Shiny, pretty rocks — jewels and gemstones have fascinated human beings since ancient times. Jewels decorated the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and have been the favorite baubles of kings and queens for thousands of years.
Some of the stones on our list are valued in the millions for their rarity, like the elusive blue or red diamond. Others have a long history that includes centuries of royal families and crown jewels, including one or two that are said to come with a curse.
In our modern world, these giant gemstones are coveted by international jewellers and collectors, billionaires with an eye for sparkling stones like London’s Harry Winston and Laurence Graff. With mines in many areas of the world going into heightened production as tensions fall, the market seems to come up with a brand new “most expensive gemstone in the world” every few months. Here’s a look at some of history’s record breaking jewels.
25 The Graff Venus – The World’s Largest Heart-Shaped Diamond
Graff has become one of the biggest name in the world of big gemstones, and in 2016, the company announced the creation of the Venus, at 118.78 carats, the largest heart shaped diamond in the world. It’s not just the staggering size of this beauty. To be specific, it's the largest D-color, flawless heart shaped diamond in the world.
The D-color rating means that it is colorless, the most valued rating for white diamonds. Venus was cut from a 357-carat rough diamond that was discovered at a mine in Lesotho in Southern Africa.
Since the Venus has not come up for sale, it’s hard to say how it would be valued, but similar stones of slightly lesser size have sold for $15 million.
24 The Taj Mahal – A Diamond With A History
The heart-shaped diamond known as the Taj Mahal is said to date back to the 17th century and the Mughal emperor who built the storied Taj Mahal (the palace in India) for his wife.
By the 20th century, it had found its way into the hands of actor Richard Burton, who gave it to actress Elizabeth Taylor for her 40th birthday. After Liz got the stone, she had it turned into a necklace with a Cartier gold chain set with rubies and more diamonds.
In December 2011, the legendary stone sold for $8.8 million at an auction of Taylor's jewelry in New York City. The sale, however, turned into a dispute when the buyer asked to cancel the sale and for their money back. Elizabeth Taylor's estate refused.
23 La Peregrina – The Wandering Pearl
La Peregrina means the pilgrim or wanderer, and this very large, naturally teardrop-shaped pearl earned the name by wandering its way through 500 years of history. In the early 16th century, an African slave harvested the pearl in the Gulf of Panama, weighing about 4 ounces. For his trouble, he won his freedom, and the pearl eventually found its way to Spain, becoming part of the Spanish Crown Jewels. In 1554, Philip II of Spain sent the pearl to Mary I of England as a pre-wedding present, and it stayed in England until her passing in 1558. La Peregrina then returned to Spain where it was a favorite jewel of Spanish queens until 1696. Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon) ruled Spain for five years, and took the pearl with him when he fled in 1813. It stayed in the family, traveling from Spain to the US to France, and was sold to a British lord in the mid-1800s.
Actor Richard Burton bought it for his then wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1969, and had the pearl set into an elaborate necklace with rubies and diamonds.
After Taylor's passing, it sold to a private Asian collector in 2011 for $11.8 million.
22 The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond And A Controversial Recut
The large blue diamond known as the Wittelsbach Diamond was rumored to have come originally from the Kingdom of Golconda in India, sold to King Philip IV of Spain in 1664 for his daughter. It later found itself part of the crown jewels of Austria and Bavaria for centuries.
Super collector Laurence Graff bought the stone at an auction in 2009 for $24.3 million. He then did the almost unthinkable and recut the stone down to its current 31.06-carat size in a shimmering cushion cut, losing 4.52 carats in the process.
The gamble, however, definitely paid off. The recutting process was said to improve the color, clarity, and brilliance – all aspects that determine the value of diamonds – and just three years later, in 2011, Graff sold the stone now known as the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond to the Qatari royal family for a reported $80 million.
21 The Piercing – And Record Setting – Oppenheimer Blue Diamond
From the time of its sale in May 2016 until April 2017, the Oppenheimer Blue Diamond reigned as the most expensive jewel ever sold at auction.
The 14.62-carat vivid blue diamond sold for $57.5 million in Geneva, Switzerland.
The stone was named after its previous owner, a member of the famous diamond trading Oppenheimer family, and was renowned for its gorgeous color. At the time, it was the largest vivid blue diamond ever to come to auction. It was sold set in platinum and flanked by two white diamonds in a ring.
20 The Pink Star Takes The Crown For $71.2 Million
With its vivid pink color and flawless quality, the Pink Star Diamond set records when it sold at a Sotheby’s auction in April 2017 for $71.2 million. The stone was originally mined by De Beers in South Africa in 1999 and was first known as the Steinmetz Diamond. It took 20 months to cut the 135.2-carat rough stone down to the flawless 59.6-carat oval diamond it is today, and more than 50 models were used to experiment on before any cuts were made to the actual stone. In 2003, it was part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
In 2013, the stone went to auction and sold for $83 million to a New York diamond cutter, but the buyer couldn’t pony up all that cash in the end, and it was returned.
It became the most expensive stone sold at auction in 2017, and was purchased by a Hong Kong conglomerate after only five minutes of bidding. It is now known as the Chow Tai Fook Pink Star.
19 The Orange Is A Rare And Gorgeous Stone
Some stones' value is determined by their rarity as well as their size and quality. While natural orange diamonds per se aren't as rare as some other sparkly shades, a pure, evenly colored Vivid Orange diamond is extremely rare. The orange shade, often called pumpkin, comes from nitrogen in the rock that is absorbed in a specific pattern so that it absorbs blue and some yellow light.
The Orange is the simple name given to this 14.82-carat beauty that sold for a record-setting value of $35.5 million in 2013.
It was three times larger than any other similarly graded orange diamond previously known.
18 The Lesedi La Rona Diamond - 1,109 Carats Of Mother Nature's Finest Work
It was Lucara Diamond Corp., a company with headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, and mines in Botswana, that was responsible for unearthing the enormous rough diamond they call the Lesedi La Rona.
The 1,109-carat rough diamond was the largest stone mined in more than 100 years, making it the third largest overall, and only the second largest of similar quality.
It first went up for auction in June 2016, and eventually sold for $53 million to world-renowned diamond mogul Laurence Graff in September 2017. It will take years to properly plan and then cut a stone of this size.
17 The Hope Diamond’s Journey From King Louis XIV To The Smithsonian
Arguably the most famous diamond in the world still, the Hope Diamond was discovered in Golconda, India, in 1666. Since then, it has journeyed across the globe. The Hope Diamond is 45.42 carats and sports a dark shade of gray-blue in an antique cushion cut. The diamond found its way into the French Crown Jewels during the reign of King Louis IV in 1668, and stayed there until the French Revolution in 1792, when it was looted during the revolutionary mayhem. It reappeared in 1839 in the possession of a London collector by the name of Henry Philip Hope, who gave the stone its moniker.
After passing through the hands of several more members of the 1%, one of whom had it set with 16 white diamonds in a necklace by Cartier, it was purchased by Harry Winston in 1949.
He donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is still on display. While it’s been off the market for some time, its current value is estimated at $200 to $250 million.
16 The Perfect Ruby
Diamonds aren’t the only best friend for anyone looking for expensive precious stones. The Sunrise Ruby, also called the Burmese Ruby, set a world record in 2015.
It sold for $30.42 million, making it the most valuable stone that wasn’t a diamond.
Rubies are valued according to their color, with the most expensive sporting a shade known as pigeon’s blood. Clarity isn’t as much a factor in pricing as color, and the Sunrise Ruby’s perfect shade is what sold it. The Sunrise Ruby weighs 25.59 carats, with Cartier creating a setting with diamonds. The name comes from a poem by Rumi, a renowned Islamic poet.
15 The Emerald That Rockefeller Bought
When it sold to Harry Winston in June 2017, the Rockefeller Emerald broke the record for the highest per carat price for emeralds at Christies auction house. At $304,000 per carat, the gorgeous green 18.04-carat stone sold for $5.5 million. Emeralds, like rubies, are valued based on their color, with the classic glowing green being the most expensive. While hard, they are also a brittle stone, and even the most expensive often feature noticeable inclusions. The Rockefeller Emerald, in the classic octagonal cut, is a rare stone that has no inclusions. That, and a provenance that provided proof of the stone’s origins from the time that John D. Rockefeller bought it for his wife in 1930, helped boost the price to record levels.
14 The Blue Belle Of Asia Outshines Diamonds
Sure, it’s set in a multi-strand necklace of sparkling white diamonds, but the large sapphire known as the Blue Belle of Asia is clearly the star of the show in this piece of jewelry. The most expensive sapphire in the world was discovered in Sri Lanka in 1926, and weighs an incredible 392.52 carats. It was given a cushion cut that enhances its rich color and sparkle. Its pure-blue shade and incredible size give it a mesmerizing quality.
After passing through the hands of several gem traders, it went into a private collection and disappeared from the public eye for about 35 years.
The Blue Belle of Asia emerged set in the lavish diamond necklace in 2014 at an auction in Geneva, where it sold for $17.3 million.
13 100 Carats Of Vivid Yellow Sparkle
There’s nothing quite like the brilliant shimmer of a yellow diamond. The enormous 100.09 carat diamond known as the Graff Vivid Yellow became the most expensive yellow diamond ever sold at auction in 2014. The cushion cut stone went for $16.3 million. The Graff Vivid Yellow was cut from a huge 190-carat rough stone, luckily retaining all the fire of the original. The diamond was sold set in a gold ring with brilliant cut white diamonds on either side, but is detachable, and can also be worn as a pendant. Large yellow diamonds of this size are quite rare, and that no doubt boosted the price.
12 The Moussaieff, A Rare Red Diamond
At 5.11 carats, The Moussaieff is among the smallest of all the stones that make up this list. But, when it comes to red diamonds, it’s the color and not the size that really count. Natural red diamonds are among the rarest of all stones; in fact, some experts say that only about 20 real red diamonds have ever been discovered. The Moussaieff is classified as a Fancy Red, and is the largest red diamond ever graded by the GIA or Gemological Institute of America.
The original rough stone of 13.9 carats was discovered in the 1990s by a lucky farmer in Brazil.
The details are secretive, but a London based gem dealer Shlomo Moussaieff bought the cut stone in its present form in the early 2000s for about $8 million. The stone is valued today at about $20 million.
11 The Hope Spinel Sets Its Own Record
The Hope Spinel formed part of the world famous collection that gave the world one of its most notorious diamonds — the gray-blue Hope Diamond. The Hope Spinel went up for auction in 2015 for the first time in 98 years, igniting instant buzz. It was expected to go for about $300,000, but instead, it surprised experts with a sale price of $1.47 million. Said to come from the Kuh-i-Lal mines in Tajikistan, the spinel was retained by the Hope family until 1917, when it was sold for $1,600 (about $120,000 in today’s currency) to a wealthy Canadian family who kept it until 2015. Somewhere along the way, it was set with 6.5 carats of diamonds into the brooch/pendant it is today.
10 The Stone That Glows In The Dark
The Virgin Rainbow Opal was discovered in Coober Pedy, Australia in 2003, and it does indeed glow in the dark. Fun fact: It was discovered by John Dunstan, a man who appears in the Outback Opal Hunters TV show in Australia. Opals may have varying origins. The Virgin Rainbow Opal is an ancient stone — an opalized fossil, in effect. It was found inside the skeleton of an ancient sea creature called a Belemnite. It shimmers with various colors, and is especially brilliant with darker surrounding colors. The opal is valued at more that $1 million — the most expensive opal in the world — and is currently owned by the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, where it is on display for the public.
9 Josephine Is One Lucky Seven-Year-Old
In 2015, a Hong Kong billionaire by the name of Joseph Lau bought an exquisite 12.03-carat blue diamond for the staggering price of $48.4 million, or $4.01 million per carat.
He renamed it the Blue Moon of Josephine for his 7-year-old daughter.
Discovered in 2014 in South Africa, it was cut from a 29.6-carat rough blue diamond. What distinguishes the Blue Moon and makes it an exceptional stone is its exquisite color and quality. It is internally flawless and has the highest color and clarity grading. The Blue Moon set a new world record at its sale, briefly becoming the world's most expensive diamond.
8 The Cullinan Diamond Is A Crown Jewel
The largest gem quality diamond ever found weighed in at 3,106.75 carats, discovered in Cullinan, South Africa in 1905. The enormous Cullinan Diamond was whisked away to the diamond cutters of Amsterdam, and it took six months of planning to cut the unprecedented find into a total of nine large and 96 small gemstones. The largest stones were gifted to Edward VII of Great Britain. The most notable are The Great Star of Africa, still the second largest cut diamond in the world at 530.20 carats in a pear shaped cut, and the Cullinan II, a 317.40 carat cushion cut stone.
The Great Star or Cullinan I is on the Royal Sceptre and is on display in the Tower of London, while the Cullinan II forms the sparkling center stone of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain.
The value of all the stones that came from the original Cullinan Diamond is estimated at over $2 billion.
7 The Incredible Story Of The Baroda Pearls
Pearls of the highest quality — with perfectly matched color, size, and round shape to create a necklace — only occur naturally about once for every 10,000 oysters that are harvested. The Indian Maharajahs of antiquity were lucky enough to be able to collect natural pearls from all over the Gulf of Manar, but, even in their fabulous collections, the incredible seven-strand natural pearl necklace that came to be known as the Baroda Pearls were exceptional. The necklace was part of the collection of Maharaja of Baroda, Khande Rao Gaekwar between 1856 and 1870.
The Maharajah’s heirs were forced to return the crown jewels to the state once India had gained independence in 1947, but mysteriously, the seven strands were reduced to six.
Its fate in the hands of the government is unclear for about six decades, until a two-strand version that had been reconstituted from the original made its way to auction. The necklace sold for $7.1 million, together with matching pieces, in April 2007.
6 The Flawless Zoe Diamond Was The Most Expensive Diamond In The World...Briefly
The diamond market has been so hot in recent years that records are being broken all the time. Still, the internally flawless Zoe Diamond deserved its place in the sun. The Vivid Blue 9.75-carat diamond is smaller than many on this list, but its rarity of color and perfect sparkle pushed the price up to a record setting $32,645,000. While many of the world’s most valued gemstones come with a history and provenance that tells, sometimes, a centuries-long story of kings and queens, the Zoe Diamond came quietly from the collection of Paul Mellon, a New York financier, and sold for more than twice its estimated value in 2014.
5 It’s All About The Color Of The Graff Pink
Classified as a rare Fancy Intense Pink diamond, the type II color rated Graff Pink was given a perfect rating. That accounts for its staggering selling price of $1.85 million per carat, for a total of $46.2 million. The rectangular stone had been originally purchased by London collector/jeweller Harry Winston and held in his private collection for many years. At the time it went to auction in 2010, it was the largest sum ever paid for a stone. Fellow super collector Laurence Graff bought the diamond at auction and renamed it. He also recut the pink diamond. It is now set in a ring with two white diamonds on either side cut into the shape of the traditional Graff shield.
4 Apollo And Artemis – The $57 Million Pair Of Earrings
One pink and one blue, the Apollo and Artemis diamonds were cut in exactly matching pear-shaped cuts, weighing 16 carats and 14.54 carats respectively. The Vivid Blue Apollo diamond and Fancy Intense pink Artemis diamond went up for sale in May 2017 at Sotheby’s. David Bennett, a Worldwide Chairman at Sotheby’s, called them,
“by far the most important pair of earrings ever offered at auction.”
The pink diamond sold for $15.3 million, with the much rarer blue valued at $42.1 million. Both were purchased by the same buyer, and will remain together as a pair.
3 The Romantic Heart-Shaped La Légende Diamond
La Légende broke the record for heart shaped diamonds at auction with a sale price of $14.98 million for the 92-carat stone. The diamond was highly graded as a D-flawless, with a Type IIa rating, which is the purest type of white diamond made up only of carbon. While the price set auction records, however, the per-carat price was far below other similarly graded stones.
La Légende was sold as part of a necklace of cultured pearls, set in platinum with smaller accent diamonds.
An anonymous buyer won the bid, so we’ll never know where it went until it comes up for sale again.
2 Is The Giant Bahia Emerald Cursed?
The enormous 752-pound, boulder-sized Bahia Emerald stands more than 4 feet tall. It was found in the Carnaiba Mine in Brazil in 2001, about 300 feet down, and it took 10 people a week to get it out in the open. The 180,000-carat boulder includes the single largest emerald shard ever found and is valued at about $400 million. But where is this wonder of nature? Locked up in an evidence room in a Los Angeles court, where it has resided since 2009 as miners, explorers, and a motley crew of stakeholders battle over its ownership. It has been the subject of four lawsuits, and is said to ruin lives, with three bankruptcies, one burned down house, and more in its tangled history.
1 The Star Of Adam, The World’s Largest Blue Star Sapphire
When Kate Middleton got engaged to Prince William, her engagement ring — the one originally worn by Princess Diana — ignited a renewed interest in blue sapphires. In the fall of 2015, the world's largest star sapphire was discovered in Sri Lanka.
A star sapphire looks opaque until you put it under direct light, where it will show a six-pointed star. The large stone, certified at 1,404 carats, is owned by an anonymous collector who has dubbed it The Star of Adam.
It is valued at over $300 million. A stone of this size is expected to end up in a museum rather than cut into pieces of jewelry.