in The Business of Jewelry, Themed Jewels on September 24, 2015
Every now and then, a really good gem story comes along. This is one of those stories.
A very rare and large spinel that has not been offered for sale for 98 years is set to hit the auction block at Bonhams London on September 24, 2015. The unusual gemstone is called the “Hope Spinel,” it is a 50.13 carat rose hued stone that has an octagonal cut and was set as a brooch in the 19th century. Does the Hope name sound familiar? It should, read on.
The Hope Spinel in a sterling silver and gold setting surrounded by diamonds. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
Originally, the Hope Spinel was part of a gem collection owned by London banker, Henry Philip Hope (1774-1839). Hope came from a famous wealthy Anglo-Dutch dynasty of merchants and merchant bankers. The family was full of connoisseurs and collectors with both Henry and his brother, Thomas Hope being patrons of the arts. Thomas moved into art collecting while Henry Philip branched out into gem collecting. Henry Hope began forming his collection around 1800 and continued adding to it until his death in 1839. Yes, this is the Hope family that also once owned the famed blue Hope Diamond.
The Hopes, originally of Scottish descent, settled in Holland around 1664 and by the late 18th century the family business, Hope & Co, was Europe’s most powerful merchant bank, lending money to German princes, planters in the Danish West Indies, the governments of Sweden, Poland, Spain and France and Catherine the Great of Russia. In 1794, due to upheavals on the Continent caused by the French Revolutionary Wars, Henry Philip and his brothers Thomas (1769-1831) and Adrian Elias (1772-1834) and their uncle Henry Hope (1730-1812), relocated from Amsterdam to England.
The spinel is the “size of a small plum,” and Bonhams has a pre-sale estimate of £200,000 or the U.S. equivalent, $310,000 for the sale in London. The estimate range is set at $230,000 to $310,000.
As a side note, spinels are often confused with rubies because they are found in the same rock formations, are chemically similar and often have a pinkish red coloring. Here is a great quote from Richard Eden, the 16th century alchemist in 1555, regarding the two stones, “There is also.. an other kynde of Rubies which wee caule Spinelle.”
After Hope’s death in 1839, his collection was to be divided among his 3 nephews (Hope died childless). However, in his old age, Hope had left many “deeds of gift” and this set off a decade of very bitter and very public legal wrangling between the nephews. Eventually, the eight most valuable jewels went to his eldest nephew Henry Thomas Hope. Against his wishes, Henry Philip’s collection had forever been broken up.
Henry Thomas Hope ended up with not only the Hope Spinel but also, the Hope Diamond. When he died, the jewels were inherited by his widow, Anne Adele. As Henry and Anne’s only daughter was married to a notorious gambler, Anne bequeathed the gems to her second grandson, Lord Francis Hope. In nine years, facing bankruptcy, Francis Hope would be the one to sell the precious gems (Hope Spinel and Hope Diamond included) to cover his profligate spending habits and gambling debts. In 1901, he sold the Hope Diamond to a dealer. As we now all know, the Hope Diamond now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History’s Gem Hall in Washington, D.C. It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1958 by Harry Winston.
By 1917, Christie’s had sold the remainder of the Hope gem collection during an auction called,”The Hope Heirlooms” which lasted several days. The Hope Spinel went to a London dealer for $1,600 (about $122,140 in today’s dollars). The spinel later turned up in the collection of Lady Mount Stephen, who was married to a Canadian philanthropist living in the United Kingdom.
The spinel was passed down through that family, and the current owner is a direct descendant of Lady Mount Stephen. The direct family descendant is selling the stone through Bonhams on September 24.
“An incredible 98 years since it was last auctioned, the Hope Spinel is now for sale again for the first time since the original sale,” said Bonhams’ Emily Barber. “It’s not only had a amazing provenance but it’s also an exceptional gemstone in its own right.”
Bonhams said the Swiss gemological laboratory SSEF has confirmed the stone is from ancient mines due to it’s exceptional transparency, flawless cut, beautiful color and large size. It is “classed as an exceptional treasure of nature.”
Over 700 gems formed the Hope collection. Just before Hope died in December of 1839, “A Catalogue of the Collection of Pearls and Precious Stones formed by Henry Philip Hope Esq” was published. The catalogue was created by German jeweler, Mr.Bram Hertz. In the catalogue each gem was described and illustrated with line drawings. Herr Hertz introduced the collection:
“The formation of the collection of precious stones described in this catalogue has employed the proprietor during a great number of years. It is only as the result of the rare combination of the most refined taste, the highest and most ardent love for the beautiful productions of nature, and the abundant means of procuring them, that so rare and unique an assemblage of precious gems has been brought together; an assemblage which, from the number of magnificent and unique specimens, is unrivalled, and offers the connoisseur a vast field of research among the numerous varieties of colour and remarkable operations of nature; varieties which, on examination, are really astonishing, and, in many instances, almost incomprehensible.”
In 2010, Bonhams auctioned off that catalogue which had been in the Hope family for many generations.
Henry Phillip Hope’s, A Catalogue of the Collection of Pearls and Precious Stones, 1839. Sold at Bonhams in 2010 for $40,984. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.
At Hertz’s suggestion, Henry Philip’s collection was scientifically organized and the collection was kept in a bespoke mahogany case containing sixteen velvet lined drawers that were glazed and numbered. The gems were all of very fine quality and many had historic associations. The most extraordinary jewels were kept in Drawer 16. Two of the most valuable are below.
The Hope Diamond, the prize of the collection, a 45.52 carat fancy deep blue diamond, is believed to have been purchased by French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in India and sold to King Louis XIV of France in the late 1660s. When Hope acquired it, it was one of only a handful of blue diamonds known to exist.
The Hope Diamond, unmounted to mark its 50th anniversary at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Photo courtesy of Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. The diamond was donated to the Smithsonian Museum in 1958 by Harry Winston.
The Hope Pearl, a huge baroque natural pearl, then the largest known, measured 2 inches in length and 4.5 inches in circumference. The Hope Pearl was loaned to the Smithsonian in 2005 for a exhibition of the world’s greatest pearls. The pearl remains in private hands, it is owned by an anonymous British collector.
Henry Philip Hope had one of THE most important gem collections in history but you never read about him…..except for now. Thank you to Bonhams for much of the information above. It was so much fun to do the research for this story.