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Rare Red Diamond Goes On Display At Smithsonian Museum

February 2, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An extremely rare red diamond, probably worth millions of dollars but mailed uninsured to the Smithsonian Institution in a plain cardboard box, went on display Tuesday at the National Museum of Natural History.

The origins of the unmounted, round-cut, 5.03-carat diamond are shrouded in mystery. Its last owner was Boston gem dealer S. Sydney DeYoung, who bequeathed it to the Smithsonian before he died in 1986.

Only five red diamonds are known to exist, and the Smithsonian’s is the only one to be displayed publicly anywhere in the world. The other four are in private hands and their whereabouts are unknown.

Because of their rarity, the red-hued diamonds are incredibly expensive. A purplish-red diamond weighing a little less than one carat was auctioned last April in New York for nearly $1 million, a record price for a diamond of that size.

That would make the DeYoung diamond, at more than five times the weight, worth about $5 million, although Smithsonian experts doubt that its true value is that high.

Still, said John Sampson White, the museum’s curator of gems, ″it is possible that we have here a $5 million diamond shipped in a 50-cent box.″

White wore a white cotton glove to hold the DeYoung diamond by a piece of brass wire up to a bright light. As he twirled the gem, its black depths sparkled with tiny flashes of red fire.

Then he gingerly placed it behind bulletproof glass in the museum’s Hall of Gems, alongside such legendary companions as the 45.5-carat Hope diamond - the world’s largest blue diamond - and the heart-shaped, 31-carat blue diamond once owned by Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III.

White finds it strange that gem dealers ″get very blase about shipping precious stones around the world″ by ordinary mail or even carry them in their shirt pockets.

When White learned of the red diamond bequest from DeYoung, who has handled gems belonging to the likes of Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth Taylor, he said, ″I expected to see an armored truck and a couple of armed guards pulling up one day.″

Instead, White said, the DeYoung red diamond arrived on his desk in a cardboard box, sent uninsured from Boston last October by registered mail. The postage totaled $11.58. Inside was an ordinary yellow invoice, addressed to White and simply listing the contents as ″one large red diamond.″

White speculates that the DeYoung diamond probably was part of a much larger stone, mined in South Africa, that was destined to be cut for industrial purposes until its owners discovered its red hues and realized its value as a precious gem.

But that’s all guesswork, White said. ″The whole subject of red diamonds is clouded in mystery,″ and nothing is known of the history of the Smithsonian’s latest acquisition except that DeYoung owned it for many years.

″He took that information to his grave,″ White said.

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