De Long Star Ruby

Origin of Name

The De Long Star Ruby gets its name from Mrs. Edith Haggin de Long who purchased the stone in November 1937 from Martin Leo Ehrmann the internationally renowned gem and mineral collector and dealer, who traveled worldwide in search of rare and expensive gems and minerals, building up a great collection of rare minerals, and also helped several museums and universities around the United States to build up their collections of rare and valuable minerals. Mrs Edith Haggin de Long donated the magnificent orchid-red star ruby to the American Museum of Natural History, New York, after purchasing it from Martin Ehrmann, and the gemstone was named the De Long Star Ruby in her memory.

Characteristics of the gemstone

The 100.32-carat De Long Star Ruby is a magnificent oval, cabochon-cut, six-rayed star ruby, with a rich purplish-red color, and of Burmese origin. The color of the stone is excellent, almost on par with that of the Sri Lankan Rosser Reeves Star Ruby. The Star is also well defined and centrally placed like the Rosser Reeves, but the De Long Star Ruby is less translucent than the Rosser Reeves. Thus the De Long Star Ruby is inferior to the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby only in respect of its translucency, but in terms of color and clarity of the star, the De Long Star Ruby equals or rivals that of the Rosser Reeves. In terms of size the De Long Star Ruby may perhaps be the second largest and finest star ruby in the world.

The causes of color and asterism in star rubies

Being a ruby the De Long Star Ruby is a corundum, which is a crystalline form of Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3), like all rubies and sapphires. Thus the De Long Star Ruby has all the chemical, physical and optical properties of corundum in general, except for two factors that make it different from others, i.e. the factors that cause color and asterism. The red color of rubies is caused by the displacement of a few aluminum atoms in the crystal lattice by chromium atoms or chromium and iron atoms. The asterism or “star effect” of the ruby is caused by extremely minute fibers of rutile (titanium oxide), which are arranged in a three fold pattern, at an angle of 60? to one another. When light enters the ruby through the spherical face of the cabochon-cut stone, the three bundles of rutile, reflect the light forming three lines intersecting at the center, resulting in a six-rayed star. When a star ruby is held delicately between two fingers and rotated sideways, the star appears to glide on the surface of the stone. The rays of the star in the De Long Star Ruby, are unique in that they are clear and distinct and extend right up to the edge of the stone. It is important to remember that a distinct star is produced only when the stone is exposed to the rays of direct sunlight or an artificial source of light such as a spot light or light directed from a pen torch. The star produced in diffused light may not be clear and distinct.

It has been observed that the best stars are produced by pinkish red or reddish pink stones. The De Long Star Ruby and the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby fall under this category. A dark red star ruby producing a distinct star is very rare, and if found could command a premium price. Another important observation that has been made is that the best star effect is produced by only corundum from Burma and Sri Lanka, because of the incorporation of sufficient amounts of rutile in the mineral. African and Thailand corundum cannot produce well defined stars because of the deficiency of rutile in the mineral.

 The ultra-violet fluorescence of rubies varies with the place of origin

An interesting fact about rubies is that their ultra-violet fluorescence  varies with the place of origin, so that by studying the fluorescence we can predict the place of origin of the ruby. Rubies of Burmese origin including the De Long Star ruby, will give off a strong red fluorescence in short and long wave length ultra-violet light. However rubies of Sri Lankan origin, like the Rosser Reeves Ruby, will give off a strong orange-red fluorescence only in long wave length ultra-violet light, and a less strong fluorescence in short wave length ultra-violet light. Rubies of Thai origin are more iron-rich than Burmese rubies and therefore show a much weaker red fluorescence than Burmese stones in short and long wave length ultra-violet light.

The source of the De Long Star Ruby

The source of the De Long Star Ruby is undoubtedly the Mogok mines of Burma, which lies in the upper Shan Plateau in a mountain valley, 4000 feet above sea level. The mountains around Mogok are part of the eastern Himalayan orogenic system formed by the collision of the Indian Sub-continental plate with the Eurasian plate, 40 to 60 million years ago. This tectonic activity provided the energy needed for the transformation of  corundum containing igneous rocks to metamorphic rocks by contact metamorphism. Subsequent erosion of the metamorphic rocks released the corundum which was carried down the hills and deposited in the valleys below as alluvial deposits, where the corundum are mined today. Besides corundum (ruby and sapphires), and spinels, other gemstones and minerals found in the Mogok area are, peridot, aquamarine, amethyst, zircon, tourmaline, moonstone, topaz and diopside.

According to legend Mogok rubies were discovered in the Mogok valley in the 15th century by bandits and outlaws who had settled in the region previously, after being banished by the King from Mandalay. The former criminals sent the rubies to the King, who in turn pardoned them for their previous crimes. However the settlers did not return to Mandalay, and continued their search for more gemstones. The King immediately promulgated a decree that all large rubies found at the mines automatically became the property of the King. Breaking the decree was punishable by death. The promulgation of the decree resulted in the disappearance of many large rubies, which were either broken into smaller ones or hidden for generations. Even though, rubies were discovered in Mogok only in the 15th century, it appears that the mines had been exploited thousands of years before this discovery, as stone age and bronze age mining tools have been found in the mining area.

Rubies from the Mogok mines have set the world standard for quality for rubies, like the Kashmir sapphires had become the standard for sapphires. the Mogok rubies have a pure red color, referred to as “pigeon’s blood” color. But Mogok is also famous for the pinkish-red rubies which are vivid and beautiful. Burma rubies give out a red glow in bright sunlight, because of  strong fluorescence when exposed to light rich in ultra-violet rays like bright sunlight. The supply of rubies from the Mogok mines have been steadily on the decline after centuries of exploitation. In the period 1992-93 a second mine had been discovered at Mong Hsu, 60 miles southeast of Mogok, but the rubies mined look like poor quality garnets, until when they are heated, they turn into a bright, lively red gemstone. Most of the Mong Hsu rubies are smuggled across to Thailand to Mae Sai, from where they are sent to Chantaburi for heat treatment, and then sold at Bangkok, the distribution center for most of the world’s ruby and sapphire.

History of the De Long Star Ruby

The 100.32-carat De Long Star Ruby was discovered in the renowned Moguk mines of Burma in the early twentieth century, and purchased by Martin Leo Ehrmann in the 1930s, from the sources that provided with him gemstones and minerals from China and Burma. Martin made his first trip to Burma only in the year 1955, and therefore it was not possible for him to have made the purchase of the De Long Star Ruby, directly at the source. Martin sold the rare gemstone to Mrs.  Edith Hagging de Long for $ 21,400 in 1937, who in turn donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in the same year.

The rare gemstone was exhibited together with the famous “Star of India” blue star sapphire and other famous gemstones in the J. P. Morgan Hall of Gems, of the American Museum of Natural History and became one of the most popular exhibits in the collection. However in the year 1964, the De Long Star Ruby, was one of several valuable gemstones stolen in the infamous jewelry heist by Jack Rowland Murphy and two of his accomplices, which subsequently became the subject of a popular Hollywood movie “Murph the Surf” in 1975.

Martin Leo Ehrmann

Searches for minerals in foreign lands by scientists and collectors started as far back as the 16th century, but Martin Leo Ehrmann was the first ever dealer to make a regular practice of truly worldwide searches for fine minerals, building up the largest and finest collection of minerals in the world during his time. Martin, who was born in the small Belarus town of Rava Russkaya in 1904, moved to Kiel when his family emigrated to Germany in 1913-14. Martin took up a job as a steward in a German ship in 1921, and when the ship docked in New York, he decided to stay back in America and start a new life as an immigrant. As a young immigrant he tried his hand at various odd jobs, and served as a waiter in many  hotels and restaurants. In 1928, he married Rita Zorn of Hoboken, New Jersey, who was a distant cousin of his. The couple returned to Kiel for their honeymoon, and then retuned back to the United States. It was the marriage to Rita that gave him the breakthrough in his life, and Martin was introduced to the world of gems and minerals. Rita worked as the secretary to Dr. Ping Wen Kuo who headed a corporation that imported gemstones carved in China. Martin was recruited as the company’s only salesman, and under the guidance of Dr. Kuo who was an expert in his field, Martin developed an interest in minerals, starting with the varieties of Chinese jade such as nephrite and jadeite.

Martin Ehrmann,Mineral Collector and Dealer

In 1929, Martin decided to start his own business in his apartment at Washington Avenue, Hoboken, and started selling carved jade items like snuff bottles, jade discs and other jade carvings. Then he began dealing in other gems and minerals. His knowledge in the mineralogical field further expanded when he joined the New York Mineralogical Club, where he met George Kunz the renowned mineralogist, who also served as his mentor. He soon began dealing with the American Museum of Natural History and in January 1931, made his first sales to the museum that included two chalcedony elephants, an agate tray, and a turquoise lion, all carved in China, with a total value of $40. His circle of clients gradually increased and he sold gemstones and minerals to the museums in New York city, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other museums and universities in the east and mid-west. Most of the items in the renowned jade collections of Herbert Whitlock and Dr. I Wymann Drummond, which are now in the Wadsworth Athenaeum and the AMNH respectively, passed through Martin’s hands. Martin’s first major transaction was in 1932, when he acquired  George E. Kunz’s last collection after his death, when Tiffany’s wanted to clear their basement that was filled with material acquire by Kunz, during his long period of service with them. It appears that Martin had acquired financial backing from unknown sources to effect this transaction. Martin then re-sold items of the Kunz collection either as rough or as faceted gemstones to several institutions around the country, such as Harvard University, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.

The second major collection acquired by Martin was the John Calvert Collection which he purchased in London  in 1938, which was later packed and transported to New York, where the specimens were unpacked, cleaned, sorted and identified. The specimens were then marketed by advertising in the American Mineralogist, and through the Mineralogical Societies and Clubs of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The Calvert Collection fossils were sold as a single lot to the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1940-41 period Martin was involved in the research work on the deuteron irradiation of white diamonds, with Harry Berman of the Mineralogy Department of Harvard, and the director of the cyclotron lab, using the cyclotron belonging to the Physics Department of Harvard. These experiments were successful in inducing a beautiful green color to the diamonds, as a thin layer on the table and the sides. But this work was interrupted when Martin joined the US army as a volunteer officer during World War II, as a Captain. His distinguished services in the Army earned him promotions as Major and finally Lieutenant Colonel. After the end of the war in 1945, Martin returned back to civilian life, but did not revive his gem and mineral business. In 1947 he joined Lazare Kaplan’s diamond company, and was later posted to the west coast of the US, as the company’s representative, based in Los Angeles, California. In 1948 he moved his family to California, but in 1950, Martin left Lazare Kaplan, and set himself up as an independent gem merchant, dealing again in gemstones and minerals. Then came his final partnership, this time with Vartanian & Sons which lasted until his death. In California he resumed his research into artificially colored diamonds in collaboration with Joseph E. Hamilton and Thomas M. Putnam of the Crocker Laboratory, University of California, using their 60 inch cyclotron.

Then in the early 1950s he began his foreign sojourns that took him to gem and mineral mining areas around the world, such as Tsumeb in South-West Africa, the ruby mines of Mogok, the jade mines of Mogaung and the amber mines of Hukong valley, all in Burma (Myanmar), and the kunzite mines of Urpuca, Brazil. Although the primary purpose of these visits was to buy gemstones for his company, Martin did not lose the opportunity that was available to him to buy rare mineral specimens, wherever he went, which was later sold to institutions around the United States. Some of the unique mineral crystals he acquired included a huge 7.5kg kunzite crystal from Urpuca in Brazil, which he sod to the Smithsonian Institution’s NMNH; a 287-carat cushion-cut peridot of deep green-grass color acquired in the rough at Burma and brought by Smithsonian Institution’s NMNH; a 2.6-carat faceted purple scorodite from Tsumeb purchased also by NMNH. Martin’s trips abroad continued until the year 1972, when he made his last trip to Tsumeb.

In 1972, Martin who was  68 years old, and had been a heavy smoker was diagnosed with lung cancer. Knowing that his time was running short, Martin embarked on an autobiography titled “My Life with Gems and Minerals” and was just able to complete only six out of the 21 chapters, he was planning to include in his book, and these chapters mainly dealt with his sojourns to Burma, and the Burmese mining industry. His unfinished chapters included the following topics :- The Kunz Collection, the de long Star, the Calvert Collection, Minas Gerais, Strategic Tourmalines, Ceylon, the Dresden Green Vault, the Baldauf Collection, Mexican Opals, Russia, the Deepdene Diamond, Bolivia, Columbia, Australia, and the Crown Jewels of Iran. The great traveler, collector, connoisseur, and dealer of gems and minerals the world has ever known finally breathed his last on May 22nd, 1972.

Theft of the De Long Star Ruby in 1964

On October 29th 1964, the De Long Star Ruby together with three other renowned gemstones, the “Star of India,” the Eagle Diamond, and the Midnight Sapphire was stolen from the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in the biggest jewelry heist of the United States, that included 22 priceless gemstones of the valuable gem and mineral collection of the Museum. The thieves gained access to the building through a second floor bathroom window, which they left open previously,  when they visited the museum during opening hours. The thieves lost no time in quickly collecting their haul, but found one of the most valuable exhibits, the “Star of India” protected by an alarm. On careful examination they discovered to their relief that the alarm was not functioning, possibly because the battery that supplies the current for its operation was dead. The thieves left by the same window through which they gained access.

The total value of the items stolen was estimated to be around $ 400,000, but some of the items like the “Star of India” and the De Long Star Ruby were considered to be priceless and irreplaceable. These two items were so famous that disposing of them inside America would have been virtually impossible. The police were called in and within 48 hours were hot on the trail of the thieves aided by a tip off, and four arrests were made, two from New York and two from Miami. Among those arrested were the notorious wealthy gangster Allan Kuhn, the mastermind behind the daring operation, and Jack Murphy a legendary surfer and beach boy, who was recruited by Allan Kuhn into the New York underworld. “The Star of India,” the Midnight Star and several other gemstones were recovered from a locker in a Miami Bus Station, but the De Long Star Ruby was not among them. Jack Murphy and his accomplices received a three-year prison sentence for their part in the crime.

Jack Murphy

The theft of the jewels became a sensational crime for more than one reason. The total value of the haul involved, the irreplaceable nature of the collection, the prestigious institution to whom the lost items belonged, the daring nature of the robbery, and above all the involvement of a well known figure in the world of sports, Jack Murphy, two times National Surfing Hurricane Champion. Young Murphy who was talented as a child, excelled both in his studies and extra-curricular activities, Besides surfing which became a passion in his life, he was a talented violinist who played for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the age of 15 years. He also showed a tendency towards performing daring acts and became a movie stunt man and high-tower circus driver. This explains his subsequent choice of a criminal life style, that always provided opportunities for performing such acts like break ins, quick getaways, car chases, etc. Later he was also involved in a double murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1969. However after 19 years in prison Murphy was paroled in 1986, for exemplary behavior and showing remorse for his crimes. While in prisons he became a born-again Christian and today has dedicated his life to the service of God, and visits prisons as a preacher and counselor helping in the re-habilitation of other prisoners.

For more on Jack Murphy and the most famous jewelry heist in America,see our page on the Star of India

Recovery of the De long Star Ruby

John D. MacArthur agrees to pay the ransom money

The De Long Star Ruby which was lost in October 1964 was feared to be lost forever, until almost one year later in September 1965, word was received in Florida, that the underworld gang that was holding it would like to surrender the gemstone for a ransom. The information was actually stumbled upon by a writer who was researching for a possible magazine series on famous jewelry thefts. He learnt from the Miami underworld sources that the De Long Ruby was being held as collateral for a Miami underworld loan, and that the gemstone could be released if the loan was paid. The writer passed this information to his friend, a woman real estate broker, who had contacts with John D MacArthur, one of only five American billionaires in 1965, who had made his fortune in insurance and real estate. MacArthur was also the brother of the late playwright Charles MacArthur, and the brother-in law of Helen Hayes, the leading lady of the American stage. John D. MacArthur agreed to pay the ransom money of $25,000 to get the priceless gemstone released by the underworld of Miami.

The De Long Star Ruby is recovered from the drop off site

Negotiations were conducted between the writer and John MacArthur on one side and representatives of the underworld gang on the other, and the modus operandi for the payment of the ransom and the release of the gemstone finalized. A phone booth at a gas station plaza in Miami was selected as the drop off site for the gemstone. The ransom money of $25,000 was duly paid as agreed upon on Thursday, September 2nd, 1965, and the gemstone was to be collected from the drop off site that afternoon. MacArthur and his colleagues proceed to the drop off site at the appointed time, and one among them entered the phone booth to answer the ringing telephone. The voice on the telephone gave instructions as to where the gemstone has been hidden. The man who answered the phone call reached up above the door jam, feeling with his fingers, and pulled out a gemstone larger than a pebble from a crevice atop the narrow ledge, and was very much relieved to find the stone exactly where the voice said it would be.

The man looked at the stone and was dazzled by the sight of the rich-red stone with its distinct six-rayed star, shimmering in the direct afternoon sunlight. He handed over the stone to John MacArthur, who wrapped it in a cloth retrieved from his car, and the party left the site, having successfully accomplished their mission. MacArthur and his party reached the Colonnades Hotel, situated at Palm Beach Shores, on Singer Island. MacArthur who owned the hotel, also had an apartment and an office in the hotel. MacArthur reached Room 454, and awaited the arrival of a jeweler to confirm the genuineness of the stone. The jeweler examined the stone and declared it to be genuine, much to the relief of MacArthur and his colleagues.

The De Long Star Ruby is displayed in the lobby of the First Marine Bank

MacArthur decided that the gemstone should be entrusted to the First Marine Bank, in neighboring Riviera Beach for safe keeping until it was handed over safely to the authorities of the New York’s American Museum of Natural History. The successful recovery of the gemstone made headline news in many newspapers across the nation, and particularly in New York State, and John D MacArthur received wide publicity for his generous gesture in paying the ransom money. While the New York Museum was making plans to fly their valuable treasure back home, MacArthur, with the consent of the Bank Manager decided to let the citizens of South Florida get a look at the treasure before it was flown home. More than a thousand people took the opportunity to file past the gemstone displayed in the lobby of the bank on a white satin covered cushion, which provided a striking background for the pinkish-red stone.

The De Long Star Ruby is flown back home to New York

On Saturday, September 4th. 1965, the De Long Ruby was finally ready to go home. The assistant director of the New York’s museum and a private detective had arrived to take charge of the De Long Ruby, and the gemstone was delivered to them after the signing of documents authorizing the bank to transfer custody of the gem from MacArthur back to the museum. Early Saturday afternoon the De Long Star Ruby was flown back to New York in a commercial flight, in a black brief case handcuffed to the wrist of the private detective, accompanied by the assistant director of the museum. A group of journalists were at the John F Kennedy Airport, when the plane landed, and again another group awaited their arrival at the entrance to the museum. While at the entrance the private detective was busy answering journalists questions, the assistant director quietly walked around to a courtyard and entered the museum through a back door. While inside the official pulled out a white plastic case from under his shirt and retrieved the gemstone and handed it over to his director. Thus the detective carrying a brief case was only a ruse. The priceless gemstone had actually traveled all the way from Florida, in the white plastic case under the shirt of the assistant director.  The authorities of the museum were compelled to adopt this ruse for security reasons, as they were not prepared to take any further chances, having recovered the lost gemstone after almost an year.

The De Long Star Ruby on display again at the New York’s AMNH

After the recovery of the De Long Star Ruby the authorities of the American Museum of Natural History placed it on display again at the J.P. Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems of the museum, in the same bullet proof case that held the “Star of India”, and the “Midnight Star” Star sapphires, an arrangement that had been put in place after the recovery of these stones from the locker at the Miami bus station. On Sunday, September 5th, 1965, the day after the gemstone arrived in New York, an eager crowd of more than 10,000 people turned up at the museum, and streamed into the J. P. Morgan Hall to have a look at the renowned ruby, and welcome it back home.

Related :-

Star of India

Rosser Reeves Star Ruby

Black Star of Queensland

Pink Star Sapphire/Star Ruby gallery

References :-

1) The Eccentric Billionaire – John D. MacArthur – Nancy Kriplen (2007).

2) Martin Leo Ehrmann – Mineralogical Record, September 1994 – Smith Bill, Smith Carol.

3)Website of the American Museum of Natural History-New York.