These Famous Rare Gemstones Are the World’s Most Valuable
People have loved gemstones since antiquity. The Romans thought diamonds came from falling stars, and the Greeks believed them to be heavenly tears. Since gems have been considered precious for most of human history, they are a way to store wealth, as they always appreciate in value. People have used gemstones for protection, to ward off evil, for supposed healing properties or simply to show off their wealth.
The biggest, most expensive gemstones have always been popular throughout history, especially with royalty. Diamonds from India and South Africa, sapphires from Sri Lanka, rubies from Burma (Myanmar) and emeralds from The New World were, and still are, highly prized.
Many famous gemstones on our list were owned by a succession of royal or noble families and often changed hands during war or conquest, or they were given as gifts from one ruler to another. Some are still part of royal treasuries, although many have passed into private hands, and a few are considered priceless given their histories and uniqueness. Actress Elizabeth Taylor also deserves a mention as someone who loved expensive diamonds and had a private gem collection to rival that of any royal family.
So, which ones are the most famous? Here’s our list of 30 famous, rare gemstones that people will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own.
30. Pearl of Lao Tzu
Current location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Bottom Line: The Pearl of LaoTzu
The massive misshapen pearl was produced by a giant clam, found by a pearl diver near Palawan in the Philippines and given to a local Dyak chief. American Wilburn Cobb was able to obtain the pearl by curing the chief’s son of malaria.
The grateful father gave the pearl to Cobb, who brought it to the U.S. where it was authenticated at the American Museum of Natural History and put on display at Ripley’s Museum in New York City. After Cobb’s death, Peter Hoffmann and Victor Barbish, from Colorado, bought the pearl from Cobb’s heirs.
29. The Black Orlov Diamond
Year created: 1932
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Black Orlov Diamond
The Black Orlov Diamond was supposedly stolen from an Indian temple in the 19th century. The stone may have been owned by Princess Nadheza Petrovna Orlov, who fled to Paris after the Bolshevik Revolution. The diamond appeared in New York in 1932, owned by Charles Winson, a gem dealer.
Cartier cut the stone to a 67.5-carat cushion gem and set it in a necklace with colorless diamonds. The necklace changed hands a number of times, and Christie’s sold it at auction in 2006 to an anonymous buyer.
Bottom Line: The Sancy Diamond
The Sancy Diamond is a 55.23-carat shield-shaped, light greenish-yellow diamond. The stone was found in India in the 14th century and smuggled to Italy by a Venetian diamond cutter. The diamond, named for one owner, Nicholas Sancy, passed from Italian Dukes to French Dukes, to Portuguese, then English, then French royal families, to the Bonapartes, to a Russian prince and finally to the Astor family.
The Louvre bought the gem from the Astors in 1976, and the Sancy Diamond is now housed with the former French Crown Jewels in the museum.
Bottom Line: The Andamooka Opal
The Andamooka opal field was discovered in the 1930s near Andamooka, South Australia, and is one of the oldest sources of the fiery gemstones in Australia. In 1954, the South Australian government had a necklace, earrings and cufflinks made as a gift for Queen Elizabeth II on her first state visit.
A single 203-carat opal was set in the palladium choker necklace and is known as the “Queen’s Opal.” As the opal was never sold publicly, the official value can’t be determined. A similar stone, the Aurora Australis, is valued at $1 million.
26. The Carolina Queen Emerald (Tie)
Year created: 1998
Current location: Statesville, North Carolina
Bottom Line: The Carolina Queen Emerald
The Carolina Queen Emerald is the best-quality emerald ever found in the U.S. A 71-carat rough stone was discovered by James Hill, of North American Emerald Mines, on his property in North Carolina in an emerald vein, which yielded about 3,300 carats of gem-quality stones.
Sixty-three different gems and minerals have been found in the area, including sapphires and rubies. Hill sold the 71-carat emerald to Rick Gregory, of R. Gregory Jewelers, who had the stone cut into the 18.88-carat Carolina Queen and the 7.85-carat Carolina Prince.
25. Queen Marie of Romania’s Sapphire
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: Queen Marie of Romania’s Sapphire
The 478-carat Queen Marie Sapphire is the fourth largest sapphire in the world and originally came from Sri Lanka. King Ferdinand of Romania purchased the sapphire set in a diamond necklace from Cartier in 1921 for his consort, Queen Marie.
Prince Michael, Queen Marie’s grandson, became King of Romania in 1940 but was forced to abdicate in 1947. He went into exile in Switzerland, taking the sapphire, which he sold to Harry Winston Jewelers. The stone was eventually sold at a Christie’s auction in 2003 to an unknown buyer.
Bottom Line: The Star of Asia Sapphire
The Star of Asia gem probably originated in the Mogok region of Myanmar. The stone weighs 330 carats with a characteristic six-rayed star in the middle. The gem is considered the second-most valuable star sapphire in the world, after the Star of India.
An early ruler of Jodhpur in India is believed to have originally obtained the stone for his royal treasury. Mineral and gemstone dealer Martin Leo Ehrmann obtained the gem some time after 1932. He sold the gem to the Smithsonian Museum in 1961.
23. The Pumpkin Diamond
Year created: 1997
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Pumpkin Diamond
A South African farmer found an 11-carat brownish uncut diamond in 1997. Orange diamonds, also called “fire diamonds,” are extremely rare. Harry Winston Jewelers bought the rough stone at a Sothbey’s auction for $1.3 million and turned it into a 5.54-carat cut gem with a vivid orange hue.
The Pumpkin Diamond was set between two clear diamonds in a ring, which Halle Berry wore to the 2002 Academy Awards. The ring was later sold in 2005 to an anonymous buyer for $3 million.
Bottom Line: The Krupp Diamond
The Krupp diamond was probably discovered in South Africa. The actress Vera Krupp purchased the 33.19-carat diamond from Harry Winston Jewelers in 1957, after she divorced German industrialist Alfried Krupp. The rectangular Krupp diamond is set in a ring with two smaller diamonds.
The ring was stolen by thieves in 1959 but recovered by the FBI. Richard Burton bought the diamond for wife, Elizabeth Taylor, at a Sotheby’s auction in 1968. The Krupp Diamond was sold after Taylor’s death in 2011 to E-Land Group, a South Korean company, which planned to display it at its E-World amusement park.
21. The Taj Mahal Diamond (Tie)
Current location: Christie’s, New York, New York
Bottom Line: The Taj Mahal Diamond
The Taj Mahal Diamond was given by Shah Jahan to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan later built the Taj Mahal for Mumtaz after she died, and the stone became known as the Taj Mahal Diamond. The heart-shaped diamond was set in a pendant of gold and rubies by Cartier.
In 1972, Richard Burton bought the pendant for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. After her death, the necklace was auctioned by Christie’s for $8.8 million, but the buyer cancelled the sale, and custody of the diamond is now disputed.
Bottom Line: La Peregrina Pearl
La Peregrina means “the pilgrim” in Spanish, as the gem traveled so widely. Discovered in Panama by a slave, the pearl became part of the Spanish Royal Jewels. King Phillip II gave it to Queen Mary I of England before their marriage.
After her death, the Peregrina Pearl returned to Spain and traveled to England with Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother who sold it to the Abercorn family. Richard Burton bought it at auction in 1969 for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. After she died, an anonymous Asian buyer purchased the Peregrina Pearl at Christie’s auction of Taylor’s jewels. (We really weren’t kidding about the actress’ love for all things jewelry.)
19. The Tiffany Yellow Diamond
Year created: 1878
Current location: Tiffany’s, New York, New York
Bottom Line: The Tiffany Yellow Diamond
The Tiffany Diamond is the second largest yellow diamond in the world. Buyers from the Tiffany jewelry house purchased the uncut stone from a French company, which extracted it from their mine near Kimberly, South Africa. A team of Tiffany gem cutters spent a year turning the rough stone into a 90-facet, 128.54-carat gem.
The Tiffany Yellow Diamond is perhaps best known as the necklace that Audrey Hepburn wore in publicity photos for her film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The diamond is on permanent display at Tiffany's flagship store in New York City.
Bottom Line: The Dresden Green
The Dresden Green is the largest naturally green diamond ever found and weighs 40.70 carats. The stone most likely came from the Kollur mines in Southern India.
A British gem dealer bought the diamond, already cut in a pear shape, in India in order to sell it to the English King George I. He finally sold the gem to a Dutch merchant, who sold it to the Duke of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II. The diamond was set first in an ornament, then a hat clasp and became part of the royal jewels of Saxony.
17. The Cora Sundrop Diamond
Year created: 2010
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Cora Sundrop Diamond
The rough stone was discovered in South Africa. Cora International, a New York-based diamond company, bought the uncut diamond. Their cutters spent six months transforming the stone into a 110.3-carat, pear-shaped gem, the largest known yellow diamond in the world.
The Cora Sundrop was exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London for six months. Sotheby’s auctioned the gem in 2011, and it was sold to an unknown buyer, setting a record for the most expensive yellow diamond ever sold.
16. The Taylor-Burton Diamond
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Taylor-Burton Diamond
The original 241-carat rough stone was discovered in the Premier Diamond Mine in South Africa. The jeweler Harry Winston bought it and made a 69-carat, pear-shaped gem. He sold the diamond on a ring to Harriet Annenberg Ames. She felt too uncomfortable wearing the gem and put it up for auction in 1969.
Richard Burton lost the auction, but he negotiated with the winner, Cartier, to purchase the diamond for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. She had it mounted as a necklace and later sold it for $5 million ($18.9 million now) after she and Burton divorced.
Bottom Line: The Archduke Joseph Diamond
The diamond likely originated in the Golconda mines in India. Queen Victoria gifted it in a brooch to Prince August when he married a French princess in 1843. The diamond was passed to the Archduke Joseph August of the Hapsburg family, after whom it’s named.
The gem was traded between collectors, dealers and bankers for decades until an anonymous buyer bought it at a Christie’s auction in 1993. Alfredo J. Molina, of Molina Fine Jewelers, purchased the gem, reset the diamond in a necklace and resold it later at auction to another anonymous buyer.
14. The Sunrise Ruby
Year created: Unknown
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Sunrise Ruby
The Sunrise Ruby was mined in Burma and has the ideal “pigeon’s blood” saturated red hue of the best-quality rubies. The Cartier jewelry company set the 25-carat ruby into a ring, with two accompanying white diamonds.
The Sunrise Ruby was sold at auction in 2015, setting two world records: the most expensive ruby ever sold and the most expensive, non-diamond-colored gemstone ever sold. The ruby gets its name from a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. The ruby was bought by an anonymous Swiss bidder, and the ring’s exact location is unknown.
Bottom Line: Star of India
The Star of India is one of the largest gem-quality star sapphires ever found. It was discovered about 300 years ago in Sri Lanka. The stone’s history was unknown until it was bought by financier J.P. Morgan for the Paris Exhibition in 1900.
Morgan donated the Star of India to the American Museum of Natural History in 1902. The gem was stolen by a gang of thieves in 1964, along with other famous stones, but was recovered a year later and returned to the museum collection.
Bottom Line: The Hortensia Diamond
Pink diamonds are extremely rare and make up about 0.1 percent of all diamonds found. In 1668, a French merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold a number of gemstones, which he had bought in India, to King Louis XIV of France, and this 20-carat pink diamond was likely among them.
The stone became part of the French Crown Jewels and was named for Queen Hortense of Holland, the sister-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte. The diamond has been stolen and recovered twice and is now part of the Louvre Museum collection.
Bottom Line: The Logan Blue Sapphire
The flawless 422.99-carat Logan Blue Sapphire is the second largest known sapphire in the world. The stone’s exact history is unknown, but the gem was believed to have been found in Sri Lanka and first cut with facets locally.
The gem was likely later exported to the London or Paris gem markets. The first known owner of the sapphire was Mrs. John A. Logan, who wore it as a brooch set with 20 clear diamonds. She donated the gem to the Smithsonian in 1960.
10. The Queen Isabella Emerald
Value:$61 million (estimated)
Year first known: 1519
Current location: Phoenix, Arizona
Bottom Line: The Queen Isabella Emerald
The 306-carat Queen Isabella Emerald is one of the largest gem-quality Colombian stones in the world. Montezuma II, the Aztec ruler, gave the stone, known as the Emerald of Judgement, to Conquistador Hernando Cortez to prevent a massacre of the Aztec people.
Cortez sent it to Queen Isabella of Spain, so she would persuade her husband, King Charles V, to make Cortez the New World’s governor. However, the ship carrying the stone sank in a storm. An underwater archeology team retrieved the emerald in 1992, and it’s now owned by Louis XV Jewelers.
Bottom Line: The Regent Diamond
The rough diamond was discovered in Golconda, India, in the 17th century by a slave who smuggled it out of the mine. The stone was sold to an Indian diamond merchant and later to the British Governor of Madras, Thomas Pitt.
Pitt took the diamond to London and had it cut into a 140.64-carat gem. He successfully sold the diamond to the Regent of France, where it became part of the French Royal Jewels. The Regent Diamond was stolen and recovered during the French Revolution and has been in the Louvre Museum since 1887.
8. The Steinmetz Pink Diamond
Year created: 2003
Current location: Unknown
Bottom Line: The Steinmetz Pink Diamond
The rough stone that would become the Steinmetz Pink Diamond was found in a De Beers mine in South Africa in 1999. The Steinmetz Diamond company bought the stone and spent two years cutting it into a 59.6-carat, oval-cut gem, making it the third largest pink diamond in the world.
Steinmetz sold the gem in 2007 for an undisclosed amount to an anonymous buyer, who renamed the diamond the “Pink Star.” Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction house last sold the gem in 2017 for $71 million to an anonymous buyer.
Bottom Line: The DeLong Star Ruby
The 100.32-carat, pinkish-red Delong star ruby was discovered in the Mogok mines in Burma in the early 1900s. A gem dealer from New York, Martin Ehrmann, bought the rare gem in the 1930s and sold it to Mrs. Edith Hagging de Long in 1937.
She donated the star ruby to the American Museum of Natural History that same year. The stone is considered the finest star ruby in the world. In 1964, a gang of thieves stole over 20 gems from the museum, including the ruby, which was eventually recovered.
Bottom Line: The Millennium Star
The 777-carat rough stone that became the Millennium Diamond was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1990. Agents from De Beers bought the uncut stone, and company cutters spent almost six months studying and then cutting the diamond into the 203-carat Millennium Star and two other smaller diamonds.
The Millennium Star is the second largest, flawless, pear-shaped, faceted diamond in the world. Thieves targeted the gem in a failed robbery at London’s Millennium Dome in 2000 where the De Beers Millennium Diamond collection was on display.
Bottom Line: Koh-i-Noor
The Koh-i-Noor Diamond first appeared in 1628 on Mughal Shah Jahan’s famous gem-encrusted throne. An invading Persian ruler, Nader Shah, seized Jahan’s treasury in 1739. He took the diamond to wear in an armband.
The stone eventually passed to the last ruler of an Indian Sikh kingdom, Duleep Singh, a 10-year-old boy. When the British East India Company annexed the kingdom in 1849, Singh either was compelled to give, or gifted, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond to Queen Victoria. Today, the gem sits in the late Queen Mother’s crown, part of the British Crown Jewels.
4. The Hope Diamond
Value:$250 million (estimated)
Year created: 1673
Current location: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.
Bottom Line: The Hope Diamond
In 1668, French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier also sold a 112-carat blue diamond from India to King Louis XIV of France. The gemstone disappeared during the French Revolution in 1792 and reappeared in London in 1812 in the possession of diamond merchant Daniel Elison, who sold it to the English King George IV.
After the king’s death, the gem was purchased by the Hope family. After Lord Francis Hope sold the stone to pay his debts, it passed through several jewelers until Pierre Cartier of Paris bought it. Cartier set the gemstone in a necklace of white diamonds and sold it to Mrs. Evelyn Walsh McLean. After her death, the jeweler Harry Winston bought Mrs. McLean’s entire jewelry collection. Winston donated the necklace to the Smithsonian in 1958, famously posting the stone through the U.S. Postal Service. The Hope Diamond is the museum’s best-known attraction.
Bottom Line: The Cullinan Diamond
A 3,106-carat rough diamond was found in the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa, owned by Sir Thomas Cullinan. He sold the stone to the Transvaal government, which gave it to King Edward VII of England. T
he king had the rough diamond cut into nine large gems and almost 100 small ones. The 503-carat Cullinan I, the largest of the gems, and the largest colorless diamond in the world, was placed in the British Royal Scepter, which is kept with the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
1. The Black Prince’s Ruby (Tie)
Current location:Jewel House, Tower of London, London, England
Bottom Line: The Black Prince’s Ruby
This famous egg-sized gemstone was probably mined in modern-day Tajikistan and first appeared in Spain in 1366, owned by a Spanish Prince, Don Pedro. He promised the “ruby” (actually a spinel) as payment to the English “Black Prince” Edward in return for military aid.
The gem passed to various English rulers before being sold during the English Civil War. The purchaser resold the gem to Charles II when the monarchy was restored, and it became part of the state crown. Today, the “ruby” is part of the British Crown Jewels and is considered priceless due to its history.
Bottom Line: The Timur Ruby
Timur was a 14th-century Mongol ruler and the first known owner of the “ruby,” which is actually a red spinel. The uncut gem passed to various Persian and Indian rulers and finally to the rulers of a Sikh Kingdom in India. The British East India Company annexed the kingdom in 1849.
The last ruler, the previously mentioned Duleep Singh, gifted the Timur Ruby to Queen Victoria. The gem was set in a necklace and is today part of the British Crown Jewels. The Timur Ruby is also considered priceless due to its history.