Famous History

By Eileen R. Eichhorn

Who would have guessed in in the year 2015 two stone rings would be so popular again! Do you know the history of this love gift? The ring style has a famous past: “Toi et Moi” means “You and Me” in French and refers to a ring that showcases two stones.  These were common engagement rings during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, symbolizing two souls that are intertwined.  The ring that is believed to have started the trend was the gorgeous sapphire and diamond engagement ring Napoleon gave to Josephine in 1776.

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The engagement ring the young Napoleon “must have broken his wallet” to buy for his fiancée Josephine shattered expectations on March 24, 2013 at the Osenat auction house in France when it sold for close to $1 million according to Osenat’s expert, Jean-Christophe Chataignier.

The winning bidder, who wanted to stay completely anonymous, paid $949,000, almost 50 times the $20,000 Osenat had expected to bring in. Including the buyer’s 25 percent commission to Osenat, the total price for the ring was $1.17 million.

“In my wildest dreams, I did not think we would outsell the estimate by more than 47 times,” said Osenat’s Emily Villane, who led the auction. “We based the estimates in our catalog on the actual market value of the ring, minus Napoleon and Josephine provenance. It is not our job to tell bidders how much they should pay for the historical premium.”

There was intense interest in the ring, she said. In addition to the 300 people in the Fontainebleau auction house, about 50 more international bidders were hooked up by phone.

Osenat, which is in Fontainebleau, outside Paris, also received more than 40 written bids by email from the U.S. alone, she said.

The auction house set up extra phone lines and hired 10 additional people to be prepared for the sale.

“It was 15 minutes of relentless bidding,” Villane said. “We opened at 10,000 euros, I raised it to 50,000 euros. From then on it was going up by 10,000. When the hammer went down at 730,000 euros there was a huge applause.”

The sale was timed to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Josephine’s birthday.

The golden ring is in an 18th century setting called “toi et moi,” “You and Me,” with opposing tear-shaped jewels — a blue sapphire and a diamond. The carat weight of the two gems is little less than a carat each.

Osenat already had clues that it had a blockbuster on its hands several days before the auction.

Ruby

By Eileen R. Eichhorn

Throughout most of recorded history, ruby has been the world’s most valued gemstone. Even diamond was considered common in comparison to the supreme beauty and value of this glowing red gem. Named from the Latin word for its hue, ruber, ruby is the epitome of the boldest of colors: the gem of desire, passion, courage, and emotion.

In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called ratnaraj, or “king of precious stones.” In the Bible, only wisdom and virtuous women are “more precious than rubies.”

Early in the eleventh century, Persian sage al-Biruni was only conveying the popular wisdom of the time when he wrote that ruby has “the first place in color, beauty and rank” among all gems.

Nine centuries later, British author Max Bauer, in his 1894 Masterpiece Precious Stones, writes: “A clear, transparent, and faultless ruby of a uniform red color is at the present time the most valuable precious stone known.”

Granted, the value of fine ruby relative to other highly prized gems wasn’t as extreme in Bauer’s day as it had once been. Around 1550, Italian goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini reported that the finest one-carat ruby cost eight times more than a comparable-quality one-carat diamond. By Bauer’s time, the same ruby was only two times as expensive as its diamond equivalent.

Nevertheless, a 2:1 value ratio between fine rubies and diamonds is impressive. Certainly, ruby’s status as the most valuable gem of the age helps to explain why England took the rather drastic step of invading and annexing Upper Burma in 1885 when it learned a French company would begin mining of this gem at the famed Mogok ruby tract—the most celebrated source for ruby ever known and still the most important today.

Although certain color tones are associated with different country’s mines: Burma, now known as Myanmar, with pure reds, Vietnam with vivid pinkish rubies with exceptional clarity, Sri Lanka with more pastel softer pinkish reds, Thailand with dark red to burgundy, Kenya with translucent stones with juicy pure reds, Madagascar with pure transparent reds, color alone cannot tell you where a stone was born: a laboratory report may be required. When confirmed, stones from Burma’s famed Mogok mine command a premium, particularly if the color is natural.

Most rubies are heated almost to 2,000 degrees in order to maximize the red and remove secondary colors of blue and brown. Some rubies are also heated to improve clarity. Sometimes glassy residue can be trapped in fractures when the ruby cools. Heat enhancement is stable, does not require special care, and does not reduce the stone’s value unless significant residue is present.

If ruby shows no signs of heating, it is very rare. The stone’s natural color must be confirmed by a laboratory report if it is to command a premium. The ruby must also possess a pleasing color and appearance.

Ruby is most common in oval and cushion shapes. Other shapes may be difficult to find in sizes above a carat. Rubies above five carats are extremely rare and valuable.

Ruby, like sapphire, is the mineral corundum, one of the most durable minerals, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide. Corundum has a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale and is also extremely tough. In its common form, it is even used as an abrasive. As a result, rubies are the most durable of gems. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.