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Diamonds and Dusty Pages
Tracking the story of the Russian Crown Jewels
Welcome to USGS Corecast. I’m Kara Capelli. Four photos of never-seen-before Russian Crown Jewels were recently discovered in the USGS Library.
The Russian Crown Jewels today—their value is almost unimaginable. This discovery and the documentation it will provide researchers in the future is an extremely important find not only for the USGS but for researchers around gems and gemstones worldwide.
On this episode of Corecast, Richard Huffine, Library Director for the USGS, tells the story of this discovery.
Our discovery started in the personal library of a Mr. George Frederick Kunz. Mr. Kunz, who was a gemologist and a researcher, worked for a number of years for Tiffany & Co. and supported the U.S. Geological Survey in our Mineral Resources of the United States documentation. And when he passed away in 1934, he left his personal library to the USGS. We collected his material at that time and have been managing it ever since. But we never really took a very close look at what he had.
As we opened the pages in the materials that he had, we found several things documenting the Russian Crown Jewels. Our first discovery was really quite startling because the book that we found was not well described. There was no cover on it. It was simply a book of photographs that was in our collection.
As we opened it up though, we found that it was quite special for a number of reasons. The title page in Russian is a hand-colored illustration that documents—as we found out when we did the translation—the “Russian Diamond Fund,” which is the owning organization of the Russian Crown Jewels in Russia today. As we translated the cover page, we discovered that not only was the title of it the “Russian Diamond Fund,” but that it was actually dated from Moscow 1922. The Russian government documented this collection in several ways, and one of the ways was a collection of documentation that was published in 1925. It was called “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones.” This collection was actually rescinded after its publication in 1925, and there are probably less than 40 copies left in the world today. And we’re surprised ourselves to find that the USGS Library—thanks to Mr. Kunz—had that original “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones” volume as well.
Our first step was to compare our 1922 photo album to the 1925 publication on “Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones.” What we found was that 22 of the photographs in our photo album were actually used as prints in the 1925 publication. The really special part though was that we had four photographs in our photo album that document settings of gems that were not documented in the 1925 publication and therefore have yet to be known as part of the Russian Crown Jewels. This is very important for researchers moving forward in the future, knowing that there are four settings and four collections of gems that may have never been associated with the Russian Crown Jewels but were a part of that collection in 1922.
When we begin to look at the unique photos that are in the 1922 photo album but were not documented in the 1925 publication, the first piece we look at is a brooch. Its feature is a large sapphire in the center, and the setting is a bow made of diamonds. What we have found in our research is that that piece has surfaced since 1922, and there is an image of it in a 2000 publication called “Selling Russia’s Treasures.”
The second piece that we found is a bracelet, again with sapphires and diamonds. This bracelet is photographed in our photo album. It does not appear in the 1925 catalog. The bracelet, however, we found no further documentation about its existence today and we don’t know if it continues to exist. The third piece is a necklace, and the photograph shows the necklace in three separate pieces in tiers and it is set with emeralds. We have not seen any image of this in existence and do not know if this piece still exists today either.
So the fourth piece is probably the most exciting, and it is a large diadem. And it is set with nine large sapphires and covered with diamonds, including drop diamonds off of large semi-circular designs. We’ve done a lot of research on this as well and believe that an illustration of this diadem may exist in an early work designed for the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in 1874. However, we’ve not found any image of this other than that illustration.
The large photograph of the Russian Crown Jewels that includes all of them on a table does feature three of the pieces that we’ve seen documented in our photo album were not actually described and documented in the 1925 publication. The diadem features very prominently, as does the bracelet, but no information exists about why or how these pieces of jewelry were not included in the Russian Crown Jewels after our 1922 photo album was comprised.
USGS librarians continue to do research on the relationship between Mr. Kunz and the Russian Crown Jewels, and just how he came to own this one-of-a-kind, never-before-seen volume of photos. You can follow this story as it unfolds at library.usgs.gov. The USGS Library is one of the world's largest Earth and natural science repositories and a resource for researchers and the public worldwide. Thank you to USGS Library Director Richard Huffine for providing the information for this episode of Corecast.
Corecast is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Thanks for listening.
Title: Diamonds and Dusty Pages
Four previously undiscovered photos of undocumented Russian Crown Jewels were recently discovered in the USGS library. The photos appear in a 1922 album called ‘Russian Diamond Fund ’ that was uncovered in the rare book room of the library.
Location: Reston, VA, USA
Date Taken: 12/18/2012
Video Producer: Kara Capelli , U.S. Geological Survey
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