|Biggest Star Sapphire?
The gemstone world has many stories of fortunes made, and some of fortunes lost as well. This is a true story of a fortune not quite made. But the dealer probably got what he deserved.
In February 1986, a Texas gemstone broker named Roy Whetstine was roaming the bins at the Tucson gem show when he came across a potato-sized stone that caught his eye. The seller said it was a lavender agate and wanted $15 for it. Whetsine offered him $10 and they closed the deal.
Nine months later, Whetsine announced his find to the world -- a 1,905 star sapphire, the largest in the world. It was more than 700 carats larger than the previous record-holder, the Black Star of Queensland, discovered in 1948. Whetstine said the gem was certified by the GIA and appraised at $2.28 million.
In February 1987, Whetstine was back at Tucson trying to sell his star sapphire, now cut and polished and re-named The Life and Pride of America. There apparently weren't any takers, but some gemstone experts had a chance to examine the stone. As reported by The New York Times, John Sampson White, curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, called it "an insignificant stone." "Technically it's a sapphire," he said, but to qualify as a gem, its color should be attractive. "The color," he said, "is awful - it's just kind of muddy gray." Mr. White estimated the value of the stone to be as little as a few hundred dollars.
The Smithsonian's opinion didn't help Whetstine. But things got worse as more information about the case emerged. Follow-up stories in the news disclosed that Lawrence A. Ward, the jewelry store owner who had issued the $2.28 million appraisal, had lost his membership in the American Gem Society as a result of numerous complaints that he had inflated appraisals. In addition, court records showed that two lawsuits had been filed against Whetstine and Ward several years before for inflating the value of gemstones.
The whole case began to look like a con. The original seller was never revealed, and there were reports that Ward the appraiser had appraised a stone of the exact same carat weight several years before Whetstine said he bought the stone in Tucson. Now both Whetstine and the sapphire looked bad. But at last report he was still trying to sell the stone for whatever he could get for it.
- First Published: February-22-2008
- Last Updated: October-06-2010
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