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The Harvard Diamond Crystal
diamond.jpg (77192 bytes)

by

Lawrence H. Conklin

 

It is almost a certainty that the Harvard diamond crystal no longer exists.

Its earliest recorded history begins with George Frederick Kunz working for Tiffany & Co. in New York. Kunz was able to convince wealthy gentlemen of that city to purchase his wares and then donate them to worthy institutions. In appendix II of his "Gems and Precious Stones of North America," Kunz wrote "Since Appendix I was put in type, the Harvard University Mineralogical Collection, under the charge of Prof. Josiah P. Cooke1 and Dr. Oliver W. Huntington2, has been greatly enriched by the addition of a munificent gift. James A. Garland, Esq.3 of New York, has presented to that institution the finer crystals and mineralogical specimens obtained by the writer on a trip to Maine in 1892, and on a trip to Russia and the region of the Ural Mountains of Russia, made in the interest of Messrs. Tiffany & Co., in 1891. Among the more notable specimens are the following: A remarkably clear, doubly-terminated, bluish-green crystal of beryl (aquamarine) weighing nearly 1 pound, transparent and flawless; this crystal from Zolotnah Gora. . . A superb crystal of yellow diamond, absolutely flawless and an ideal octahedron in form weighing 86-3/4 carats, of beautiful lemon color, from the DeBeers Mine, South Africa." (Italics added.)

What a wonderful gift it was indeed! The Russian beryls and the other specimens are truly outstanding, but a diamond crystal, lemon-yellow and flawless of 86-3/4 carats probably was, and most likely still is, unique. Figure 1 shows the crystal with its quaint, original, padded, custom-made box, in an early photograph.

reward.jpg (198812 bytes)This crystal was a chief ornament of Harvard's very fine collection until July 1962 when it was stolen. (See figure 2).  It is the feeling of this writer, and others, that this crystal has almost certainly been cut into one or more faceted stones, which then, unceremoniously entered the world of jewelry.

Kunz mentioned the weight of the crystal very specifically at 86-3/4 carats, but in figure 2, some 70 years later the weight is noted to be 84 carats! Perhaps this was due to the adoption of the "New International Metric Diamond Carat of 200 milligrams" in July of 19134.   To convert from the "old" to the "new," one had to add 2.44%. If this rule is applied to the old 86-3/4 carat weight the result is approximately 89 carats. The 84 carat weight is the result of a subtraction of the 2.44%. So, when it was stolen, the Harvard diamond crystal probably weighed 89 carats.

In figure 2 the value of $20,000.00 has been assigned to the crystal, and at first glance this seems to be an extremely low figure, even for 1962. However, if one consults "The Many Sided Diamond," an article by George Switzer in 'The National Geographic Magazine," April, 1958, page 569, one sees, depicted in color, a fancy yellow octahedral diamond crystal of 167 carats, that looks fairly flawless, and the value assigned to it is $42,000.00.

Peter Ce Schneirla, senior gemologist with Tiffany & Co., who is the modern-day counterpart of the good Dr. Kunz, gave this writer his opinions about the value of such a stone today. Peter is confident that the crystal would bring between 3.3 and 3.4 million dollars! He says that it could be cut into a 55 carat and an 8 carat stone, or it could yield a matched pair of stones weighing between 20 and 30 carats each. The 55 carat stone could easily be worth $60,000.00 per carat, and that brings us to the 3+ million dollar figure. The history of the piece, and its trail back to 1891, certainly adds a premium to the price, rough or faceted.

As the old anonymous saying has it, "a diamond is forever," whether in natural crystal form or faceted.

 

Acknowledgments.

Thank you to Clifford Frondel for the information on Cooke and Huntington. And thank you to Allan Chait, Robert Curran, Charles Pearson, Joseph Peters, Peter Schneirla and Louis Zara.

 

Notes.

1.& 2. Josiah Parsons Cooke, Jr. (1827-1894) after whom cookeite was named, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard in 1848. His first employment was as a tutor in mathematics at Harvard. In 1850 he was appointed Erving Professor of Chemistry and Mineralogy, which position he held for the rest of his life. The mineral collection at Harvard was in bad shape at this time following the hanging of Professor John Webster5, and Cooke invited Benjamin Silliman, Jr. of Yale to visit Cambridge for a few weeks to sort it out.6 In 1860 Cooke married Mary H. Huntington and some years later Oliver Whipple Huntington, a nephew of Mrs. Cooke, became a member of his family. Huntington received a Ph.D. in chemistry under Cooke and became a lecturer in chemistry and mineralogy. He left Harvard in 1894, the year that Cooke died.

3. James A. Garland was a very prominent New Yorker. He was Vice-President of the First National Bank of New York and an organizer and builder of the Northern Pacific Railroad. When he died in 1900 his estate was valued at 8.5 million dollars. He was a serious collector of oriental jades and especially ceramics. His ceramic collection was valued at $356,310. at his death, and was purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (the buyer of the Clarence S. Bement mineral collection.) J. P. Morgan paid Bement less than one-third the value of Garland's ceramics, and the Bement collection was considered by many to be the finest collection of minerals in the world! Morgan placed the Garland collection on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and many years later it was sold by his son to a Duveen-Frick-Rockefeller consortium. It cannot be determined at this time what the original connection may have been between Mr. Garland and Harvard, if indeed there was one, but his son, of the same name, was a student there at the time of the gift, and graduated in 1893.

4. The New International Metric Diamond Carat of 220 Milligrams, George Frederick Kunz, Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, 1913.

5. For more on John Webster, See Hauck, Richard, "Doctor John Webster, Professor, Author, Mineral Collector and Murderer," in MATRIX, Volume I, Page 7. Also, "The Murder Stone," in MATRIX, Volume I, Page 28.

6. Perhaps Silliman did not complete the task. Kunz, was still doing his job when he said in a letter to Prof. J. Elliot Wolff, Cooke's successor at Harvard, dated June 15, 1895 ". . . Mr. Garland called last Thursday, and I believe that if your collection was in good shape, you would have a good friend in that gentleman. . . ." (Letter from Harvard archives.)

 

Figure 1. The Harvard diamond crystal and its original box.

Figure 2. Handbill distributed after July 4, 1962 (actual size).

Figure 3.  The Harvard diamond crystal, approximately natural size.

 

 

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