Yes, these gem stones are surprisingly big. Yes, they're rare, sparkly and extremely valuable — priceless even. But with each piece of eye candy comes a fascinating history. From huge pink diamonds to flawless clear ones, from glittering topaz to a giant pearl, read on for tales of royal birthday gifts, international smuggling and a fisherman's forgotten find.
Most expensive gem sold at auction
The Pink Star, the world's most valuable pink diamond, now holds the record as the most expensive gem ever sold at an auction. In April 2017, the 59.60-carat mixed cut diamond was sold at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong for $71.2 million. The bidding for the gem, which was found by De Beers at a mine in Africa in 1999, reportedly lasted only five minutes before Hong Kong-based jewelry retailer Chow Tai Fook placed the winning bid.
"It's the largest pink diamond ever found in the history of humankind. It's an incredible color to it, and the sheer size of the stone already makes it so rare and so beautiful," Alexander Breckner, head of diamonds at jeweler 77 Diamonds, told the BBC.
World's largest pearl
This 75-pound pearl was found about 10 years ago off the island of Palawan in the Philippines by a fisherman who then kept the massive gem under his bed as a good luck charm. He almost forgot about it until packing recently for a move, according to Aileen Cynthia Amurao, a tourism officer in Puerto Princesa and relative of the fisherman. The Puerto Princesa pearl, which measures 1 foot wide and 2.2 feet long, may be worth as much as $100 million, but for now, there are no plans to sell it. Instead, Amurao says, it'll be used as a tourist attraction and is already displayed in city hall.
Second-largest jade stone
Miners in Burma recently uncovered a gigantic piece of jade worth about $170 million. The stone, found in Kachin State, measures 18 feet long, 18 feet wide, 9 feet high and weighs about 175 tons. Burma is the world's largest producer of jadeite and it's responsible for nearly half of the country's GDP. The new find would be the largest piece of jade ever found if not for the carved statue at Jade Buddha Palace in China, which weighs 260 tons and is the largest jade stone in the world.
The largest cut yellow topaz
The American Golden Topaz was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1988. (Photo: Karen Neoh/flickr)
This 172-faceted topaz is one of the largest faceted gems of any type in the world. The American Golden Topaz weighs 22,892.5 carats (about 10 pounds) and is housed in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Gem-cutter Leon Agee spent two years in the late 1980s fashioning it from a 26-pound crystal found in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Largest faceted blue sapphire
The Blue Giant of the Orient, set in a platinum brooch surrounded by diamonds, is the largest faceted blue sapphire in the world at 486.52 carats. It originated in Sri Lanka (as did the second two biggest sapphires) around 1907, was reportedly sold to an American and stayed out of the public eye for about 100 years before resurfacing at a 2004 Christie’s auction in Geneva in 2004. It was sold to an anonymous Briton for $1 million.
Largest single-shard of emerald
According to National Geographic, the Bahia Emerald was found in the eastern part of Brazil in 2001. When it was discovered in a mine in the jungle, it weighed 840 pounds and had a mind-blowing 180,000 carats. In fact, as the video above explains, one of the pieces of emerald jutting out of the stone was the size of a man's thigh! Some estimates value the unique find at $400 million.
Which is why it should come as no surprise that this massive emerald has been the subject of theft and smuggling charges in Brazil, and a long-term court battle in the U.S. between a group of gem traders, miners and a real estate tycoon who are all vying for ownership, the L.A. Times reports. The Bahia Emerald is currently held at a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lockup as authorities in the U.S. and Brazil try to straighten it all out.
Largest clear cut diamond
The colossal Cullinan Diamond was found in a South African mine of the same name in January 1905. The blue-white diamond was a hefty 3,106 carats, making it the largest ever found. It was shipped off to England, where a few years later it was presented to King Edward VII on his birthday. An Amsterdam-based company cut the stone into nine cut and polished diamonds. The two main stones, Cullinan I (aka The Great Star of Africa and pictured above) and Cullinan II (aka The Lesser Star of Africa) were given to King Edward VII, and both reside in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels. The other seven (weighing a total of 208.29 carats) belong to Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited them from her grandmother, Queen Mary.
World's largest opal
The largest and most valuable gem opal ever found, the Olympus Australis was discovered in the Eight Mile opal field in Coober Pedy, Australia, in 1956 by a 27-year-old Adelaide man named Frank Titheradge. Named in honor of the Olympic Games being held in Melbourne at the time, this magnificent opal weighs 3,540 grams (17,000 carats), is 11 inches long and just over 4 inches wide and tall. In 2005, it was valued around $2 million. To catch a glimpse, head to the showroom of Altmann and Cherny, an opal company in Melbourne.
Largest cut and polished aquamarine
The National Museum of Natural History not only houses the aforementioned American Golden Topaz (and thousands of other gems), but it's also home to the Dom Pedro, which is the largest single piece of cut aquamarine in the world. Mined in Brazil in late 1980s, it was named for Brazil’s first two emperors, Dom Pedro Primeiro and his son, Dom Pedro Segundo. According to the Smithsonian, the obelisk was designed by gem artist Bernd Munsteiner and measures 14 inches tall, 4 inches across the base and weighs in at 10,363 carats (4.6 pounds).
Largest pink diamond
Daria-e Noor (also spelled Darya-ye-Noor and Darya-e Noor) means 'Sea of Light.' (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The pale pink color of the Darya-ye Noor is one of the rarest diamond colors out there. And the story for this beauty goes back centuries. According to the Iran Chamber Society, it was found in India in 1739 and brought to Iran by Nader Shah, one of the most powerful rulers in Iran's history. After his death, it fell into the hands of Agha Mohammad Khan, founder of the Qajar dynasty. It occasionally was loaned to Iranian dignitaries as a sign of honor and used during coronation ceremonies, but mostly it was kept hidden in the Golestan Palace treasury museum.
Including the frame, it is 7.2 centimeters high and 5.3 centimeters wide, and it weighs between 182 to 186 carats.
Largest faceted diamond ever cut
The Golden Jubilee Diamond was designed by Gabi Tolkowsky in 1988. (Photo: top ten thailand/Wikimedia Commons)
The Golden Jubilee Diamond got its name after being presented to the King of Thailand in 1997 for the 50th anniversary of his coronation, otherwise known as his Golden Jubilee. Though it looks orange in color, the color is graded as "fancy yellow brown." The 545.67-carat gem was designed by Gabi Tolkowsky in 1988, who also designed the 273.85-carat Centenary Diamond, which is the largest D-Flawless diamond in the world. The rough stone was found in South Africa's Premier Mine — an underground diamond mine owned by Petra Diamonds.
Largest ruby in the world
The 125West Ruby is the largest ruby in the world at 18,696 carats and weighing just over 8 pounds. It's a rough gemstone, but if it were to be cut en cabochon (which means shaped or polished rather than faceted), it could produce something very rare and, frankly, cool: a six-ray star ruby. This effect is caused by light reflecting off tiny fibers of rutile, or needle-like mineral crystals, in the ruby. The star seems to travel across the surface of the gem as it's moved, and it's best visible under a single-light source, like the sun or a spotlight.
Largest star sapphire
We mentioned six-ray star rubies — the Star of Adam is a star sapphire, and it's believed to be the biggest ever discovered. Like the Blue Giant of the Orient, it was found in Sri Lanka — specifically, in the southern city of Ratnapura, which is known as the City of Gems. The blue sapphire weighs in at 1,404 carats and is valued around $100 million.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in September 2016.