books, and furniture. While jewels were assigned
to the forthcoming Louvre museum, the Grand Sap-
phire was considered a mineral and thus went to the
When the French Empire was established in 1804,
the crown jewels were reconstructed, with new acqui-
sitions compensating for the 1792 losses. In 1887, the
French government sold off most of the treasures, and
only two dozen pieces were preserved for historical pur-
poses. Most pieces were purchased by private collectors
and companies such as Tiffany. Many gems were then
dismounted, recut, or altered to a more modern taste.
Today, France is attempting to recover the surviving
pieces as part of its cultural heritage. Since 2014, the
crown jewels donated to the MNHN have been dis-
played in a permanent exhibit, “Treasures of the Earth.”
BOX A: THE FRENCH CROWN JEWELS SINCE THE 1792 LOOTING
Figure 4. In this official MNHN inventory, ca. 1800, the Grand Sapphire is seen in the middle row (item “a.67”).
Photo by François Farges, © MNHN.
sapphire, with no flaws or defects, weighs 132 1/16 carats
[old Paris carats, equivalent to 135.75 modern metric
carats], it has a lozenge six-sided shape and is polished
flat on all its facets. It is appraised at 100,000 francs.
Then, Barbot added this previously unpublished
This marvelous sapphire was found in Bengal by a poor
man who was selling wooden spoons, so the gem bears
this nickname. Afterwards, it belonged to the Rospoli
[sic] House in Rome from which it was then purchased
by a Prince of Germany, who in turn sold it to Perret, a
French jeweler, for 170,000 francs. This was the stone
involved in the famous trial of the sapphire. Consider-
ing its qualities and its extraordinary weight, we think
that this sapphire’s valuation is not properly well esti-
mated. It is now in the Musée de Minéralogie.
The first excerpt clearly refers to the Grand Sap-
phire. In the second excerpt, Barbot is the first to
mention the sapphire’s previous owners, including
the Bengali spoon seller, the Ruspolis (an Italian
noble family misspelled by Barbot), a German
prince, and finally Perret. Barbot also refers to “the
famous trial” in which the gem was supposedly in-
volved (which will be discussed at greater length).
Since then, the Grand Sapphire has often been re-
ferred to as the “Ruspoli” (Simonin, 1867) or the
Wooden Spoon Seller’s sapphire (Snively, 1872;
Streeter, 1877; Tagore, 1879). The many inconsisten-
cies in the gem’s narrative prompted us to reexamine
those references, in order to better understand the
historical, geographical, and geological origins of this
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Archives. We extensively investigated a series of un-
published documents uncovered in various locations,
including the MNHN, the National Archives, the
Paris city and departmental archives (Archives mu-
nicipales and départementales), and the archives at
the École Militaire and the National Library of
France (BnF), all in Paris. We have also reviewed the
diplomatic archives of the French Foreign Ministry
in La Courneuve. This last search included the re-
cently discovered books of royal gemstones (Livres
des Pierreries du Roi), consisting of dozens of vol-
umes produced between 1669 and 1789 and contain-
ing thousands of pages of unpublished information.
On-Site Experiments. Weight, goniometric, micro-
scopic, and spectroscopic testing was conducted
using portable instruments, as the sapphire was not
allowed to leave the museum. These miniature in-
struments are well suited for examining highly valu-
able or oversized artifacts that cannot be transferred
from the museum to a regular laboratory. The main
limitation of portable instruments is their reduced
specifications (low energy output, lateral resolution,
and signal-to-noise ratio, among others) compared to
larger versions of these instruments.
The analyses included Raman scattering spec-
troscopy using an Ocean Optics QE 65000 spectro -
meter, with 532 and 785 nm excitation lasers;
near-ultraviolet to near-infrared (UV-Vis-NIR) spec-
troscopy with an Ocean Optics USB2000 spectro -
meter, covering a 350–1000 nm range with a spectral
resolution of 1.5 nm (FWHM), using a tungsten lamp;
and photoluminescence spectroscopy, induced by ei-
ther a UV lamp (365 nm) or a continuous green laser
operating at 532 nm excitation, all at ambient tem-
perature. The fluorescence emission was collected
with an optical fiber and analyzed by the Ocean Op-
tics USB2000 spectrometer described previously
(Panczer et al., 2013), using a UV lamp as the excita-
tion source (254 and 365 nm, 6 W each). We also used
a Marie Putois and Rochelle contact goniometer
(from 1794), a binocular microscope (Krüss KSW4000
with 10× and 30× magnification), a Krüss GMKR10
professional refractometer with an LED source, and
a Krüss GMKR13 polariscope.
Off-Site Experiments. For the items allowed to leave
the exhibition gallery, such as the replica described
below, 3-D laser scanning was performed at MNHN’s
Surfaçus facility using a Konica Minolta Range 7 op-
erating with a 660 nm laser (accurate to approximately
4 µm). Scanned data were reduced (edge-collapse dec-
imation) using MeshLab, GemCad, and DiamCalc
396 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
• The lozenge-shaped Grand Sapphire, acquired by Louis
XIV in 1669, was lost during the theft of the crown jew-
els in 1792 but recovered soon thereafter.
• Since 1858, the gem has often been confused with the
Ruspoli sapphire, a square cushion cut that belonged
to H.P. Hope and later to Ileana of Romania.
• Gemological investigation indicates that the Grand
Sapphire has a Sri Lankan origin. This unique gem is
one of the main attractions at the National Museum of
Natural History in Paris.
software packages for final adjustments of facets.
Chemical analyses were performed with an SD3
Bruker solid-state X-ray detector (133 eV resolution)
installed in a Tescan Vega II LSU scanning electron
microscope operated in low-pressure mode (20 Pa) at
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The “Trial of the Sapphire.” In our archival search
for a jeweler named Perret who might be involved in
the story of the Grand Sapphire, only one match was
found, from a trial conducted between 1811 and 1813
(Méjan, 1811; Berryer, 1839). A few months before
the trial, Jean-François Perret purchased a large sap-
phire that allegedly once belonged to the Ruspoli
family. He sold the gem to Milanese jeweler Antonio
Fusi, who paid a deposit. A few days after this trans-
action, Fusi tried to cancel the sale and have his de-
posit refunded, but Perret refused. After the two-year
trial, Fusi was ordered to pay Perret the balance due.
To satisfy the judgment, the court seized the sapphire
and sold it at auction in December 1813 (“Le procès
du saphir,” 1813).
At the time of this trial, the Grand Sapphire had
been kept at the MNHN for nearly 20 years. We found
no evidence showing that this gem was sold by the
MNHN before the trial and recovered later. Therefore,
those pieces of information are contradictory. But
Pierre-Nicolas Berryer, the lawyer who represented
Perret, described this sapphire involved in the 1811–
1813 trial as “of the purest sky blue, with an oval shape
with symmetrical facets … much more magnificent
than the well-known one of the royal storehouse;
unique for its kind, it was priceless” (Berryer, 1839).
While Berryer failed to mention the gem’s weight,
a legal expert named Maurice Méjan published an
1811 summary of recent trials, including that of the
sapphire. Fortunately, Méjan recorded its weight as
133 old Paris carats (equivalent to 136.9 modern
carats). Regardless, the shape and cut given by
Berryer are not consistent with the Grand Sapphire.
Notice, too, that Berryer compares the sapphire to
one from “the royal storehouse,” the well-docu-
mented nickname of the Grand Sapphire prior to the
1792 looting (Farges and Dubois, 2013). In other
words, Berryer considered the Grand Sapphire and
the Ruspoli sapphire two distinct stones.
The Real Ruspoli Sapphire Rediscovered. In 2013,
during a search of the National Library in Paris, we
found a leaflet connected to the December 1813
court-ordered auction (inventory number SZ-1350).
The leaflet claims that the sapphire was owned by a
poor Bengali wooden spoon seller, the Ruspolis, and
even Charlemagne, “who is believed to have received
the gem from an Indian prince.” Yet there is no evi-
dence within the document to support any of this.
Therefore, we are skeptical of any historical prove-
nance published in this leaflet, including the associ-
ation with the Ruspoli family, and consider it the
seller’s attempt to influence the price.
The auction leaflet shows a drawing of the sap-
phire involved in the trial (figure 5A). This drawing
had to accurately represent the gem, which was on
public display at the Hôtel Bullion in Paris a few
weeks before the sale (“Le procès du saphir,” 1813).
The stone depicted has a square cushion shape with
rounded corners, brilliant faceting on the crown, and
a step-cut pavilion. This drawing does not even re-
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 397
Figure 5. Images of the Ruspoli sapphire. A: An illustration from the 1813 auction leaflet for the gem, © Biblio-
thèque National de France. B: The top row shows the historical replica of the Ruspoli sapphire, ca. 1830 (30 × 29 ×
15 mm; MNHN inventory number 50.167). The bottom row shows the laser-scanned 3-D model after edge-collapse
decimation, © MNHN. C: A drawing from Hertz (1839) of H.P. Hope’s largest sapphire (private collection). Photos
by François Farges.
motely resemble the Grand Sapphire, but it does
match Berryer’s 1839 description of the sapphire
from the trial. The weight of this gem (136.9 ct when
converted to metric carats) is close, but not identical,
to that of the Grand Sapphire (135.74 ct). Therefore,
the gem attributed to the Ruspolis in the auction
leaflet is not the Grand Sapphire. Barbot clearly con-
fused them in his 1858 treatise. How did this hap-
In 2012, we found a blue glass replica of a large
gemstone in the MNHN drawers. Inventoried as no.
50.167, the replica is composed of a potassic lead
glass (“strass”), according to SEM/EDX data, and
doped with minor amounts of cobalt (approxi-
mately0.2 wt.% CoO) that account for its vivid blue
color. The 3-D model for this replica, obtained
through laser scanning, is similar to the drawing of
the Ruspoli sapphire (figure 5B, bottom). Its volume
corresponds to a sapphire weighing 163 ct. The
MNHN inventory, dated 1850 (but donated much
earlier; see Farges et al., 2009), states:
Inv. no. Origin Description Location
(18)50.167 Mr. Achard Model in strass of a very Technological
nice sapphire belonging showcase
to Mr. Hoppe, and sold No. 9
by Mr. Achard
“Mr. Achard” is most likely David Achard, a
Parisian jeweler from 1807 to 1831, who also donated
the lead casts of the French Blue (MNHN inventory
number 50.165) and another diamond (MNHN in-
ventory number 50.166). Haüy (1817) named Achard
the leading Parisian lapidary and jeweler. “Mr. Hoppe
of London” is none other than Henry Philip Hope,
for whom the Hope diamond is named (Farges et al.,
The sale of the sapphire to Hope is confirmed by
his catalogue of gems, compiled in 1839 by Bram
Hertz, a prominent London jeweler. This inventory
confirms the MNHN records: the drawing of his
largest sapphire (figure 5C) is identical to the glass
replica (MNHN inventory number 50.167; figure 5B).
Also, Hertz’s 1839 drawing closely resembles the one
from the 1813 auction leaflet (compare figures 5A
and 5C). Furthermore, their weights correspond ex-
actly with 532 grains (equivalent to 136.9 ct). There-
fore, it would seem that Achard purchased the
sapphire sometime after the 1813 auction and, before
his death in 1831, sold the stone to Hope. At some
point during this period, Achard donated the replica
to the MNHN, where it was exhibited next to the
Grand Sapphire in the same “Technological show-
case No. 9” (described in Hugard, 1855). Our hypoth-
esis is that Barbot examined both stones while visit-
ing the MNHN’s gallery of mineralogy and confused
them in his book.
Hertz (1839) describes Hope’s sapphire, now iden-
tified as the Ruspoli, as
A very large and fine sapphire, of a square shape with
rounded corners, and of a very fine velvet-blue colour, re-
sembling the flower of the bluebottle found among the
corn. It is of the purest and of a most charming hue, hav-
ing, moreover, the advantage of displaying its beautiful
colour equally as fine by candle as by day-light, a quality
which is rarely met with in a sapphire. It is very finely cut,
and shows an extraordinary refulgence…This beautiful
sapphire is set as a medallion, surrounded by 23 fine large
brilliants, averaging three grains each: it is kept in the 16th
drawer—Wide plate 10… 532 grains.
The drawer mentioned above refers to a cabinet
in which Hope stored his gem collection. The “wide
plates” are a set of drawings for the most important
gems from the collection, published by Hertz (1839)
as an appendix to his inventory. Inside the tenth plate
is the drawing of the sapphire (reproduced within fig-
ure 5C). Note that in Méjan (1811) and Hertz (1839),
the weight of the sapphire remains unchanged at 532
grains, even though Paris and London used different
units at the time. In other words, during his inven-
tory of Hope’s largest sapphire, Hertz simply repeated
the French weight from 1811 without reweighing it
in London units.
Later Whereabouts of the Ruspoli Sapphire. Emanuel
(1867) wrote that “in the Russian treasury are some
[sapphires] of an enormous size, amongst them one
of a light-blue tint, which formerly was in the pos-
session of the late Mr. Hope.” Emanuel is most likely
referring to the Ruspoli, easily the largest sapphire in
Hope’s collection (Hertz, 1839). A portrait of Empress
Marie Fyodorovna of Russia, housed at the Irkutsk
Regional Art Museum, shows an impressive set of
sapphire jewels. Among them is a squared sapphire
in the center that could be the Ruspoli. Later, the
stone was reset as the centerpiece of a sapphire and
diamond kokoshnik (a Russian headdress) created by
Cartier in 1909 and owned by the Grand Duchess
Maria Pavlovna of Russia (Munn, 2001). The
kokoshnik later belonged to Queen Marie of Roma-
nia (figure 6) and her daughter Ileana. The latter re-
vealed that she sold the headpiece to a famous
jeweler in New York around 1950 (Ileana, 1951) but
did not give additional details on that transaction.
Thus, the recent whereabouts of this kokoshnik and
the Ruspoli sapphire are unknown. Although Ileana
398 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
wrote that the sapphire weighed 124 ct, other sources
indicate 137.2 ct (Munn, 2001) or even 137 ct (Nadel-
hoffer, 2007), values that closely correspond with the
Ruspoli (136.9 ct).
THE TRUE STORY OF THE GRAND SAPPHIRE
Supposedly purchased by Francesco-Maria Ruspoli
(1672–1731; see Morel, 1988), the Ruspoli sapphire has
a double series of crown facets that is more typical of
the late 18th and early 19th century (Schrauf, 1869).
In fact, there is no proof that this gem ever belonged
to the Ruspolis, as jewelers and auction sellers often
contrived aristocratic pedigrees and curse legends to
increase gem values. Examples include the fake Span-
ish pedigree of the Wittelsbach Blue diamond
(Dröschel et al., 2008) or the “curse” of the Hope dia-
mond (Post and Farges, 2014). Charlemagne’s purchase
of the Ruspoli sapphire from an Indian prince appears
to be another such legend. Therefore, the name “Rus-
poli” is highly questionable. A more accurate alterna-
tive would be the “Achard-Hope sapphire,” as this
name is related to important personages actually in-
volved with this historical gem.
For its part, the MNHN officially denies custody
of the Ruspoli sapphire, claiming instead the Grand
Sapphire of Louis XIV, the companion stone of the
French Blue diamond.
The Acquisition of the Grand Sapphire. We searched
the French royal archives to determine the exact
provenance of the Grand Sapphire. In the Clairam-
bault collection of the National Library of France, we
discovered an unpublished financial record of royal
expenses for gemstones, dated 1683. It lists a lozenge-
cut sapphire worth 40,000 livres (see Farges and Ben-
balagh, 2013). This description is identical to the one
given in the 1691 inventory for the Grand Sapphire.
Because no other sapphire with such a shape and
value is known, we conclude that this document
deals with the acquisition of the Grand Sapphire. The
1683 record also provides a new piece of information:
“the sapphire is not included in the purchases,”
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 399
Figure 6. In this portrait by Philip Alexius de Laszlo, Queen Marie of Romania is wearing the 1909 Cartier
kokoshnik that most likely bears the Ruspoli sapphire as the center gem. Examination of a high-definition
image of that jewel (courtesy of Cartier archives) confirms this. Courtesy of Peles National Museum.
meaning that of all gemstones acquired by Louis XIV
between 1661 and 1683, this is the only one for
which no money was spent. Some pagination details
in this archive (see Farges and Benbalagh, 2013) sug-
gest that the acquisition was acknowledged during
the spring or summer of 1669, but we do not know
its exact circumstances.
Based on these dates, we examined the French
Foreign Ministry archives, where the records of the
royal gemstones are kept. Newly revealed docu-
ments for 1669 (French diplomatic archives, inven-
tory number 2040) show that the Grand Sapphire
was among the faceted sapphires inventoried by the
royal treasurer on July 1, 1669 (Farges and Benbalagh,
2013). Here again, no information is given on the
gem’s provenance. The inventory states that Jean Pit-
tan the Younger, the king’s jeweler, was responsible
for setting the sapphire in gold. Another record from
the same archives, dated August 20, 1672, reports
that the setting was completed and the sapphire was
returned by Pittan. The weight of the jewel is listed
as “7 gros ½ et 12 grains” (28.74 g), the same weight
as in the 1691 inventory of the French crown jewels.
Based on the current weight of the Grand Sapphire
(135.75 ct), we estimate the weight of the pure gold
setting to be around two grams. This is a curiously
small amount of gold for such a large stone. The
most plausible interpretation is that the Grand Sap-
phire was set on a stand composed of gold filigree, a
style favored by Louis XIV (Bimbenet-Privat, 2002,
2003). Because of its mechanical properties, such an
intricate network of gold wires could support the
weight of a relatively large and heavy sapphire, de-
spite the low weight of the metal itself.
We found nothing in those archives that explains
how the sapphire was obtained other than the words
“not included in the purchases.” This could mean a
gift, plunder, inheritance, or deferred payment. We in-
vestigated these various possibilities (see Farges and
Benbalagh, 2013) with no success. Since that study,
one of the authors rediscovered the 1666 inventory of
the French crown jewels (Farges, 2014a). This exten-
sive manuscript does present important new informa-
tion about the jewels, but none concerning the Grand
Sapphire, suggesting that it had not yet entered the
royal collection. Furthermore, nothing in the 1666 be-
quest of the Dowager Queen Anne of Austria or the
record of the Russian diplomatic visit in 1668 pro-
vided fruitful hints. Also, there is no evidence of any
gem purchase by Louis XIV between 1666 and Febru-
ary 1669, when gem merchants Jean-Baptiste Tav-
ernier and David Bazeu (or Bazu) returned from their
voyages to India (Morel, 1988). As the sapphire is not
listed among the gems purchased from those mer-
chants, the Grand Sapphire must have been obtained
shortly after their return from India, but before its of-
ficial recording in the royal books—in other words, be-
tween February and June 1669.
Analogies with the Tavernier Blue Diamond. Figure
7 shows the Grand Sapphire next to a cubic zirconia
replica of the Tavernier Blue diamond that was cut
and donated to the MNHN by Scott Sucher (see
Sucher, 2009). The similarities between the Grand
Sapphire and the Tavernier Blue, both acquired in
1669, are striking. They have roughly the same di-
mensions. The simple cuts and faceting allow the ob-
server to easily study their purity, inclusions, and
color (Farges, 2010).
According to Zemel (2015), the Grand Sapphire is
a Mogul-cut gem, like the Tavernier Blue diamond.
Mogul-cut gems are often faceted irregularly or
asymmetrically, usually showing a large flat base and
an array of radial facets, as in the Orlov and Taj-i-Mah
diamonds. Other Mogul cuts include more symmet-
rical shapes such as pendeloques or tables (the Darya-
i-Noor diamond, for instance). Those diamonds were
faceted in India during the 17th and 18th centuries,
and cutters there were expert in minimizing weight
loss during polishing (Tavernier, 1676). Louis XIV de-
cided to recut the asymmetrical Tavernier Blue as an
apparently symmetrical brilliant; the resulting stone
became known as the French Blue. Clearly, the sap-
phire was already symmetrical, but the king did not
400 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
Figure 7. The Grand Sapphire (left) and a cubic zirco-
nia replica of the Tavernier Blue diamond (right).
Photo by François Farges, © MNHN.
ask for more ornate recutting (for instance, as a cush-
ion with a step cut on its pavilion). If the Grand Sap-
phire is a Mogul cut, then either Tavernier or Bazeu
must have donated it, as they were the only mer-
chants to return from India in 1669 with gemstones
(Morel, 1988). While Tavernier sold diamonds to
Louis XIV, Bazeu also traded magnificent pearls and
several colored gems, including two yellow sapphires
and a red spinel, the latter also cut as a lozenge
Despite the assertions of Morel (1988), Louis XIV
never wore the Grand Sapphire or the Tavernier Blue
diamond (Farges and Benbalagh, 2013). Instead, the
gems were kept in a gold chest adorned with elabo-
rate filigree, a masterpiece created for the king by
Jacob Blanck, a little-known jeweler who worked for
Jean Pittan the Younger (Bimbenet-Privat and Pié,
2014). Blanck’s creation is now known as the Louis
XIV gemstone chest (“coffre des pierreries de Louis
XIV,” inventory number MS 159). Bimbenet-Privat
and Pié (2014) showed that the king used the chest
to display his gemstones and royal ornaments to
prestigious visitors, just as the Mogul emperor Au-
rangzeb had with Tavernier in 1665 (Tavernier, 1676).
The acquisition of two large blue gems at about
the same time (the spring of 1669) is no coincidence.
Around 1672, both gems were set into gold, which
was out of the ordinary for the French Court. In fact,
most of the diamonds in the French crown jewels
were set in silver-plated gold, which was considered
more valuable at the time (Bimbenet-Privat, 2002).
Therefore, the setting of both blue gems into gold is
atypical of this period and could be a reference to the
“azure and gold” colors of the French monarchy (Pas-
We used the following orientation to identify the
facets of the sapphire (again, see figure 1). “Top” is
the upper horizontal, nearly square facet. “Front left”
and “front right” are the two main frontal facets seen
in figure 1, while the left rear, right rear, and bottom
facets are not visible. There is a missing corner on
the upper rear area of the sapphire, at the junction of
the left rear, right rear, and top facets.
Visual examination of the Grand Sapphire shows
that its blue color is not uniform; rather, it displays
chevron-pattern zoning. The observed color is a
medium blue with pale violet hues ranging from vi-
oletish blue to pure blue, with a medium to medium-
dark tone and a strong saturation. The gem reveals
abundant evidence of rough handling, containing
many scratches, nicks, and pits. It weighs 27.148
grams (135.74 ct).
Shape. The dihedral angles of the Grand Sapphire
rhomboid are 75°, 90°, and 71°. Its shape has nothing
in common with a rhombohedron (whose dihedral
angles are 75.5 or 76°). The shape is a parallelepiped,
with two axes intersecting at oblique angles and a
third orthogonal to the two other axes. Four edges are
slightly recut, connecting the three front facets seen
in figure 1 (as well as another edge on the upper left
rear), while the other eight edges are actually quite
sharp. On the upper rear, one significant missing cor-
ner shows a flat surface of a few square millimeters
(figure 8A). This surface forms angles of 105°, 85°, and
105° with its three neighboring facets. The texture of
this surface contrasts with the other facets of the gem.
Closer microscopic examination reveals many imper-
fections such as micron-size cavities around approx-
imately circular frosted areas that are much duller
(figure 8A). Also, this surface lacks crystalline pat-
terns such as the terraces that are typical of the nat-
urally formed crystal habit of sapphire (see figures 8B
and 8C). The irregularities observed suggest some
abrasive polishing by water action. This might indi-
cate that the Grand Sapphire was recut from a larger
piece of sapphire found in weathered alluvial gravels,
typical of corundum in Sri Lanka (see, among others,
Hughes, 1997). If the Mogul origin of this faceting is
confirmed (see Zemel, 2015), one can speculate that
this rough was only slightly larger than the cut gem
(see Tavernier, 1676), confirming Haüy’s observation
(1801) that the sapphire was cut “to preserve its vol-
ume as much as possible.”
Orientation. A plane polariscope was used to better
observe the chevron-patterned zoning of the Grand
Sapphire (figure 8D). These chevrons correspond to
the growth pattern of two of the six facet planes of
the hexagonal corundum crystal (i.e., the m-planes
of the hexagonal lattice system of the trigonal crystal
–0]). Using the polariscope, the direction of the c-
axis was determined thanks to its total extinction
(sapphire is uniaxial negative). The color zoning ap-
peared in high contrast when set 15–20° off-axis. In
the pictures taken from this direction (figure 8D), the
apparent angle of the chevrons is approximately 125°
(close to the theoretical value of 120° for a
trigonal/hexagonal crystal-like sapphire). This con-
firms the previous determination of the crystal orien-
tation using the polariscope. Otherwise, the apparent
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 401
angle would be much larger from other viewing angles
and the chevrons would not be visible when the view-
ing angle was too far from the c-axis. Using GemCad,
we created a 3-D model of the Grand Sapphire based
on direct goniometric measurements. This model is
set in an orientated hexagonal preform (figure 8E) to
illustrate how the gem represented a small portion of
the original crystal (assuming it crystallized isotropi-
cally) before it was smoothed by erosion.
Refraction. The Grand Sapphire’s refractive indices
are 1.772 (nω) and 1.764 (nε). The gem is uniaxial neg-
ative, with a birefringence of 0.008. These values are
consistent with corundum (see Bariand and Poirot,
Inclusions. We observed oriented rutile needles (fig-
ure 9) and a globe-shaped opaque black inclusion
with highly reflective surfaces and a high refractive
index. The opaque black inclusion resembles an iron
oxide such as hematite or ilmenite.
Fluorescence. The Grand Sapphire showed moderate
red fluorescence under long-wave UV (365 nm) illu-
402 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
Figure 8. A: Detail of the natural, uncut surface on the Grand Sapphire. B: A doubly terminated gem sapphire
monocrystal from the Monaragala district, Sri Lanka (45 × 11 × 12 mm; MNHN inventory number 195.146). C:
Detail of the Sri Lankan sapphire’s surface, showing crystal growth terraces. D: Two “opposite” views of the
Grand Sapphire examined under a polariscope and oriented slightly off the c-axis (shown in dark blue). E:
Three-dimensional reconstruction showing the probable location of the Grand Sapphire within a hypothetical
trigonal/hexagonal corundum crystal. Photos by François Farges, © MNHN.
natural surface m-facets
1 mm 1 mm
mination, but weaker fluorescence under short-wave
UV (254 nm). Moreover, its fluorescence was a more
intense red along the green 532 nm laser beam
through the stone (figure 10).
Raman Scattering Spectroscopy. Raman spectra col-
lected with 532 and 785 nm laser excitation were com-
parable (figure 11). With 785 nm excitation, the base-
line was not uniform, most likely due to the gem’s flu-
orescence in the Raman range (Panczer et al., 2012). In
both cases, clearly detected Raman scattering peaks
corresponded to their associated vibration modes (Al-
O bonds in a six-fold octahedral coordination).
UV-Vis-NIR Spectroscopy. Three zones of the gem
were selected for UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy (figure 12).
One zone corresponded to the central part of the sap-
phire. The second and third zones had the highest and
lowest color saturation, respectively. The spectra for
the three zones were comparable. An absorption band
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 403
Figure 9. Inclusions in the Grand Sapphire, observed
from the top facet (A) and the right rear facet (B). Ru-
tile needles and a large hematite-like inclusion are
visible from both facets. Photos by Gérard Panczer,
© MNHN; field of view 1.35 mm.
Figure 10. Fluorescence
of the Grand Sapphire.
A and B: Before and
after illumination with
long-wave UV (red fluo-
rescence). C and D: Be-
fore and after exposure
to 532 nm laser excita-
tion results in a strong
red fluorescence along
the laser beam. Photos
by François Farges,
Figure 11. Raman scattering spectra for the Grand
Sapphire, with laser excitation at 532 nm (green
curve) and 785 nm (red curve). The peaks are indica-
tive of octahedrally coordinated Al.
INTENSITY (ARB. UNITS)
RAMAN SHIFT (cm
A C D
was detected in the green to red spectral range for all
zones, with a maximum centered near 576 nm. A
more narrow absorption contribution, though less in-
tense, was observed near 450 nm. Also, a negative-in-
tensity line corresponded to an emission peak at 694
nm (again, see figure 12).
Luminescence Spectroscopy. Luminescence spec-
troscopy, induced by either a 365 nm UV source or
by a 532 nm continuous laser, showed a sharp, in-
tense emission line at 694 nm (figure 13). This phe-
nomenon indicated that the two wavelengths excited
an extrinsic luminescent center whose electrons
were subjected to a radiative transition—in this case,
the presence of Cr3+ atoms. The portable apparatus
used did not discriminate between the transitions re-
lated to Cr3+ (referred to here as R1 and R2, centered
at 692.9 and 694.3 nm, respectively; Gaft et al., 2015).
The other weak bands observed in the spectra are
secondary peaks related to the main doublet (Panczer
et al., 2013). These results also explain the negative
absorption measured by UV-Vis-NIR spectroscopy
near 694 nm, as seen in figure 12.
Interpretation. Despite the use of portable instruments
with lower resolution than laboratory or synchrotron-
based instruments, the gem shows the physical prop-
erties of a sapphire. Its Raman scattering spectrum
(again, see figure 11) matched that for corundum from
404 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
Figure 12. Unpolarized UV-Vis-NIR absorption spec-
tra (with the hexagonal unit cell shown as a, b, and c
vectors) for three different zones of the front right
facet show variation in the intensity of blue color.
ABSORBANCE (ARB. UNITS)
387 Strongest saturation zone
Intermediate saturation zone
Lowest saturation zone
Timeline of Five Famous French Gems
1666: In India, Jean-Baptiste
Tavernier purchases an approxi-
mately 115 ct blue diamond
with Mogul faceting. This will
become the Tavernier Blue.
Spring 1669: The Mogul-faceted
diamond is sold by Tavernier to
King Louis XIV.
The Grand Sapphire is acquired by
Louis XIV and inventoried among
the faceted sapphires.
1672: The Tavernier Blue is recut
to create the French Blue. The
Grand Sapphire is kept intact.
Both gems are set in gold before
Pittan returns them to the king.
1749: The French Blue and the Grand
Sapphire are removed from their set-
tings by Pierre-André Jacqumin, Louis
XV’s jeweler, for his Order of the Golden
1675: The French Blue and
the Grand Sapphire are
placed in a gold chest for
1691: First official appear-
ance of both the French Blue
and the Grand Sapphire in
the inventory of the crown
Summer 1669: The Tavernier
Blue diamond and the Grand
Sapphire are in the possession
of Jean Pittan the Younger, the
king’s primary jeweler.
No sapphires are listed in the
inventory of the French crown
Eventually, the Golden Fleece insignia
will be completed with the French Blue.
The Grand Sapphire returns to the royal
storehouse without its gold setting.
* The “Ruspoli” sapphire is supposedly
purchased by the Ruspolis, a noble
Roman family. There is no record of
the purchase, however, and this own-
ership is highly questionable.
the RRUFF database. The rutile inclusions were not
weathered or dissolved. Therefore, the Grand Sap-
phire did not undergo any thermal treatment above
1600°C. Its optical absorption showed a maximum at
576 nm, consistent with an electron exchange be-
tween Fe2++ Ti4+ and Fe3++ Ti3+ (Ferguson and Fielding,
1971; Fritsch and Rossman, 1988). The 694 nm “neg-
ative” absorption peak seen in figures 12 and 13 was
related to the presence of Cr3+ substituting for six-fold
coordinated Al3+ (high crystal field) in corundum (Gaft
et al., 2005; Panczer et al., 2012) and was responsible
for the narrow and intense red emission. Cr3+ is a fre-
quent impurity in corundum, including sapphires
(Bariand and Poirot, 1985).
Geological and Geographical Origins. Determining
the geologic or geographic origin of sapphire remains
a challenge even with advanced analytical methods
(Mumme, 1988; Notari and Grobon, 2002; Shigley
et al., 2010). For instance, blue sapphires from Sri
Lanka and Madagascar show similar mineralogical
and gemological properties (Gübelin Gem Lab,
2006). However, the determination of geographical
origin of a rare historical gemstone such as the
Grand Sapphire is based on limited but convergent
criteria (inclusions, growth zones, absorption pat-
terns, lumi nescence, and the like). In addition, the
number of possible geographical occurrences for the
Grand Sapphire is historically limited: The only ac-
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 405
Figure 13. Luminescence spectra for the Grand Sap-
phire with excitation by a 532 nm laser (green curve)
and a 365 nm UV source (purple curve, with intensity
doubled for comparison with the green spectrum).
The 532 nm line corresponds to the laser scattering.
INTENSITY (ARB. UNITS)
Exc. 532 nm
Exc. 365 nm
1768–1772: French mineralogist
Jean-Baptiste Louis Romé de l’Isle
studies the sapphire and is con-
vinced the gem bears a natural
habit. A bisque model of the gem
1787: M.J. Brisson publishes the
previously measured dimensions
and densities of the French Blue
and the Grand Sapphire. He con-
siders the gem faceted.
Based on wooden models of
ruby crystals sent by German
mineralogist Abraham Gottlob
Werner, Romé de l’Isle reverts to
his original hypothesis: The
Grand Sapphire “must be a natu-
ral crystal of sapphire.”
1789: In the inventory of the
French crown jewels, the Grand
Sapphire is described as “not
1791: In the inventory of the
French crown jewels, the French
Blue and the Grand Sapphire are
still the most magnificent colored
gemstones of this collection. The
appraised value for both gems has
increased approximately three
times since 1774–1789.
Fall 1792: The Golden Fleece in-
signia is stolen (along with the
French Blue), and the Grand Sap-
phire is missing as well.
Winter 1792: The Grand Sapphire
reappears and is transferred to a
safer storage area in Paris at the
Hôtel de la Monnaie.
Spring 1796: Cadet Guillot, who
participated in the 1792 looting of
the crown jewels, dismounts the
Golden Fleece insignia and sells
parts of it in Brittany, Normandy,
The Grand Sapphire is selected
by French mineralogist Louis
Jean-Marie Daubenton for dona-
tion to the recently created Na-
tional Museum of Natural History
(MNHN) in Paris.
Summer 1796: The 107 ct Côte
de Bretagne spinel from the
Golden Fleece pendant is recov-
ered in London from Cadet Guillot.
The whereabouts of the French
Blue remain unknown.
1774: In the 1774 inventory of the
French crown jewels, the Grand Sap-
phire is listed as a faceted gem.
1783: Romé de l’Isle changes his
mind and concludes that the Grand
Sapphire is hand-polished.
Tavernier, French Blue, and Hope Diamonds |Grand Sapphire of Louis XIV |Ruspoli Sapphire*
tive deposits before 1669 were in modern-day Myan-
mar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand-Cambodia. The rutile
inclusions observed in Burmese sapphires are usu-
ally shorter and more densely packed (see Hughes,
1997) than those observed in the Grand Sapphire,
which appear more typical of Sri Lanka (L. Thoresen,
pers. comm., 2015).
According to the Gübelin Gem Lab (2006), the
Grand Sapphire’s UV-Vis-NIR spectrum is typical of
sapphires that crystallized in metamorphic rocks.
Their absorption is dominated by an intense Fe2+/Ti4+
charge transfer, with absorption maxima centered at
575 and 700 nm. The absorption bands related to Fe3+
are usually weaker (Hughes, 1997). Therefore, the
Grand Sapphire probably originated from the
charnokitic series (an orthopyroxene-bearing meta-
morphic rock with granitic composition) of Sri Lanka
or their fragmented clastic (detrital) sediments, as sug-
gested by the examination of the small natural, uncut
facet of the Grand Sapphire. The use of a laboratory
UV-Vis-NIR apparatus should not affect the conclu-
sions drawn from luminescence spectroscopy, as the
charge transfer bands of interest are well probed with
sufficient resolution by the portable apparatus. This
study therefore shows how portable instruments, de-
spite their intrinsic limitations, can assist with the ex-
amination of museum pieces that cannot be
transferred to a laboratory setting.
Through a historical and gemological study of the
Grand Sapphire, we have rediscovered some of its
lost secrets. The stone is likely from Ceylon, pres-
ent-day Sri Lanka. It may have been cut originally by
Indian lapidaries (Zemel, 2015) before being pur-
chased by a European (possibly David Bazeu) and
given to Louis XIV around 1669, about the same time
the monarch purchased the Tavernier Blue diamond.
Both gems were set in gold under the supervision of
jeweler Jean Pittan the Younger at about the same
time (1672–1673). A gold setting was used, possibly
to highlight the “azure and gold” colors of the French
monarchy (Farges, 2010; Post and Farges, 2014).
There is no evidence that Louis XIV ever wore those
gems as part of his regalia. Instead, the gems were
placed in a remarkable gold chest that was exhibited
to impress selected visitors (see Farges, 2010; Bim-
benet-Privat and Pié, 2014: Post and Farges, 2014).
406 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
1801: French mineralogist
René-Just Haüy demonstrates
that the Grand Sapphire’s
facets are “handmade.”
1792–1812: The French Blue is
owned by Henry Philip Hope,
according to Parisian lapidary
David Achard. The gem is cast
and recut as the Hope dia-
mond. Achard recovers the
cast of the French Blue.
The gem that would later be
known as the “Ruspoli” sap-
phire first appears in Rome and
Paris. One of its previous own-
ers is said to be a Ruspoli
prince. In Paris, the sapphire is
the subject of a lengthy trial be-
tween two jewelers, Perret and
Winter 1813: The Ruspoli sap-
phire is auctioned by court
order. An accurate drawing is
printed in an auction leaflet, but
the sapphire’s previous owners
are falsely listed as a Bengali
wooden spoon seller, an Indian
prince, and Charlemagne.
1839: An inventory of H.P. Hope’s col-
lection includes the Hope diamond. The
same inventory included a detailed
drawing of the Ruspoli sapphire.
1839–1867: Henry Philip Hope sells the
Ruspoli sapphire to Czar Nicholas I.
1814–1831: David Achard donates
the lead cast of the French Blue to
Achard recovers the Ruspoli
sapphire and sells it to H.P. Hope.
Achard cuts a strass replica of the
sapphire and donates it to the
1837: The Grand Sapphire and the
strass replica of the “Ruspoli” sap-
phire are displayed in the same
showcase in the new gallery of
mineralogy at the MNHN.
Fall 1812: The Hope diamond
makes its first appearance in
London. Nobody connects the
gem to the French Blue.
Timeline of Five Famous French Gems (continued)
The faceting of the Grand Sapphire is relatively
simple but remarkable nonetheless. Recutting it as
a cushion would have resulted in significant weight
loss with no dramatic increase in brilliance. In this
regard, Louis XIV proved to have eclectic tastes, col-
lecting both minimally faceted (possibly Mogul)
gems such as the Grand Sapphire and complex bril-
liant-cut faceted gems such as the French Blue, one
of the first brilliant-cut diamonds ever documented
In 1739, the sapphire was removed from its gold
setting, most likely to consider recutting it into two
stones for Louis XV’s Order of the Golden Fleece in-
signia. Fortunately, this idea was eventually aban-
doned. Sometime between 1739 and 1774, the Grand
Sapphire became an object of scientific study; M.J.
Brisson measured its density, while Jean-Baptiste
Romé de L’Isle examined its shape and eventually con-
cluded that it was an uncut crystal. From the crystal,
Romé de L’Isle shaped a model in bisque (1772). Ap-
parently stolen in September 1792 and recovered a few
months later, the sapphire entered the national collec-
tion of mineralogy at the MNHN in Paris, where
Haüy (1801) once again identified it as a faceted gem.
Since 1858, the Grand Sapphire has often been
confused with another gem, known as the Ruspoli
sapphire, for which the MNHN possesses a historical
replica that was once exhibited near the Grand Sap-
phire. The stones have approximately the same
weight, but their faceting is dramatically different.
Whereas the Grand Sapphire is a six-sided “lozenge”
cut, the Ruspoli is a more conventional cushion cut.
This sapphire was then sold at an auction in 1813
and acquired by the French jeweler David Achard,
who subsequently sold it to Henry Philip Hope. Czar
Nicholas I is said to have obtained the stone, which
may have adorned a great Russian kokoshnik de-
signed in 1909 by Cartier. Princess Ileana of Romania
sold the piece to a jeweler in the United States in the
1950s, and its current whereabouts are unknown.
Unearthing elements of the true story of the
Grand Sapphire reaffirms its rightful standing as one
of the most important gemstones of the 17th cen-
tury. Its unusual shape makes it one of the singular
cut stones of all time. It is celebrated in a permanent
exhibit named “Treasures of the Earth” (Trésors de
la Terre), which opened in December 2014 at the
MNHN. This exhibit places the sapphire in its ap-
propriate context with the other magnificent gems
and art objects of the French crown jewels.
THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015 407
1858: In his Traité, Charles
Barbot is the first to connect
the French Blue with the Hope
Barbot also describes the
Grand Sapphire and the gem
later referred to as the “Rus-
poli” while they are on exhibit
at the MNHN, in a way that
suggests the Grand Sapphire
was once owned by a Bengali
wooden spoon seller and the
1867–1881: Edwin William
Streeter (1877) shows a model
of the Tavernier Blue diamond.
When translating L. Simonin’s
Underground Life, or Mines
and Miners (1867) from French
to English, Henry William Bris-
tow apparently misinterprets
Charles Barbot’s writings and
calls the Grand Sapphire the
Ruspoli for the first time.
Streeter and Sir Sourindro
Mohun Tagore (1879) perpetu-
ate the confusion. John H.
Snively (1872) is among the first
to mistakenly refer to the Grand
Sapphire as the “Wooden
Spoon Seller’s Sapphire.”
1909: The Hope diamond is reset
by Cartier in Paris for Evalyn Walsh
The Ruspoli sapphire is possibly
reset by Cartier into a diadem for
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of
1949: Harry Winston purchases the
ca. 1950: Princess Ileana of Roma-
nia sells the Ruspoli sapphire to a
jeweler in New York. Its where-
abouts remain unknown.
1958: Harry Winston donates the Hope di-
amond to the Smithsonian’s National Mu-
seum of Natural History in Washington, DC,
where it has been exhibited ever since.
1980s: The Grand Sapphire, still commonly
referred to as the “Ruspoli,” is occasionally
displayed at the MNHN.
2007–present: Historical artifacts concern-
ing the lead cast of the French Blue dia-
mond, the 18th century bisque model of
the Grand Sapphire, and the strass replica
of the actual Ruspoli sapphire are found
within the MNHN collections in Paris. The
Grand Sapphire and the lead cast of the
French Blue are placed on permanent ex-
hibit at MNHN in December 2014.
Tavernier, French Blue, and Hope Diamonds |Grand Sapphire of Louis XIV |Ruspoli Sapphire*
408 THE GRAND SAPPHIRE AND THE RUSPOLI SAPPHIRE GEMS & GEMOLOGY WINTER 2015
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr. Farges is a professor of mineralogy at the Institut de Minéralo-
gie, Physique des Matériaux et Cosmochimie (IMPMC), Muséum
National d’Histoire Naturelle, and UMR CNRS 7590 (Paris). He is
former curator of the French national collections of minerals,
gems, and art objects and formerly a professor at Stanford Uni-
versity. Dr. Panczer is a professor of physics at University of Lyon,
working at the Institut Lumière-Matière (ILM), Claude Bernard Uni-
versity Lyon 1 and UMR CNRS 5306 (Lyon). Mrs. Nassima Ben-
balagh is a former research associate at the MNHN. Mr. Riondet
is an antiquarian in Lyon who graduated in gemology at the Uni-
versity of Lyon 1.
We thank Herbert Horovitz, Christophe Dubois, Michèle Bim-
benet-Privat, Stéphane Castelluccio, Cristiano Ferraris, the Cen-
tre Commun de Microspectrométrie Optique (CECOMO, Lyon 1
University), the staff of the French National Library (BnF, Paris),
the National Archives (AN, Paris), the diplomatic archives of the
French Foreign Ministry (La Courneuve), and everyone who
helped us conduct these exhaustive searches. Lisbet Thoresen
is thanked for her critical reading of this manuscript. We also
thank the Cartier archives in Paris for the photo of the
and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for the use of Hy-
acinthe Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV, both seen in the timeline.
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