“I had no idea how to find a showroom for Munsteiner,” Mitchell said. “You don’t see what’s going on in Idar-Oberstein. They stay in the background.” You need connections.
She eventually gained entrée after a gem dealer in Zurich handed her Henn’s calling card.
“That contact opened doors to an Aladdin’s cave of the wonderful treasures and work that’s gone on for hundreds of years there,” Mitchell said.
And she just happened to arrive at the climax of the biggest deal of Henn’s life.
“They were making decisions about whether the stone was stable enough, had qualities to stand up to cutting, was it the right price to pay,” said Mitchell.
Deal done, the German sons spirited the crystal out of Brazil. The Lapidary Journal article by Si and Ann Frazier paints a Hollywood scene. They hired sketchy pilots, bribed a few customs agents, persuaded a Brazilian general to shut down the Rio airport as the crystal landed in a small plane, stashed the thing in the control tower, and nonchalantly-as-can-be-toting-60-pounds hauled it aboard a Lufthansa flight in a duffel and stuffed it in the overhead bin.
Or so the story goes.
The artist Munsteiner then set to work. He agreed to the audacious job for one reason only. The shattering of the original crystal, he was convinced, had relieved any hidden stresses, made the largest chunk strong enough to withstand his diamond blades.
For four months, Munsteiner eyed the azure monster.
“He made sketches, created ideas, designs, his whole seating room was filled with designs,” said Henn. “He slept with the ideas.”
Munsteiner settled on a plan. He would shape an obelisk, preserving as much of the original length as he could. Into the backside, he would excavate dozens of spiky “negative cuts,” the ascending starbursts, to achieve total reflection.
The cutter toiled for six months. He worked for just two hours a day to keep his mind clear, his arms strong. A treasure was his to create — or, with a slip, to destroy.
Each lengthwise buzz of the blade, said Post, shaved a quarter of a million dollars of aquamarine into dust. The sewers of Idar-Oberstein ran rich for weeks.
In 1993, Henn and Munsteiner unveiled Dom Pedro in Basel, Switzerland. The German government then showed it off around the world.
Mitchell, who kept up with Dom Pedro’s development, arranged one showing in Palm Beach in 1996. There, she finally saw Dom Pedro naked, no glass between. “The color, somehow the color, it’s beautiful, I could lose myself in the color,” she said. “The light glows through it.”
Three years later, opportunity arrived for Mitchell.
The Brazilian miner — still part owner — needed cash. He was threatening to cut the stone into a thousand pieces.
The German consortium needed a buyer. At one point, a member approached Post at the Smithsonian, Dom Pedro in hand. He asked for “seven or 10 million dollars,” Post says. He remembers laughing: It doesn’t work like that. The Smithsonian collects via donations. “We can’t just go to Congress and ask for $10 million for a gem,” he said.
An offer did arrive, said Henn. But it was not quite the right deal. Saudi sheiks, the sultan of Brunei — they were big into Munsteiners. But they kept their treasures to themselves, mostly. Out of public view. Dom Pedro, Henn felt, belonged to the world. He wanted it in the Louvre or the Smithsonian, and strived for an owner who concurred.
He called Mitchell.
Again: Timing is everything. Mitchell and her husband had recently sold their booming surgical tool company, called Midas Rex, for a healthy sum.
They slept on it.
They bought it.
They saved Dom Pedro.
“We didn’t buy it for ourselves,” said Mitchell. “Our motivation was, ‘Oh, you can’t cut that up.’”
Before donating Dom Pedro, Mitchell and Bland displayed it two of the last 13 years, in Houston and Paris.
At the Ecoles de Mines in Paris, a top gem school, experienced viewers, professors of gemology, saw Dom Pedro and asked: How do you get it to glow? Where is the light?
The light bulb was in Mitchell’s head. It lit up.
“That’s when it dawned on us we were looking for a museum. That awe belongs to all of mankind — it’s part of the awe of the natural world,” she said.
Mitchell views Post as Dom Pedro’s final guardian.
Over annual lunches at the huge Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Post had gained Mitchell’s trust. She felt he would take care of Dom Pedro, display it as a world treasure to the museum’s seven million annual visitors.
Mitchell will be at the museum Thursday to help pull back the curtain.
“Every time I see it, it’s more beautiful than I remember,” she said. “I carry a picture in my mind, but when I see it in person every time, I just go, ‘Wow.’ It’s even better.”
Dom Pedro will be unveiled at 11 a.m., Thurs. Dec. 6, in the National Gem Collection Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.