Susanne Steinem Patch, 82; Gem Expert

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Susanne Steinem Patch, 82, an expert in gems who became a staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission, died Nov. 2 at Carriage Hill nursing home in Bethesda of complications from a stroke.

Mrs. Patch worked in the gem field most of her life. At the FTC, she was assigned to the Bureau of Consumer Protection, where she worked on its franchise rule and revision of its guides for the jewelry, watch and metallic watchband industries. She worked there from 1980 to 1994.

She also wrote "Blue Mystery: The Story of the Hope Diamond," (1976) and appeared on several television shows as an expert on the diamond, debunking the myth of its curse.

The deep blue, 45.5-carat Hope Diamond, which was donated to the Smithsonian in 1958 by New York jewelers Harry Winston Inc., for years was the most-viewed object in the National Museum of Natural History. Its last private owner was Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who wore the gem. A myth of a curse followed the diamond through history.

Originally a crudely cut triangular 112-carat blue diamond first bought in India in 1642, it was named "French Blue" when it was cut down to 67 carats in 1673 to improve its symmetry and brilliance. It was owned by Henry Philip Hope in 1839 and acquired its name at that point.

Mrs. Patch also had been technical consultant to the Smithsonian's public affairs office on the institution's television special on the Hope Diamond. She had been a docent at the museum's Hall of Gems and Minerals and its Hall of Physical Geology from 1970 to 1975.

She was born in Toledo and graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. While in college, she worked as a salesperson and acting assistant jewelry buyer for Georg Jensen Inc. in New York. She worked as director of an educational diamond exhibit for a group of retail jewelers, then became an instructor of basic gemology and mineralogy at the Washington School of Gemology.

In the early 1950s, she hosted a local television series, "Gem Session," then became an assistant buyer of costume jewelry for Jelleff's stores in Washington.

Mrs. Patch and her husband formed a firm in 1968 that sold gemstone carvings by mail. She returned to school when she was 50 and received a law degree from Antioch School of Law in Washington in 1978.

She was board chairman in 1957 and 1958 of Parent and Child, an organization that promoted natural childbirth, and a trustee of Chevy Chase Elementary School. A Chevy Chase resident, she was co-founder of a Leland Street produce cooperative in 1974, where she continued to work for about 15 years. She was also a member of a committee that recommended an integration plan for six schools in Montgomery County in 1975.

Mrs. Patch was a member of the Maryland State Bar Association, the American Society of Jewelry Historians, the Mineralogical Society in Washington, the Capital Speakers Club of Washington, the Woman's Club of Chevy Chase, the Chevy Chase Recreation Association and the Live Poets Society. She was a member of Christ Church Parish in Kensington.

She enjoyed collecting minerals and objets d'art, and making jewelry, much of which she donated to raise money for the FTC's day-care center. She also enjoyed memorizing and writing poetry and reading mysteries.

Survivors include her husband of 53 years, Robert J. Patch of Chevy Chase; six children, Susan L. Patch of Chevy Chase, Robert W. Patch of Cabin John, Thomas F. Patch of Charlotte, Jeffrey S. Patch of Germantown, Andrew J. Patch of Ellicott City and Theodore N. Patch of Chevy Chase; a sister, Gloria Steinem of New York; and 12 grandchildren.

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