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Sourced in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, four museum-quality star rubies weighing a total of 342 carats will hit the auction block at Guernsey’s in New York City this June. The Mountain Star Ruby Collection will be sold together as one lot and could yield an eight-figure windfall for the family of Jarvis Wayne Messer, the humble fishing guide/rockhound who discovered the gems in 1990.
The largest of the four gems, the 139.43-carat Appalachian Star Ruby, has been compared favorably to the Smithsonian's Rosser Reeves Star Ruby, which is one carat lighter. Guernsey’s President Arlan Ettinger told National Jeweler that Messer's find may be superior to the Rosser Reeves because it has six prominent needles, whereas the Rosser Reeves displays only five prominent needles and one broken needle.
In 1992, the Appalachian Star Ruby made its international debut at London's Natural History Museum, where it drew 150,000 visitors in just a few weeks, according to Guernsey's.
When gem enthusiasts discuss the finest star rubies, they generally invoke the famed gem fields of Burma and Sri Lanka. That Messer sourced his star rubies in North Carolina makes their story that much more remarkable.
Guernsey's described Messer as a man of modest means, who made his living as a fishing guide. He also was a self-described rock hound, constantly searching for rare and unusual stones in his native Appalachia.
"I started off as a pebble pup at 6 and worked myself up to a rock hound at 13," Messer told the Associated Press in 1994. "What began as a hobby led me to one of the finest jewels in the world."
In 1990, while searching an ancient stream bed in a still-secret location, Messer made an unprecedented discovery of four star rubies, including the aforementioned Appalachian Star Ruby and the Smoky Mountain Two Star Ruby, which displays distinctive stars on both the front and back of the stone.
"When I found the [Appalachian Star Ruby] I did not realize how important a stone it would become," he said in the 1994 interview. "I knew it was a ruby and a beautiful specimen. But we did not know what we had until we started to cut the stone. I realized what we had found when I made my first cut. The star just popped right out. Right from the beginning I could see it portrayed attributes that no other stone has."
Messer passed away in 2008 at the age of 52, and his collection was returned to his family where it has quietly resided ever since.
Guernsey’s Ettinger told National Jeweler that it is important to keep the four stones together.
“It was suggested to us that part of the extraordinary nature of them is where they were found and their individual brilliance, but also the fact that they are four matching stones and it would be crazy, almost criminal, to destroy the collection and the set,” he said.
The collection will be offered without a minimum reserve, and the auction house did not provide pre-sale estimates.
“These are wonderful and important stones,” Ettinger told National Jeweler. “The world will determine what they’re worth.”
Guernsey's hinted that the collection could yield eight figures, using the Smithsonian's Rosser Reeves as a point of comparison.
The Rosser Reeves was appraised at $25 million in the early 1980s and about 20 years later at $40 million, according to Guernsey's.
Guernsey's has yet to pick a date in June for the sale that will take place live at the Americas Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Online bidding will be held concurrently at LiveAuctioneers.com.
Credits: Mountain Star Ruby Collection images courtesy of Guernsey’s. Rosser Reeves photo by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.