When found, the Dom Pedro crystal stretched more than three feet long and weighed something close to 100 pounds. Sometime in the late 1980s a garimpero, or prospector, spied it. He and two buddies pried it loose and lugged it out of a mine in the state of Minas Gerais, famous for its gemstones. The garimperos dropped the crystal, shattering it into thirds, a seeming disaster that later proved serendipitous, indeed, crucial, to the carving of Dom Pedro.
The mine’s owner took possession. He sold the top two chunks, which were cut into typical jewelry. He kept the third, and largest, piece — still close to two feet long and 60 pounds — behind his bed. Or so the story goes.
Henn, a third-generation broker and dealer, soon heard of this monster crystal. Since the 18th century, at least, Henn’s hometown of Idar-Oberstein, nestled in the mine-pocked hills of Rhineland, has been a European gem center. After Brazil opened up as a rich land of gemstones, the town’s dealers built connections there. Or, as Henn says, “Whenever something big goes on, you get wind. You get phone calls.”
Henn met the mine owner at his home. “I’ll never forget it,” said Henn. “It was exactly high noon. I mean, wow, really. It was offered to me in a backyard, on a simple table. It was a matter of a second. You saw the thing — that’s it!”
Henn hatched a plan. His philosophy: Whatever the earth makes big, man should not make small.
Only one gem cutter could handle such a piece: Bernd Munsteiner, Henn’s lifelong friend and business partner. In the 1970s and 1980s, Munnsteiner pioneered a new style, eyeing big crystals as Michaelangelo would a block of granite — with a sculpture inside. Crystals were art waiting to happen.
“Munsteiner is a real pioneer” of big gemstone sculptures, said Russell Shor, senior industry analyst for the Gemological Institute of America.
But first, Henn had to acquire the crystal. He partnered with Munsteiner and a second well-known dealer, Hermann Bank. In 1992, Henn dispatched his son Axel and Munsteiner’s son, Tom, to make a deal, according to an article in a 1995 issue of the Lapidary Journal.