This 116-Carat Tsavorite Is Now in the Smithsonian
Named the “Lion of Merelani,” the gem will be displayed at the D.C. museum along with the story of its cutting.
The “Lion of Merelani” weighs 116.76 carats, more than 100 carats heavier than the museum’s current largest tsavorite, which is 15.93 carats.
It will join several other notable gems in the museum's National Gem Collection and be on display for the public in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.
“This tsavorite is truly one of the most important colored gemstones to have been mined this decade,” said mineralogist Jeffrey Post, the museum’s curator-in-charge of gems and minerals. “A gem like this is one of Earth’s natural treasures and is an exciting addition to the National Gem Collection and to our public exhibition.”
Tsavorite is a rare green grossular garnet predominantly found in a remote region along the border of Kenya and Tanzania.
British geologist Campbell Bridges first discovered the gemstone in Tanzania in 1967, followed by a source in Kenya three years later.
Bridges, along with longtime Tiffany & Co. executive Henry Platt (who also gave tanzanite its name), named the stone after the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
The rough crystal that became the Lion of Merelani was unearthed near Merelani, Tanzania, in 2017, coincidentally the same year that marked the 50th anniversary of tsavorite’s discovery.
It weighed 283 carats.
Campbell’s son Bruce Bridges, CEO of the Bridges Tsavorite mining company, played an integral part in the crafting of the Lion of Merelani, which he said is in honor of his late father.
The following year, world-renowned gem cutter Victor Tuzlukov shaped the gemstone into its current form—the world’s largest square cushion-cut tsavorite gem with 177 facets.
According to Post, faceted tsavorites over 10 carats are rare, making the nearly 117-carat Lion of Merelani an exceptional example of garnet.
The tsavorite’s cut was historic and documented from start to finish, said the museum.
“The cutting process was comprehensively recorded by Bruce Bridges, and he will be providing the Smithsonian with an edited version of a video that will show the rough to cut journey of the gem,” Post said. “Also, GIA visited Tucson during the cutting of the stone and recorded video and interviewed the cutter.”
In the spring 2019 issue of Gems & Gemology, GIA’s quarterly research journal, an article documenting the stone’s cutting states that Tuzlukov first cut a test stone from a synthetic 3D model of the rough tsavorite.
After making calculations following the test cut, he began cutting the actual stone right in front of the team from GIA, a process that was accomplished over the course of about a month, the article said.
“The material is amazing,” Tuzlukov told GIA. “It’s not only a pleasure but an honor for me to cut this.”
The added element of detailed documentation as a part of the gem’s story is not something every record-breaking stone comes with, Post said.
“It is rare that we can share with the public the story of how a rough stone is faceted into a great gem, including video of the faceting and interviews with the cutter.”
The Lion of Merelani is historic in other ways as well, with the Smithsonian stating it is the largest precision-cut tsavorite in the world, as well as the largest tsavorite gem ever cut in the United States.
At the 2020 Tuscon Gem and Mineral Show, where Post and the rest of the Smithsonian’s gem collection team examined the Lion of Merelani up close, Post said they were, “astonished by its unprecedented size and quality.”
The museum describes the gemstone’s color as “glowing green.”
Bruce had previously told GIA the gem could be a once-in-a-lifetime stone.
Despite seeing most of the finest tsavorites in the world above 20 carats, he said he had never seen one comparable to this size in a square cushion cut, one of the rarest shapes for tsavorite, according to the GIA article.
The Smithsonian said the gem is a gift to the National Gem Collection from Somewhere in the Rainbow, a privately owned gem and jewelry collection focused on service-based colored gemstone education for the jewelry industry.
It is also a gift from Bruce.
“We are confident this great tsavorite will quickly become a visitor favorite, for its beauty and its well-documented story,” Post said. “It will be the iconic garnet in the National Gem Collection, the one that all other tsavorites will be compared to in the future.”
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