Origin of name
Rosser Reeves Star Ruby gets its name from its one time owner Rosser Reeves, the advertising magnate and pioneer of television advertising, whose techniques were very popular in the 50s and 60s, and gave a successful boost to the election campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, which led to his election as the 34th President of the United States of America. Reeves purchased the Star Ruby in the mid 1950s, and since then the stone was his constant companion, and carried it around wherever he went, in the belief that it brings good luck. Subsequently in the year 1965, Mr. & Mrs. Rosser Reeves donated the renowned gemstone to the National Museum of Natural History, of the Smithsonian Institution, where it has now become one of the most prized possessions of the Institution.
©Smithsonian Institute,photo by Chip Clark
Characteristics of the gemstone
The Rosser Reeves Star Ruby is a 138.7-carat red star ruby of Sri Lankan origin, and like all other star rubies have been cut as a cabochon to bring out the well defined, six-legged, centrally placed star. The outstanding character of this unique gemstone is that it combines the rare features of excellent color, translucency and well defined star, making it perhaps the largest and finest star ruby in the world. In this respect the Rosser Reeves surpasses the next biggest and equally famous red star ruby the 100.32-carat DeLong Star Ruby, which is displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The longest length-wise, and breadth-wise diameters and the thickness of the stone are 31.5mm, 26.5mm and 19.08mm respectively.
Summary of properties of corundum
|1||Chemical composition||Aluminum Oxide|
|4||Hardness||9 on Mohs Scale|
|9||Crystal system||Hexagonal (trigonal)|
|10||Crystal Habit||Hexagonal prisms, Sapphire-elongate prisms, Ruby-short flat prisms.|
|13||Asterism (if present)||6, rarely 12-rayed,caused by rutile|
|14||UV fluorescence||varies with type of sapphire|
Rubies and Sapphires are different varieties of the same mineral corundum
Rubies and Sapphires belong to the same group of minerals called corundum, which is a crystalline from of Aluminum Oxide. This fact was not known to the gem trade until the year 1802, when the French Mineralogist Count de Bouron, showed by chemical analysis that they are in fact different forms of the same crystalline mineral corundum. The red color in rubies were shown to be caused by trace amounts of chromium substituting for aluminum in the crystal lattice of aluminum oxide and the different colors of sapphires caused by trace quantities of other elements such as titanium, vanadium, cobalt, iron, nickel etc. being incorporated in the corundum crystal. Blue color in sapphire is caused by titanium and iron, purple color by vanadium, yellow color by iron, green color by nickel. The pinkish orange of Padparadscha sapphire is caused by chromium and iron. White sapphire is pure corundum without any impurities.
Asterism in Corundum
The star effect known as asterism is caused in corundum by the presence of trace quantities of rutile, a natural form of Titanium Oxide (TiO2), which is also responsible for the milkiness or silk in the stones. The extremely minute fibers of rutile are aligned in a three-fold pattern inside the stone, which causes the light entering the stone to be reflected into a six-rayed and rarely a twelve-rayed pattern. The more densely packed the rutile, the better the star.
A perfect star ruby or star sapphire should have the following features :-
1)The star should be centered.
2)The legs of the star should be sharp and well defined and not blurred.
3)The star should be silvery or milky white.
4)The length of the rays should extend up to the base of the stone.
5)The stone must be translucent.
6)The stone should have a desirable body color. Intense pure blue for star sapphires. Pigeon-blood color for star rubies, but pinkish red colors are also valued.
It will be very difficult to find a star ruby or star sapphire that combines all the above features. To get a perfect well defined star may be easy, but to get a translucent stone of perfect color will be extremely difficult. Moreover perfect stars seem to be associated with particular colors. In the case of star rubies blood red color would be the perfect color, as found in the Burma rubies. But, to get a perfect star in a red ruby is extremely difficult, and if found could command the highest price per carat for star rubies. The pinkish red or reddish pink rubies have the best stars, and the Rosser Reeves and DeLong Star Rubies fall under this category.
The best star effect is seen only in corundum from Burma and Sri Lanka. This is because the corundum from these countries have sufficient quantities of rutile, that causes the asterism. African and Thailand corundum do not produce well defined stars, due to lack of rutile in the mineral. Quality wise the Burma Star rubies are the most desired, like the Burma rubies and sapphires, but the Sri Lankan star rubies are also equally famous because of their pinkish red color and distinct stars. The pinkish-red Rosser Reeves Star Ruby of Sri Lankan origin is the largest and finest star ruby in the world, and currently estimated to cost over $ 25 million.
The Burma rubies give off a strong red fluorescence in short and long wave length U-V light, but the Sri Lankan rubies give off a strong orange-red fluorescence in only long wave length U-V light.
Geological origins of the gemstone deposits of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has the highest density of gem deposits compared to its land mass than any other country in the world. This is not by accident, but due to the fact that almost 90 % of the land area of the Island is covered by geologically ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks, of the Archaen or Pre-Cambrian era, varying in age from 560 million to 2,400 million years. Corundum were produced deep inside the earth’s crust, probably in the mantle, under conditions of high temperature and pressure. Rising magma then brought them up to the surface, where the cooling of the magma produced igneous rocks in which the corundum was incorporated. Some of the igneous rocks were transformed into metamorphic rocks by the continued action of high temperature and pressure caused by tectonic movements or by the intrusion of hot magma into cooler surrounding rocks. The exposed igneous and metamorphic rocks were then subjected to long periods of erosion, and crystals of corundum got dislodged from the parent rock, and were washed down the mountains and deposited in the flood plains of rivers and streams, as alluvial deposits. The south-central region of the country is occupied by a roughly triangular mountainous area known as the central highlands, which is the main source of the variety of gemstones found in the alluvial deposits below. Twelve main rivers arise from the central highlands, and flow radially towards the sea, except for the longest river, the Mahaweli Ganga, which takes a circuitous route. Alluvial deposits formed in the flood plains of these rivers are the main sources of the secondary gem deposits of Sri Lanka.
Source of the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby
The source of the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby is undoubtedly the alluvial deposits of the flood plains of the Kalu Ganga River, that originates in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, from the historic Adam’s Peak mountain range, and flows through the outskirts of the city of Ratnapura (City of Gems), towards the southwestern coast of the Island. Ratnapura district, in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka, had been the main gem-producing area of the country for over two millennia. However new gem producing areas have been discovered in the country over the last 50 years not only in the Sabaragamuwa Province, but also in the adjoining Uva, and Southern Provinces. Elahera in the Central Province is also a new gem-mining area discovered during this period, famous for its rubies.
Early History of the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby
The early history of the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby is not well known, but it is known for certain that the gemstone originated in the alluvial gem deposits of Sri Lanka, a former British Colony, and subsequently reached the London gem and jewelry market. The gemstone appeared in the London market in 1953, and the surface of the stone appears to have been badly scratched, requiring re-polishing and perhaps a slight re-cutting to bring out the inherent beauty of the stone. This would mean that the stone had been in the possession of one or several previous owners in Europe, before it was put up for sale in London. On a conservative estimate if we give a period of 50 to 100 years that the stone had been with European owners, after its arrival from Sri Lanka, the period of origin of the stone would be somewhere between 1853 to 1903. This period still falls within the period of British Colonial rule in Sri Lanka which extended between 1795 and 1948.
During the period of colonial rule in Sri Lanka, the colonial government did not interfere in the gem mining and trading activities of the indigenes, and left it entirely in the hands of the private sector, and performed only a regulatory function by issuing licenses. The main beneficiaries of this policy were the Muslims of Sri Lanka, who controlled all aspects of the gem trade except mining, which was mainly done by the Sinhalese. The gems mined were sold to the Muslim gem traders, who got them cut and polished by their own traditional gem cutters and polishers, who excelled in this field and acquired their technical skills from their ancestors, which had been passed down faithfully from generation to generation over the centuries. The processed gem stones were sent to gem traders and jewelers in the capital city of Colombo, either for sale or export.
Was the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby exported by the oldest jewelry firm of Sri Lanka, O. L. M. Macan Markar & Co.?
The Rosser Reeves Star Ruby which was discovered in the rough in the Ratnapura alluvial gem deposits, the main gem producing area of Sri Lanka during the period of British Colonial rule would have gone through the process outlined above, passing through the hands of Muslim cutters and polishers and traders until the processed stone reached the hand of an exporter. The most renowned name in the export of gemstones from Sri Lanka during the British Colonial period was the firm of O. L. M. Macan Markar & Co. Ltd. established in the year 1860, at Point de Galle, the main port of call for ships in Sri Lanka at that time. Their main clients were the foreigners who landed in Sri lanka either as tourists or on other official business in the Island. Passengers on transit to Australia and other far eastern destinations, also landed in Sri Lanka for short periods and were good customers for the gemstones and jewelry produced in Sri Lanka. The business flourished and was shifted to Colombo when the main port of call for ships was moved from Galle Harbour to Colombo Harbour.
King Edward VII and King George V clients of O. L. M. Macan Markar & Co.
At Colombo the Company set up their business at Sri Lanka’s most prestigious hotel during the colonial period, the Grand Oriental Hotel, and new opportunities were thrown open to expand their clientele, that included highly placed British colonial officials, and also members of the Royal family who visited the island from time to time. Among O. L. M. Macan Markar’s most distinguished clients were His Majesty King Edward VII, who visited island as the Prince of Wales in 1875, His Majesty King George V, who visited the Island as Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901. Among his other customers of the British nobility were the Duke of Manchester, the Duke of Sutherland, Earl of Aylesford and the Earl of Ellesmore, and Lord Abercomby. In 1901 when George Frederick Ernest Albert, the Duke of Cornwall and York (Later King George V), was in Sri Lanka, he visited the exhibition of gems specially displayed at the King’s Pavilion in Kandy, and made purchases from O. L. M. Macan Markar, and complimented the firm for their excellent collection of gems.
O. L. M. Macan Markar & Co. regularly exported gemstones to the London and Paris markets. Some of the world’s famous gemstones like the 466-carat “Blue Giant of the Orient” the world’s largest blue sapphire, mined in the Ratnapura district in 1907, and several other sapphires, star rubies, star sapphires, and cat’s eyes passed through this well known jewelry company. Thus it is quite possible that the “Rosser Reeves Star Ruby” was also exported by this oldest jewelry establishment of Sri Lanka.
Modern History of the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby
The Rosser Reeves Star Ruby, that reached London was purchased by an anonymous buyer and remained with him until the 1950s, or might have changed hands several times, until in 1953, the stone appeared at a gem and jewelry auction held in London, where it was purchased by Mr. Robert Fisher of New York for an undisclosed sum. The stone then weighed a little over 140 carats, and was heavily scratched. Mr. Robert Fisher got the stone slightly re-cut and polished again, to bring out the inherent beauty of the stone, and get the star more centralized. The results of this exercise were phenomenal, and produced a star ruby of unparalleled color and beauty.
Mr. Robert Fisher gave the star ruby to his son Paul Fisher, who in turn decided to sell the stone to any interested customer. Paul Fisher assigned the ruby to the firm Firestone & Parson of Boston, to be sold to a suitable customer. Firestone & Parson in turn assigned their agent Robert C. Nelson Jr. of New York to dispose of the stone to a prospective customer, who happened to be none other than the advertising magnate Rosser Reeves.
Rosser Reeves who was an advertising executive and pioneer of television advertising, started his career at the young age of 19 years, in 1929, the year of the beginning of the world wide economic downturn known as the Great Depression. Reeves left University of Virginia to pursue a career as a journalist, and worked as a newspaper correspondent. However, soon he realized that the income he received from his career as a journalist was not sufficient, and he moved into the field of advertising.
Reeves next moved to New York, and after working as copywriter for several companies, took up a job at Ted Bates & Co. in 1940. Eventually he became the vice-president of the company and copy chief, in which capacity he served for six years. In 1955, Reeves was elected the Chairman of the Board of the company.
Reeves wrote several works on advertising theory, in which he advocated a rigidly scientific approach to advertising, shunning artistry and creativity. He propounded the selling technique known as the “Unique Selling Proposition,” that emphasizes the one reason the product needed to be bought, or was better than its competitors, using catchy slogans. His ads were simple and direct, and often annoying, yet successful in enhancing sales. An ad he ran for Anacin, a headache medicine, tripled the sales of Anacin, even though the ad was considered to be annoying by all viewers. Reeves believed that ads need not reassure, entertain or educate, but should only forcefully communicate the slogan. Reeves also insisted on the superior quality of the products, and rightly believed that no amount of advertising could move inferior products, and said that advertising was not able to create a demand, where it did not exist.
Reeves was a pioneer of television advertising, and the ads he created for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election campaign in 1952, gave a successful boost to his campaign, that led to his election as the 34th President of the United States of America.
The Rosser Reeves Star Ruby enters the gem and mineral collection of the Smithsonian Institution
After purchasing the star ruby in the late 1950s, Rosser Reeves carried the stone around as a lucky stone, and often referred to it as his baby. He liked the stone so much, that he would not part with it under any circumstances. Then in the year 1965, Mr. & Mrs. Rosser Reeves decided to donate the unique gemstone to the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in order to enrich its gem and mineral collection, and give the future generations an opportunity to see this rare and unique gemstone, the like of which may not be discovered for several generations to come.
Today the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby, which has been named in memory of the donors, Mr. & Mrs. Rosser Reeves is exhibited in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals of the Institution, which was opened in 1997. A collection of almost 3,500 gems, minerals, rocks and meteorites are displayed in this hall.
1) Website of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington D.C.
2) Ceylon Its Geography, Its Resources and Its people – Elsie Cathleen Cook (1951)
3) Ruby & Sapphire – Richard Hughes.
4) Ceylon – Vol I – Sir James Emerson Tennent (1859)
5) Muslims of Sri Lanka – Avenues to Antiquity – Dr M. A. M. Shukri
6) Roots Web -O.L.M. Macan Markar’s family page