Florida gem enthusiast is donor behind Smithsonian's new treasure

Tue Dec 4, 2012 5:46pm EST
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By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida gem collector who donated a stunning new treasure that goes on permanent display this week at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington said the act was like parting with a child.

Jane Mitchell and her husband Jeffrey Bland, who are retired now in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida after successful careers in the surgical tools and medical devices business, donated the Dom Pedro Aquamarine to the museum.

Crafted by Bernd Munsteiner of Germany, a contemporary artist known as the "Picasso of Gems," it is the largest single piece of cut-gem aquamarine in the world and considered one of the most exceptional gemstone sculptures anywhere.

It will take its place alongside famous gemstones including the Hope Diamond and Marie Antoinette's earrings when it is unveiled on Thursday at its new home in the Smithsonian's Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.

In an interview late on Monday, the 64-year-old Mitchell, a gemologist herself, declined to say how much she and her husband paid for the piece when they acquired it about 13 years ago.

But blue-green aquamarines can rival emeralds in value and Mitchell said giving up Dom Pedro, so that it could go on permanent public display, was like parting with a child.

"It's like sending your youngster, who you've groomed and hope for with every good wish, off into the bigger world, to take their place in the bigger world. That's how I feel about Dom Pedro," she said.

Dom Pedro, named for Brazil's first two emperors, was fashioned from an enormous chunk of beryl crystal extracted from a mine in Brazil's Minas Gerais state in the late 1980s.   Continued...

The National Museum of Natural History will permanently display the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, pictured, which is the largest single piece of cut-gem aquamarine in the world, beginning December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History/Handout