A Tapestry Set with 26K Gemstones Is Making Its US Debut

SourcingJan 27, 2022

A Tapestry Set with 26K Gemstones Is Making Its US Debut

Its display at the University of Tucson’s gem and mineral museum has been a long time coming.

“The Royal Tapestry,” featuring more than 26,000 calibrated gemstones set in hand-fabricated prongs, will be on display at the Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum through at least March 2024.
Tucson, Ariz.—Somewhere in the Rainbow’s Shelly Sergent said she wouldn’t take no for an answer when it came to finding a way to get a tapestry set with more than 26,000 gemstones on display in Tucson. 

Even if the logistics seemed to present challenge after challenge. 

One look at the piece or the specifics behind it, though, and it’s not hard to see why she and the museum’s team fought so hard for it to get there and then worked so hard to get it ready. 

Created by Parisian jeweler Cristofol for a royal family in the 1980s, the “The Royal Tapestry,” as it has recently been dubbed, features 26,649 total gemstones—yellow, pink, and blue sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. 

Each gemstone is calibrated to match in size and weigh about 0.5 carats each. The tapestry also features more than 100,000 hand-fabricated 18-karat gold prongs, set so smoothly “you can run silk over it, and it won’t snag,” Sergent told National Jeweler. 

At 42 inches by 24 inches and weighing just over 40 pounds, it took five master artisans working for 18 months to complete it. Five years were spent sourcing and cutting the gems. 

And so too did it take plenty of time to get it to its current, and temporary, home in Tucson—the University of Arizona’s Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum. 

After first serving as an object of art in a palace, the tapestry was sold to a private collector, who has had it in their possession since. 

It was this owner who got in touch with Sergent in 2010, initially just to show her the piece. 

Then, a few years ago, the owner again came to Sergent and Eric Fritz, the manager of the Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum, with interest in temporarily displaying the tapestry in the new museum. 

They eventually agreed to a one-year display before COVID-19 came and wrecked the plans, as it did for many others. 

Amid myriad issues stemming from trying to safely get the tapestry from Geneva to Arizona during a pandemic, the collaboration took a backseat, though Sergent said they kept working to make it happen. 

The delay from the pandemic ended up being fortuitous, she noted, because then a donor came forward who wanted to help, donating thousands of dollars for a showcase, shipping, and logistics. 

Another silver lining was that the air travel involved became a little easier.

Originally, the plan included multiple flights and stops, resulting in a days-long trip for the tapestry.

But then Swiss Air started offering direct flights from Zurich to L.A., which meant the piece needed to take one flight from Switzerland to the West Coast before being delivered in an armored vehicle to Tucson.

So the plan came together, involving a lot of paperwork, multiple countries, and two continents—not only through Sergent, Fritz and the museum staff, the donor, and the tapestry’s owner, who is based out of country, but also the state of Arizona for insurance underwriting, the London office of logistics company Malca Amit, and customs in L.A.

After receiving it, the museum staff worked hard to prepare it for display, giving it an updated condition report and creating a special new case just for the tapestry, flooding it with light for maximum brilliance. 

Needless to say, after all that, the owner realized one year on display wasn’t enough.

The tapestry will now be at the Tucson museum, where it’s officially making its U.S. debut, until at least March 2024, with the possibility of extending beyond that.

For more information about its temporary home, the Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum, visit its website

 Related stories will be right here … 
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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