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By Reviewed By Andreas Zabczyk Sep 09, 2014 Updated Jan 22, 2019

Famous Jewelry: The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace

The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace
The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace

The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace is one of the most famous gemstone jewelry pieces of our time. Countess Mona von Bismarck (1897-1983) was its former owner before she generously donated the priceless necklace to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in 1967. In honor of her invaluable donation, the Smithsonian Institute named the stunning sapphire and platinum necklace after her, thus it is known as "the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace".

Mona von Bismarck was a wealthy American fashion icon; a true socialite internationally famed for her beauty, Mona was featured dozens of times in both Vanity Fair and Vogue magazine. She was the star of several hit films and the inspiration for numerous paintings by some of the most celebrated artists of her time. Mona was married to several exemplary men throughout her remarkable life, including Henry J. Schlesinger; James Irving Bush (voted the handsomest man in America); Harrison Williams (supposedly the wealthiest man in America); Count Eddy von Bismarck (grandson of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck); and nobleman, Umberto de Martini.

Mona von Bismarck
Mona with a portrait of herself by Sorin - From Vogue Magazine

The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace features a stunning 98.6 carat cornflower-blue Sri Lankan (Ceylon) sapphire. The magnificent cushion-cut sapphire is set in a platinum pendant surrounded by white baguette diamonds and smaller square-cut blue sapphires. The necklace was designed in 1935 by world-renowned jewelry and watch-making firm, Cartier Inc. The sapphire and diamond pendant hangs from a single chain composed of platinum links separated by a series of round, brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds. In total, the necklace features an impressive 312 natural white diamonds and 9 blue sapphires of exceptional cut, clarity and color.

The famed centerpiece sapphire is known as the 'Bismarck Sapphire' and was believed to have been acquired in Sri Lanka by American millionaire, Harrison Williams, a utilities tycoon. In 1926, Harrison Williams presented the sapphire to Countess Mona von Bismarck during their honeymoon cruise (along with many other lavish gifts). Sri Lanka at the time was under British rule and had been actively mining fine quality gems from the Ratnapura district.

The Hall Sapphire and Diamond Necklace
The Hall Sapphire and Diamond Necklace

The Ratnapura district of Sri Lanka has an ancient history; it has been a source for fine ruby and sapphire since the reign of King Solomon, dating back to the 10th century BC. To this day, this river basin and region of Sri Lanka is still producing many of the fine sapphires we see on the market today. Taking into account the native cutting style of Sri Lankan gem cutters in 1926, it is believed that the original stone was much larger than 98.6 carats, and was recut by Cartier after its original acquisition. This is because Sri Lankan cutters always cut stones to maximize the preservation of carat weight. The recut Bismarck Sapphire is described as being perfectly proportioned and exhibiting exceptional color and craftsmanship.

The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace is credited as being one of the most influential examples of Art Deco jewelry. It truly helped define the sleeker and more streamlined style of Art Deco, which peaked from 1920 to 1935. Before this time, jewelry was more flowery and old-fashioned as seen in the style of Art Nouveau. Since 2010, the Bismarck Sapphire Necklace has been on display in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals between the famous "Hall Sapphire and Diamond Necklace" and the "Logan Sapphire". The Bismarck Sapphire Necklace is indeed one of the most prominent gemstone jewelry pieces displayed in the magnificent gems gallery of the Smithsonian.

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