Post dons a pair of white cotton gloves. Unlatches two clasps. Opens the lid.
“This,” announces Post, “is Dom Pedro.” Post enunciates with a flourish, bouncing along the final syllables. “You have to use the Portuguese accent,” he says with a laugh and a nod to the gem’s Brazilian origins.
The museum’s new director, Kirk Johnson, is leaning against the cabinet. He lets out a low whistle.
This is Johnson’s first glimpse of the glittering azure obelisk, as clear and blue as the Caribbean at noon.
Unboxed and upright, Dom Pedro towers like a gemmy Washington Monument.
It’s the largest cut piece of aquamarine ever known — perhaps 10 times the size of the next largest. It’s 14 inches tall and weighs 10,363 carats. That’s the heft of a barbell, nearly five pounds.
It’s a gift of the earth, sculpted by a master cutter into a gem of outlandish proportions.
“Look at the clarity. Look at the color of the aquamarine here,” says Post.
The eye cannot rest on Dom Pedro. It is drawn upward to the pyramid tip by an eight-fold set of climbing carved starbursts that flare and shimmer like the beating wings of iridescent angels.
Dom Pedro’s sculptor, the German gem artist Bernd Munsteiner, strives for “total reflection,” Post says. Most gems are faceted on the outside — like the typical brilliant or diamond cuts seen in jewelry. Munsteiner instead cuts into his gems, sculpts internal facets to bounce every beam of gathered light back at the viewer.
“Think of the gemstones that could be cut from a piece like that,” says Post. “There’s millions of dollars worth of aquamarine in there.”
The bluest aquamarines rival emerald in value, but Dom Pedro may as well be priceless. It’s off the market forever, donated to the Smithsonian Institution last year by a collector couple from Palm Beach, Fla., Jane Mitchell and Jeff Bland.
On Dec. 6, Dom Pedro — named after the first emperor of Brazil — will go on permanent display. Under spotlights in the entrance to the national gem collection gallery, Dom Pedro will shine like a beacon, a rival to the most famous gem in the world, resting not 30 feet away, the Hope Diamond.
“This piece will become one of the highlights for the Smithsonian,” said Jürgen Henn, a German gem broker, former co-owner of Dom Pedro, and the force behind its creation. “It is strong competition for the Hope. In rarity and purity, it is at least the same.”