Jewellery has always held a special place in human history, often transcending its intrinsic value to become symbols of power, wealth, and beauty. Among the world’s most renowned gems and jewels, the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace is a testament to the allure of rare gemstones and their fascinating stories.
The Origin of the Bismarck Sapphire
The Bismarck Sapphire, a 98.57-carat gem of unparalleled beauty, traces its origin to the gem-rich mines of Burma, known today as Myanmar. Burma has a long-standing reputation for producing some of the world’s most exquisite sapphires, renowned for their exceptional clarity and intense blue colour.
The sapphire’s journey began when it was unearthed from the depths of these Burmese mines, where nature’s forces conspire to create precious treasures hidden beneath the earth’s surface. Here, over the ages, geological processes formed corundum crystals, and within these crystals, traces of iron and titanium lent the sapphire its highly coveted dark blue hue. However, the sapphire’s story takes an interesting twist as it left its geological origins and embarked on a journey of transformation and human appreciation.
The History of the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace
The Bismarck Sapphire has a storied history that spans continents and decades, mirroring the changing tides of fashion, society, and personal taste.
In 1926, during her worldwide honeymoon cruise on Warrior, at the time the largest and most expensive pleasure boat in the world, with her multi-millionaire husband Harrison Williams, Mona Strader Schlesinger Bush acquired the remarkable sapphire in Sri Lanka. Mrs Harrison Williams, a renowned fashion icon and philanthropist who was the first American to be named ‘The Best Dressed Woman in the World’ by a panel of top couturiers, including Coco Chanel, and who held a place in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, had a life filled with opulence and style.
In 1935, Cartier, Inc., the renowned jewellery house, took the extraordinary Burmese sapphire and transformed it into the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace. The necklace’s design, emblematic of the Art Deco era, featured the 98.57-carat sapphire as its centrepiece. Its dark blue hue, surrounded by colourless baguette cut diamonds and complemented by eight square cut blue sapphires, captured the essence of luxury and elegance that defined the era.
The necklace was named after its owner, Countess Mona von Bismarck, who married German Count Eduard von Bismarck in the late 1930s. Countess Bismarck was renowned for her impeccable style and elegance, and the necklace became one of her signature pieces. She often wore it at high-society events and galas, solidifying its status as a symbol of luxury and sophistication.
One of the most notable chapters in the necklace’s history came in 1959 when Countess Mona von Bismarck had it transformed. Originally designed with the sapphire set horizontally, the necklace was redesigned to position the sapphire vertically within its mounting. This alteration not only highlighted the gem’s stunning blue colour but also demonstrated the flexibility of Cartier’s designs.
The final act in the Bismarck Sapphire’s historical journey occurred in 1967 when Countess Mona von Bismarck generously donated the necklace to the Smithsonian Institution. This act of philanthropy ensured that the necklace would become part of the institution’s esteemed collection, allowing visitors from around the world to admire its beauty and rich history.
The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace Characteristics
The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace is a celebrated piece of jewellery that combines exceptional craftsmanship, stunning gemstones, and historical significance. Its unique characteristics have made it an iconic symbol of luxury and elegance.
At the heart of the necklace lies the Bismarck Sapphire, a breathtaking gemstone that weighs an impressive 98.57 carats. This mixed cushion cut sapphire exhibits a highly-prized medium dark blue colour, characteristic of sapphires from Burma, one of the world’s most renowned sources for these gems.
The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace features an intricate Art Deco-style platinum setting adorned with a dazzling array of diamonds. It features 312 colourless diamonds, which include both baguette and round brilliant cut gems. These diamonds are meticulously placed to create a stunning contrast with the dark blue sapphire. The diamonds not only add brilliance to the piece but also enhance its overall aesthetic appeal.
In addition to the central Bismarck Sapphire, the necklace features eight square cut sapphires. These sapphires are symmetrically placed around the edges of the setting, creating balance and harmony in the design.
Featured image: Chip Clark, digitally enhanced by SquareMoose / Smithsonian Institution