Cf: S. Tolansky, The History and Use of Diamonds, London, 1963, pgs. 127 and 128.
Cf: Rita Reif, Gould Jewelry Sets Auction Record, The New York Times, 12 April 1984.
The 1940s marked an important time in the discovery of many of the world’s largest diamond. During this period, three diamond roughs of exceptional size were unearthed by the recovery plant operated by Sierra Leone Selection Trust Limited in the Woyie River. The third and largest of these weighed a massive 770 carats, equivalent to 154 grams. Discovered on January 6th, 1945 it was the largest alluvial diamond ever found and the third largest diamond ever discovered in Africa. Twenty-five years passed before a larger alluvial diamond was unearthed, the 968.9 carat ‘Star of Sierra Leone’. Discovered in the Diminco alluvial mines, it is to this day the largest alluvial diamond ever found.
Predominantly lozenge-shaped, the 770 carat Woyie River rough measured 71 x 53 x 32mm and displayed an exceptionally smooth face. The late Professor W. T. Gordon, Professor of Geology at the University of London, was honoured with the task of examining it. He wrote:
The area of this cleavage face is 11.5 sq. cm., and is so clean a fracture that the blow which produced it must have been a sudden, sharp impact in precisely the correct direction. The surface is exceedingly smooth, whereas most cleavage faces show a certain stepping from layer to layer while keeping in the same general direction. The blow need not have been a heavy one, but the marvel of the smoothness of the fracture-face can only be appreciated by those who have tried to cleave a diamond using the cleaver’s tools.
The Diamond Company purchased the enormous rough and included it amongst a display of rough diamonds shown to Queen Mary upon her visit to the company’s offices in October 1947. It was subsequently displayed to the public at the British Industries Fair in May 1949. In 1953, the London firm Briefel and Lemer, first entrusted with cutting the Williamson pink diamond, now in Queen Elizabeth II’s collection, was given the mission of cutting the Woyie River rough. A prolonged study was done including the creation of a cement model and special machinery for the sawing operation. Led by Sidney Briefel, the rough was separated into thirty gems weighing a total of 282.36 carats. Ten of the gems weighed over 20 carats, the largest of which weighed 31.35 carats. This diamond was named ‘Victory’ in honour of the Allied victory in WWII, a few months following the rough’s discovery.
The Florence J. Gould Collection
Patron of the arts and daughter-in-law of railroad magnate Jay Gould, Florence J. Gould (née La Caze, 1895-1983) stands out as one of the truly great collectors of jewellery and Impressionist art of the 20th century. The sale in New York of her $100 million collection of jewels, antiques and Impressionist paintings, following her death in 1983, set many world auction records including the highest price ever reached at auction for a single collection of jewellery. The Victory Diamond, given to her by her second husband Frank Jay Gould, was amongst the star lots sold. Her painting collection included works by Courbet, Monet, Renoir, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, and Vuillard amongst others.
Born in San Francisco to an American mother and French father, Florence left her operatic studies to wed Frank Jay Gould in 1923. Escaping the dour mood of Prohibition in the US, the couple chose to reside on the French Riviera where they built a number of important hotels and casinos including: the monumental $5 million Art Deco Casino; the Palais de la Mediterranée in Nice; the remodelled Juan-les-Pins Casino and Cabaret, and the 200-room Hôtel Provençal, complete with a private bathroom and new piece of soap for every guest. Mrs. Gould, known for her gambling and penchant for champagne, launched the fashion of wearing ‘baccarat pyjamas’ during the day, with large pockets at the front to contain casino winnings. Also an avid athlete, she introduced water-skiing to the French Riviera. As a devoted client of Van Cleef & Arpels, she is credited with having given Charles Arpels the idea for his now famous minaudières. As the story goes, one day in the late 1930s, Charles Arpels was surprised to see Mrs. Gould putting all her accessories into a white metal Lucky Strike tin. The ingenious idea inspired him to create the now legendary cases, capable of carrying all the objects a lady might need for an evening out on the town.
The Gould’s Cannes villa became a central meeting point for high society and artistic and literary figures alike. Personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Getty, Nelson Rockefeller and Joseph Kennedy were introduced to the likes of Jean Cocteau, Jean Dubuffet, Georges Auric, Salvador Dali, André Gide and André Malraux. Mrs. Gould’s passion for literature led her to host many literary ‘salons’ which greatly benefited the literary culture of the time. She funded and administered many cultural prizes including: le Prix des Critiques; le Prix Max Jacob for poetry in honour of the French poet who died in a concentration camp during WWII; the Prix Roger Nimier for literature; the Engraving Prize and the Musical Composition Prize. In 1970, she was admitted to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, one of the relatively few women to be so honoured.
Mrs. Gould was rarely seen without her jewellery. At the age of 80, she packed up most of her gem collection and headed to Japan and Southeast Asia. Daniel Wildenstein, an art dealer who accompanied her on the trip recalled how, ''she let all the women in a geisha house try on her jewels,'' a collection valued at $8 million. Mr. Wildenstein was weary that not all the necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, brooches and clips would be returned, but ''she was proven right - all the jewels came back.'' He recalls how, “Mrs. Gould wore a variety of gems when she travelled by elephant to the temples of Angkor, and was ‘full of diamonds’ when she set forth by pedicab into a Cambodian jungle.”
Following her death in 1983, her collection of jewels, antiques and Impressionist paintings was put up for auction in New York. The sale attracted hundreds of collections, dealers, admirers and journalists. All eighty-six lots sold and the collection of jewels sold for $8 million, the highest total ever reached at auction for a single collection of jewellery at the time. The sale marked a fillip to the jewellery market which had suffered a two-year depression in prices. Among the top three lots sold were a sapphire and diamond necklace with a 114 carat centre stone, a pearl and diamond necklace and the legendary Victory diamond which has remained in the same family collection since the sale.
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