meteorite-times-magazine
Serving The Meteorite Community Since 2002

George F. Kunz and Tiffany and Co.

George Frederick Kunz (1856 – 1932), was arguably the world’s foremost gemologist and mineralogist to ever live. At the age of 23, he was hired by iconic Tiffany and Co. in 1879 as its chief gemologist, and became a vice president from 1907 until his death in 1932 at the age of 75. Kunz was America’s first gemologist. He was also, an avid meteorite collector.

 


Kunz portrait with Kunz signature in the background. Source: The Tricottet Collection.

 

Kunz was born in New York City, on September 29, 1856, and was interested in minerals at a very young age. In 1865, at the age of ten, Kunz went to the P.T. Barnum museum in New York to see the various oddities, and Mr. Bailey’s mineral collection. Kunz was hooked and wanted to start his own collection. Kunz collected minerals wherever he could find them, often at bridge and railroad construction sites or trades with other collectors, including overseas dealers. He would take his specimens around colleges and universities for them to use when studying. By his teens, he had amassed a collection of over 4,000 specimens which he sold to the University of Minnesota for $400 ($8,000 in 2023 dollars). Kunz later wrote, that the sale wasn’t “so much for the money but to mark myself in the eyes of the world as a real collector.” Kunz also sold his other collections to the Polytechnic Institute in Indiana, a third collection to Amherst College and a fourth collection to the State Museum in Albany. One collection of his which was a personal favorite was a collection of meteorites.

He did attend college, Cooper Union, in New York, but did not graduate. Instead he taught himself mineralogy by reading everything available about minerals to complement his already proficient field research, and met influential people. At the age of 23, Kunz landed a job with the prestigious jewelry luxury house renowned the world over, Tiffany and Co. with its signature blue box. Kunz visited mines, as well as, cutting facilities. He also added to his knowledge of American gems by his activities on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey, as a special agent. At the age of 51 years old, his knowledge and enthusiasm propelled him into a vice president position at Tiffany’s.

In 1902, he gained much notoriety for identifying a new gem variety of mineral Spodumene which was named “Kunzite” in his honor. In 1877, Charles Tiffany purchased the Tiffany Yellow Diamond. Kunz studied the 287 carat diamond for a year, before deciding on the shape and number of facets. He supervised the cutting of the world’s largest yellow diamond at the time that became the famous Tiffany Yellow Diamond. It was cut down to a 128.5 carat cushion shape which has 82 facets – 24 more than a traditional round brilliant – to maximize its brilliance which large diamonds of comparable brilliance were not fashioned until well into the 20th century. The Tiffany Yellow Diamond has been displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair and Smithsonian Museum. The Smithsonian gem curator, stated that the Tiffany Yellow Diamond was the largest diamond on display in the U.S. and that the infamous Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian is only 45.5 carats, which is about one-third the mass of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond. In 1961, it was worn by Audrey Hepburn in publicity photos for the classic Academy Award winning movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Subsequently, it was worn by Lady Gaga at the 91st Academy Awards, and Beyonce in a Tiffany campaign in 2021. The diamond has only been worn by four women. The Tiffany Yellow Diamond is permanently housed at Tiffany’s flagship store on 5th Avenue, in Manhattan, New York City.

In 1837, Tiffany & Young was founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and his partner John B. Young, in Brooklyn, Connecticut, as a stationary and fine goods store, however, it did not sell real jewelry. In 1848, Young purchased some of the crown jewels of the French monarchy when it was overthrown. In 1853, Charles Tiffany took sole control of the entity, changing its name to Tiffany and Co. and emphasized jewelry. In 1886, Charles Tiffany invented the most iconic diamond engagement ring which still dominates today. The setting glorified a solitaire diamond by using six prongs to lift the diamond above the band to allow maximum light to pass through it and maximum sparkle. Prior to the Tiffany setting, most diamonds were set much lower on the ring or embedded within the band, so only the crown or top of the diamond was visible.

In the 1870’s, jewelers focused mainly on the “big four” gems – diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Kunz was more interested in semiprecious gemstones, as he later wrote, the “sea-green depths of tourmaline, the watery-blue of aquamarine, the red blood-cups of garnet, the misty nebula of moonstone.” In 1875, at the age of 19, Kunz convinced Tiffany to purchase a fine specimen of green tourmaline and cut it into gems and fashion an experimental line of jewelry. The collection sold out quickly to Tiffany’s surprise. Charles Tiffany hired Kunz in 1879 at the age of 23 as Tiffany’s chief gemologist. Kunz introduced the world to colored semi-precious gemstones at Tiffany’s which were extremely popular and transformed the jewelry industry.

Kunz would travel the world in search of exceptional color and quality gemstones and pearls, which he would sometimes name after this associates and clients, calling one rare find, tiffanyite, after Charles L. Tiffany, and another morganite, after wealthy financier and philanthropist J.P. Morgan (J.P. Morgan Chase bank), and Tiffany’s best customer. Kunz assembled J.P. Morgan’s first gem collections with over 1,000 specimens, and in 1889, the collection was exhibited at the World’s fair in Paris and won two golden awards. Kunz built a second even finer collection for Morgan. These collections were donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Kunz wrote over 300 articles and books. Over ninety years after his death, his books are still in print today. After his passing, his personal collection of books and articles were sold the United States Geological Survey for one dollar. In 2012, a rare photographic album dated 1922 was discovered among Kunz’s donation, and the album contained 81 photos of the Russian Crown Jewels, and pre-dates the official catalog by the Soviet government by three years. Researchers have identified four pieces of jewelry that were documented in 1922 by Kunz that were not included in the official Soviet catalog and a presumed missing.

 


1913 First edition copy of George Kunz’s “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones.”

 


George Kunz’s signed note to Mrs. William H. Crocker, owner of Crocker bank which was acquired by Wells Fargo. Kunz wrote, “For Mrs William H Crocker with the sincere regards of the author George F. Kunz, 29 May 1919. New York see plate opposite 170.” Kunz was referring to page 170.

 


No 4 “The upper stone belongs to Mrs William H Crocker Burlingame California George F. Kunz 29 May 1919.”

 


The page out of the book “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones states, “4. Upper: blue-white Tiffanyite diamond. 14.86 carats; Bagagem Mine, Brazil. Lower: purple-black diamond, 13.35 carats; Brazil.” This is what dreams are made of – a blue box from Tiffany’s with this spectacular piece of diamond jewelry inside of it.

 


An image of number 4, the breath taking 14.86 carat “Tiffanyite” diamond and 13.35 carat purple-black diamond jewelry piece belonging to a thrilled Mrs. Crocker.

 

Besides being vice president for Tiffany and Co., Kunz was special agent for the U.S. Geological survey, and president of the New York Mineralogical Club, the oldest mineral club in the United States, and founded by George F. Kunz. He was also an honorary research curator of precious gems at the American Museum of Natural History for 14 years. Kunz has been awarded many honorary degrees from American and European universities, including Ivy League, Columbia University.

Kunz collected meteorites from 1885 through 1891. Kunz would trade or sell meteorites with Clarence S. Bement, whose large mineral and meteorite collection was donated to the AMNH. In 1905, the Kunz meteorite collection was purchased for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York by J.P. Morgan. Kunz’s meteorite collection added 186 new falls and finds to the AMNH collection. Kunz also wrote books and articles on meteorites. He had a fascination for meteorites and wrote about the following meteorites: Winnebago County (Iowa) meteorite (Forest City); Brenham, Kiowa County, Kansas; Carroll County (Eagle Station), Kentucky meteorite; Ferguson, Hayward County, North Carolina meteorite; Bridgewater, Burke County, North Carolina meteorite; Summit, Blount County, Alabama; and Glorieta Mountain, Santa Fe County, New Mexico.

In 16 May 1890, Kunz wrote an article in Science, volume 15, no. 380, pp. 304-305, about the Winnebago County, Iowa (Forest City) meteorite. In it, he mentions that the meteor passed over the state of Iowa on 2 May (1890), it was a cloudless sky and the meteorite was very noticeable. He remarks, there was an exciting ball game going on, and many witnesses who saw it did not make careful observations of it as they would have otherwise have done. Therefore, it was difficult to tell whether the meteor was accompanied by sound or not. Some farmers reported to hear a hissing sound. Because of the many exaggerated reports, it was difficult to obtain facts, thus Kunz desired to only make a preliminary statement in the article.

 


A 6.5 gram dark fusion crusted individual Forest City specimen with Monnig number, George F. Kunz collection label and other labels evidencing its rich provenance.

 

In his book, “ON FIVE NEW AMERICAN METEORITES,” Kunz writes about the Winnebago County, Iowa (Forest City) meteorite. Kunz must have interviewed more witnesses, since he recounts, “. . . it was accompanied by a noise likened to that of heavy cannoning or of thunder, and many people rushed to their doors, thinking it was the rumbling of an earthquake. He observed, “The meteorite is a typical chondrite, apparently of the type of Parnallite group of Meunier, which fell February 28, 1857, at Parnallee, India.” Kunz makes a comparison to another famous meteorite, when he says, “The Crust is rather thin, opaque black, not shining, and, under the microscope, is very scorious, resembling the Knyahinya, Hungary, and the West Liberty, Iowa, meteoric stones. Kunz comments, “The stone is porous, and when it is placed in water to ascertain its specific gravity, there is a considerable ebullition of air. The specific gravity, on a fifteen gram piece, was found to be 3.638.

 


Forest City individual displaying Monnig number and George F. Kunz collection label. I have never seen, in my approximately 20 years of collecting, a rare George F. Kunz collection label before or after I have acquired this specimen.

 


The other side of the Forest City meteorite with George F. Kunz collection label.

 

The legacy of George Kunz shall live on through Tiffany and Co., the AMNH museum’s meteorite collection, and through his many books and articles.

 

References

 

George F. Kunz Bibliography – GIA

George Frederick Kunz – Wikipedia

Tiffany Legacy Gemstones – Tiffany International

Kunz, George F. – American Numismatic Society

American Travels of a Gem Collector, part 1 – Pala International

Who is George Frederick Kunz? – Rock & Gem Magazine

The Last Collection of the First Gemologist, George F. Kunz – University of Delaware

George Frederick Kunz Papers, circa 1880 – 1932 – Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Tiffany & Co. Timeline – tiffany.com

The World of Tiffany – Tiffany & Co.

George F. Kunz – American Museum of Natural History

Search
Meteorite Times Magazine Sponsors
Meteorite News
Meteorite Resources