Today, the diamond and gemstone trade operates as a robust global behemoth. Irrespective of gemstone’s fluctuation in value at any given time, massive volumes of stones and jewelry move around the globe annually to reach the end user. Tremendous thought and care are paid towards keeping these valuables safe. Given their relatively small size to their worth, extraordinary attention helps to assure that what left its origin makes it to its destination. Secure packaging with sophisticated tracking mechanisms and hefty insurance bring peace of mind to all parties.
Looking back over time, some of the world’s most unforgettable gemstones considered to be virtually priceless have made their way safely around the globe without much ado.
Nearly every diamond lover today knows about the famed Cullinan diamond (named for mine owner Thomas Cullinan) discovered in South Africa in 1905. Methods of secure transport were hardly inventive in those days. When the 3,106.75-carat crystal rough set out for its journey to England, they did however create an elaborate ruse to throw off would-be saboteurs. With much pomp and publicity, the British dispatched some serious looking security personnel from London to escort the precious (but fake) cargo by steamer ship back to Britain. That was pretty clever. It was the world’s largest diamond discovery after all. In reality, the stone had been popped into a nondescript box and simply mailed using their postal system.
When the spectacular Hope Diamond, purchased by legendary jeweler Harry Winston needed to go to its new home in Washington’s Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a similarly low-tech method was used. The dazzling fancy blue diamond set into a diamond neckpiece had a storied past dating back centuries. It also picked up a reputation for being cursed . . . which may have been a shrewd tactic to increase its mystique. Nonetheless, its last owner, Washington socialite, Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean enjoyed it with carefree abandon. Stories recount that she even allowed her very large dog to traipse around her property wearing the necklace around its neck like a dog collar to shock her visitors.
After she died in 1947, Winston personally swooped up her entire collection including the famed Hope diamond necklace. The one-of-a-kind treasure went around the world for the next decade, displayed at charitable events courtesy of Harry Winston Inc. But in 1958 he donated it to the Smithsonian Museum where it has become one of its main attractions ever since.
When it came time for him to ship the famed 45.52 carat blue rock to the Museum, he chose a familiar carrier to do the job; the Post Office. “It’s the safest way to mail gems,” Winston told The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.). “I’ve sent gems all over the world that way.”
Winston boxed up his precious stone via registered, First-Class Mail, from New York City to the Museum in D.C. The postage total for this incalculable jewel set him back $2.44, for postage plus $142.85 for a million bucks’ worth of insurance. A few days later D.C. postman James Todd picked up the little package at the city Post Office and drove it to the Natural History building. Entering by a side door, Todd took the elevator to the Gem Hall, and delivered it to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The US Postal Service history records state, “Todd admitted to being a little ‘shaky,’ according to a story in The Washington Post the next day, not because of the diamond’s value or reputed curse but because he was unused to so much attention when he did his job.”
One jaw-dropping detail that seems to have gone largely unnoticed with the Hope Diamond shipment is the label itself. Today jewelers come up with all kinds of cleverly devised return address names to throw off a possible heist during shipment. National Baby Bottle Company might be one, or something as vague as Fulfillment Center. Even that sounds like something that might be valuable. But look at the image of the Hope Diamond’s shipping package – it clearly states Harry Winston Inc., with its flagship New York City address. Amazing.
These bits of gemstone history remind us of the rich storied past of many of jewels the world has come to treasure. In a way though, every natural diamond or gemstone has had its own colorful journey to its end user, wherever that may be. And when it arrives, the story continues.