Jan 24th, 2013
The Vargas Diamond, discovered in Brazil on August 13, 1938 by Joaquim Venancio Tiago and Manoel Miguel Domingues, was 726.6 carat when pulled out of the ground. Twenty nine smaller diamonds were carved from the larger rough Vargas Diamond including the 48.26 carat emerald cut diamond named “President Vargas”, after the former Brazilian President, Getúlio Dornelles Vargas.
Brazil’s greatest gem was picked up in the gravels of the San Antonio River in the Coromandel district of Minas Gerais. Two garimpeiros (diamond diggers or prospectors), Joaquim Venancio Tiago and Manoel Miguel Domingues, were the lucky finders.
Unfortunately for them, their good fortune did not extend very far. Not long after they had sold the diamond to a broker for $56,000, who then sold it for $235,000. The buyer in turn sold the gem to a Dutch syndicate represented by the Dutch Union Bank of Amsterdam.
While the stone remained in the bank’s safety deposit vault Harry Winston learned of its existence through his brokers in Brazil; they advised him of its rare quality and exceptional size. He traveled to London, then on to Amsterdam, where he finally purchased the President Vargas. The diamond was duly shipped to New York by ordinary registered mail at a cost of seventy cents although it had been insured by Lloyds of London for $750,000.
Due to its unusual formation (rough shape) it was decided to cleave the President Vargas. We wonder if things would have done a little differently today given the technology and tools at our disposal. A 20 carat piece was sawn from the top before the first cleaving; from this a pear shape, weighing 10.05 carat, was fashioned. The cleaving of the diamond was to result in two pieces, one of 150 carat and the other of 550 carat. But in all, twenty-nine gems were fashioned from the President Vargas, nineteen sizable and ten smaller ones weighing a total of 411.06 carat. They comprised sixteen emerald cuts, one pear shape, one marquise and, among the lesser gems, ten triangles and one baguette.
The name “President Vargas” has been retained by the largest of the gems, an emerald shape weighing 48.26 carat. For a number of years this diamond was owned by the wife of Robert W. Windfohr of Fort Worth, Texas, who purchased it in 1944. In 1958 Harry Winston repurchased and re-cut it to a flawless 44.17 carat stone, selling it again in 1961.
The identities of the other buyers are not known, but in 1948 was reported that the Gaekwar of Baroda had bought one of the Vargas gems.
In recent years two of the emerald cuts, numbers IV and VI, have come up for sale at Sotheby’s in New York. In April 1989 President Vargas IV, weighing 28.03 carat, formerly among the jewels of Lydia Morrison, fetched $781,000, while in October 1992, President Vargas VI, weighing 25.4 carat, sold for $396,000.
Jason Withers/Original Diamonds