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R.W. Hughes Big Time Title

Digital Devil: Big Time
by Richard W. Hughes

 

In this world, there's a nipple for every sucker. But why, oh why, does the gem business have to prove the truth of that axiom? This an industry that makes an awful lot of noise about integrity. We are the pompous and the proud, quick to declare that our word is our bond. And yet every now and again we are brought down by the few among us for whom greed is just the Hindenberg waiting for a match.

What would you say if I were to offer to sell you the Eiffel Tower? How about the Emerald Buddha? Or better yet, how about the Chaiyo Ruby? I honestly can't help you with the others, but if you're in the market for the latter, then you've come to the right place. Some guys get the girls. Me, I get the big rocks. It's been that way for years.

Among the most difficult tasks facing the gemologist is that of testing the world's largest. 'Tis not a task for the meek; those called upon to test the world's largest somesuch are rarely showered with trust. All specimens are "priceless" and all are "absolutely genuine," having been either family heirlooms dating from Timur's sacking of Delhi in 1398 AD, or recently unearthed from someone's backyard or rice paddy. Thus the owner often demands to watch the proceedings, fearing that, if their back is turned for even an instant, the vulpine tester will slide an identical specimen out from under his cloak for the switch.

During the 8000 years I've been practicing gemology, people have constantly turned up with the "world's largest" this or that. I've been privileged to examine the "world's largest imperial green jade" (a large chunk of translucent green glass), the "world's largest sapphire" (a large chunk of battered blue glass) and the "world's largest ruby" (a large red plastic dildo).

But perhaps most impressive of all was the "world's largest pearl." So gargantuan was this concretion that a fruit scale had to be used to determine its weight. Indeed, it was a pearl of sorts, but that may be an abuse of the term. It actually resembled something extruded from the rear of an enormous oyster, perhaps shortly after a meal of tainted shellfish. No doubt this extraordinary specimen now rests, yoke-like, between the breasts of a society diva on the wrong side of the century.

While owners of such gems may genuinely believe them to be priceless, most often such monstrosities surface from the bowels of unscrupulous dealers' collections – always accompanied by an appraisal claiming them to be more valuable than the British Crown Jewels.

This was the case with the infamous Life and Pride of America Star Sapphire, which featured in many news reports of 1985 and 1986. In a story that warmed the heart of even this jaded observer, one Roy Whetstine claimed to have bought the 1905-ct stone for $10 at the Tucson gem show. But things turned dour when a reporter discovered that an L.A. Ward of Fallbrook, CA, who appraised it at the whopping price of $1200/ct, had appraised another stone of the exact same weight several years before Whetstine claimed to have found it. Photographs of the "gem" revealed an opaque corundum lump that would be put to better use dressing grinding wheels than windows at Tiffany.

In the past year alone, I've been offered:

  • A 13-kg rough ruby
  • A 3.5 lb. star sapphire from North Carolina. On E-Bay this piece was advertised as 2.2 kg or 1000 grams, or 8000 cts. (somebody obviously skipped remedial math class). According to the listing, it was appraised in 1987 for $470,000. Alas, it failed to meet the reserve price of $135,000.
  • The "Chaiyo Ruby" a 21-kg rough ruby valued at US$207 million

I'd like to draw attention to the latter, seeing as how this stone, if it sells for the appraised price, will set a new record for ruby, being approximately $202 million more than any ruby has ever fetched anywhere in history. Now I know what you're thinkin'. That's a lot of moolah, a gawd-awful chunk of change to the cash-challenged. But look at it this way: It is less than two days' salary for Bill Gates. William the Big, just how much is your bride worth?

Yesterday, I had a call from an appraiser in the US. He was being asked to appraise a group of ruby specimens, nine crystals with slightly polished faces, weighing between 1.8 and 18 kilos each. Take your pick: According to the man requesting the appraisal, the pieces were said to have been looted from either:

  1. A Buddhist monastery 300 years ago, or…
  2. The Royal Palace in Bangkok

Myself, I agree, these pieces were stolen, all right. No doubt from the "World's Biggest Sucker" display at Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum in Hollywood.

Postscript: First published in GK Magazine (2001, Vol. 3, No. 4, March–April, pp. 48, 72.). For auction records of fine rubies and sapphires, click below:

Unfortunately, since this article was published, I am still regularly contacted regarding my opinion on this or that extraordinary rough _________ [you fill in the blank]. So let me make this as clear as I can. Such offers are scams, shams designed to part the gullible with their bank accounts. I don't care what the appraisals say, such stones are worth little, for the simple reason that Mother Nature does not make her fine gems in large size. Go ahead, prove me wrong. In the words of the immortal Clint Eastwood: "Make my day."

 

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