Wittelsbach-Graff diamond debuts

Wittelsbach-Graff diamond (Graff)

It’s official, as of yesterday: The famous Wittelsbach-Graff diamond did not come from the same stone as that other rare and storied blue diamond, the Hope, despite amazing similarities.

The two share “similar histories but were clearly found as separate stones,” said Jeffrey Post, curator of the Smithsonian’s gem and mineral collection, at the unveiling yesterday.

The stones, Post announced, are “not brother and sister but distant cousins” – a conclusion reached after extensive testing at the museum (pictured below). More tests will be done in the next six months.

Hope diamond in 1910 Cartier setting, (Smithsonian Institution)

At 45.5cts, the Hope is significantly deeper – a difference you can clearly see when viewing the stones from the side – and, thus, appears deeper blue. But both are similar in color, extremely rare, and stunning to behold. Both also have fascinating histories full of royal pedigree and mysterious disappearances.

The Wittelsbach took its name from the royal family of Bavaria who owned it for centuries, but it had disappeared from public view for 50 years. A colleague of Post’s once described it as “the most famous diamond the public has never seen.”

Curator Jeffrey Post (third from left) and Henri Barguirdjian, president of Graff Jewelers, watch testing on the Wittelsbach-Graff (photo Chip Clark)

You’ll have a chance to see it now, and to compare it with to the Hope, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC where they will be on display together until August. After that, the Wittelsbach-Graff may go on display at the Natural History Museum in London, according to its owner Laurence Graff.

Graff bought the 35.56ct deep blue diamond at a Christie’s auction in December 2008 for a record-breaking $24,311,191. (It’s slightly smaller now after Graff had it recut to repair damage and intensify the color.)

The stone was estimated at $15 million but Graff said yesterday he wasn’t surprised by what he ended up paying and that he had, in fact, predicted the final price to his son, François Graff, moments before the gavel came down. I looked at François, who was standing next to me at the preview, and he nodded and said, “It’s true.”

Christián Samper, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (left), and Laurence Graff (center), at the unveiling of the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond (photo Chip Clark)

Paying record-breaking prices, well into the millions, for a single stone is not unusual for Laurence Graff. He has been snagging the top lots in major jewelry auctions for several years, always willing to pay top dollar, and this ability to procure the world’s finest gemstones has made him billions of dollars. “It’s what we do,” his son said yesterday with a shrug. “But it’s become much more expensive.”

2 comments for “Wittelsbach-Graff diamond debuts

  1. February 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Wow, how cool that you got to see these two gems behind the scenes! I have to catch my breath and re-read the amount Graff paid for the W-G…even here in real estate-obsessed L.A., that price would be exorbitant for a 10-bedroom oceanfront mansion on the Pacific!

    I visited the NMNH’s new gem hall in December ’08 and was completely floored by the gorgeous collection of jewelry and cut stones from around the world. I mean, the hall was cool when I was a kid, but these days it’s positively exquisite.

  2. Cathleen McCarthy
    February 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Yes, that price (and lack of case around the W-G at the time) explains the burly, armed guards behind us. Anyone who arrived after 9 am was locked out.

    I know what you mean about the gem hall. What an amazing collection! Especially the gallery with all the historic pieces. I didn’t realize the Smithsonian had so many royal jewels!

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