Smithsonian Gets Big Burma Ruby

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History has had in its permanent collection large, fine-quality diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and numerous other gemstones, but a large gem-quality ruby has been absent—until now. The national gem collection recently acquired one of the world’s largest and finest gem-quality rubies—a spectacular 23.10-ct. Mogok Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring, accented by two trilliant-cut diamonds. The ring was donated by businessman Peter Buck in memory of his wife Carmen Lúcia.

Buck, a former nuclear scientist and co-owner of the Subway sandwich restaurant chain, on Saturday, Oct. 16, officially donated the Carmen Lúcia Ruby to the museum’s National Gem Collection, part of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals. According to Dr. Jeffery Post, the Smithsonian’s curator of gems and minerals, the ruby will be on exhibit indefinitely.

“We are proud to bring this remarkable gemstone to the American people through the generosity of Peter Buck,” says Cristián Samper, director of the National Museum of Natural History. “It is one of the most significant additions to the National Gem Collection since the Hope Diamond came to the museum in 1958.”

“The Carmen Lúcia Ruby is a breathtakingly beautiful gemstone and a magnificent gift to the American people. It is the largest and finest faceted ruby on public display and will quickly become one of the icons of our National Gem Collection,” said Dr. Post.

Retail jeweler Frank Cappiello, of Cappiello Jewelers in Danbury, Conn., helped Dr. Post secure the ruby for the collection. Cappiello tells JCK that he learned about the ruby from Dr. Post when they first met, about three years ago. Dr. Post explained how the museum acquires gems for the collection and told Cappiello that he knew of a very fine ruby that would be a nice addition to the collection. “Jeff said that if I knew of anyone who might be interested [in buying the ruby and donating it to the collection] … well, it just stuck in my head,” says Cappiello.

Dr. Buck, ranked #165 on Forbes magazine’s “Wealthiest” list, is said to be worth $1.5 billion—and Mrs. Buck was a regular visitor to Cappiello’s. “She was in every other day,” says Cappiello. “She was always in the nail salon next door.” And she’d bring all of her sisters with her. Five or six of them—Cappiello couldn’t remember them all.

On one occasion, Mrs. Buck noticed photos of the ruby on Cappiello’s desk. But Carmen Lúcia Buck recently had been diagnosed with colon cancer and was receiving radiation treatments at the time she saw the photos. Cappiello knew it was not the time to sell jewelry, but rather to simply be a friend. “It was one of the lowest points of her life,” says Cappiello. “She saw the pictures of the ruby. Then we let it go. It wasn’t the right time for that.”

It was only after Mrs. Buck passed away (in March 2003) that Cappiello remembered Dr. Post’s quest. After all, it wasn’t unlike Mrs. Buck to be generous with her good fortune. She was always giving gifts to her family and friends. In 2001, she and Dr. Buck had donated $3 million to the Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital, creating the Carmen Lúcia and Peter Buck Endowed Chair in Surgical Oncology. Cappiello also recalled that she had built a few hospitals in her home town of Minas Gerais, Brazil. So, when the appropriate time arose, Cappiello suggested to Dr. Buck that the ruby—the one his wife had admired—would make a terrific gift to the American people … if he would consider it.

“My wife, Carmen Lúcia, was an extraordinary woman,” says Dr. Buck. “I made this gift as a tribute to her life. She was proud of her U.S. citizenship and dedicated her life to helping others. I hope many people will enjoy the Carmen Lúcia ruby.”

“I just feel very fortunate to be a part of it,” Cappiello says.

At 23.10 cts., the Carmen Lúcia Ruby is the largest faceted ruby in the museum’s National Gem Collection. While sapphire, emerald, and diamond gems weighing hundreds of carats exist, high-quality Burmese rubies larger than 20 cts. are rare. According to Dr. Post, the stone was mined from Mogok in the 1930s.

The National Gem Collection is recognized as the most important collection of priceless gemstones on public view in any museum in the world. The collection comprises more than 375,000 individual specimens including such famous pieces as the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire, plus a research mineral collection used by scientists around the world—all donated to the museum.