The first piece in my art quilt series honoring the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection was always going to be the Victoria-Transvaal.
Why not start with the Hope Diamond?
A few reasons actually. The National Gem Collection consists of approximately 10,000 gems, the largest collection of its kind in the world. The gems are stunning in their own right and their stories are often equally as remarkable. However, most are overshadowed by the lore of the Hope Diamond. My goal is to introduce you to these lovelies, many as equally gorgeous as the Hope, but less well-known.
A 20th Century Find
Compared with other famous gemstones, the Victoria-Transvaal is just a baby. In either 1950 or 1951, a 240-carat diamond was discovered in the Premier mine in South Africa’s Transvaal region. The Baumgold Brothers acquired the magnificent rough crystal and cut it into two magnificent pear-shape champagne-colored gems.
The smaller gem (well, if you consider 64 carats “small”) was dubbed the Natasha Diamond. The larger sibling stone — weighing in at 75-carats — was named the Transvaal Diamond. It was cut with an astonishing 114 facets. Most brilliant cut gems have 58. It has since been recut down to 67.9 carats to enhance its brilliance.
Bursting With Brilliance
The fancy yellow-brown-colored gem that is the Victoria-Transvaal became the dazzling centerpiece of the current necklace. The gold and platinum necklace is comprised of 66 round, brilliant-cut diamonds, fringed with 10 drop motifs, each set with two marquise-cut diamonds, a pear-shape diamond, and a small round brilliant-cut diamond. In addition to that cast of 106 stones, two marquise-cut diamonds sit atop the Transvaal bringing the total diamond count to 109. The total carat weight of the necklace in diamonds is 112.57. That’s a lot of bling.
A Love Story
In 1976 the Baumgold Brothers had reacquired the necklace and decided to put it up for auction. Twelve prequalified buyers were invited to the closed auction, including Leonard and Victoria Wilkinson.
Leonard Evert “Wilky” Wilkerson graduated from high school in 1932 in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. He married his hometown sweetheart, Victoria Dempnock, just a few years later. They operated a corner grocery store for years, but Wilky’s dream was to own a lumber mill. In 1958, he started the Coin Millwork Company in Prineville, Oregon, making door and window frames and millwork. His business grew to become the largest millwork operation in one location in the world.
Victoria wasn’t keen on the idea of bidding on the necklace. She told Wilky, “We’re just members of the common herd.” But she relented and travelled to Palm Springs for the auction and won the necklace with a bid of $430,000, the 3rd highest price of a single piece of jewelry ever recorded in the United States.
The Wilkinsons received numerous offers to sell the necklace, some reaching as high as $550,000. But they refused to sell They had other plans for the gem.
In 1977, the Wilkinsons donated the necklace to the Smithsonian National Gem Collection. Wilky’s only condition? That it be named in honor of his wife, Victoria.
You can see the Victoria-Transvaal diamond in its current setting in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C).
You can also check out my previous gemstone quilts by visiting my website MJKinman.com. Shine on!
Thanks to some great quilting buddies, Joanne R. and Carol H., I now have the Victoria-Transvaal-inspired top pieced. I’ve sourced some lovely gray velvet for the backing and plan to baste this 6′ x 5′ work together later today! (Thursday, November 11, 2021) More pics coming!
By the way, I need a name! Any suggestions for this piece?