The hero of this month’s installment in GIA’s series on famous birthstones is the bluish-green aquamarine given to former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The rough weighed a staggering 1.3 kilograms that yielded two gems when cut. The largest, a rectangular step cut stone weighing 1,298 carats, has an interesting political history.

A Good Neighbor Gift and a Lucky Charm

The aquamarine was given to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1936, by President Vargas of Brazil, when she and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Rio de Janeiro as part of of a “Good Neighbor” cruise to South America. It was a lucky talisman for the First Lady, because according to lore, aquamarine – whose name comes from the Latin for seawater – is said to keep sailors safe at sea.

Courtesy of The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

Courtesy of The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

Controversy

Famous gemstones are often surrounded by intrigue and controversy, and this dignified piece is no exception. Before it was donated to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Mrs. Roosevelt was accused of trying to sell the aquamarine in 1947 when she inquired about its value. In her memoir, This I Remember, she wrote the gem serves “a good purpose by symbolizing the kindness and generosity of Brazilian feeling toward our country.” The aquamarine remains as it was originally presented, in an Art Deco style box made by the Brazilian jewelry firm Casa Oscar Machado.

The Journey from Brazil to America

The Roosevelt aquamarine was sourced from a mine that is now appropriately named Pedra Azul (Blue Stone). Aquamarine is the green-blue to blue variety of beryl. Brazil is known for bluish-green material. The mine is located in the state of Minas Gerais, 880 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The rough stone was cut into two gems, one of which was given to the First Lady.

Are you interested in giving this famous gemstone a visit?  This spring, the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York plans to feature a special exhibit showcasing presidential gifts, and the aquamarine will be one of them. Next month, GIA features April’s Famous Birthstone! What do you think it will be?

Main image courtesy of The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York