Hey, March babies. Congratulations, your official birthstone is the beautiful aquamarine. Did you know that one of the largest and most famous aquamarines of all time — a 1,298-carat wonder — was gifted to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt by Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas nearly 80 years ago? It now resides in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.
FDR had just won his second presidential election in November of 1936, when he and the First Lady decided to embark on a month-long “Good Neighbor” cruise to South America.
When the cruiser USS Indianapolis landed in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian president and his wife presented Eleanor Roosevelt with the remarkable stone from Vargas’ own collection. At the time, the bluish-green rectangular step-cut gem was the world’s largest cut aquamarine.
Mined in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, the gem was cut from a rough stone that weighed 6,500 carats (2.86 pounds). The rough had been shipped to Amsterdam, where cutter Gustav Reitbauer successfully produced two world-class gems — the one given to the First Lady, and a second, at 865 carats, that was sold to Jagatjit Singh, the Maharaja of Kapurthala (India).
The First Lady’s gift was presented in an art deco box, which was custom made by jeweler Casa Oscar Machado. Even today, the gem remains in its original presentation box.
Like many famous gemstones, Eleanor Roosevelt’s aquamarine was the subject of intrigue and controversy. In 1947, two years after FDR’s death, syndicated columnist and radio personality Drew Pearson accused the former First Lady of trying to sell the aquamarine. Apparently, the columnist had learned that she had attempted to discover the gem’s value. The controversy went away quietly when she donated the gem to the Roosevelt Library.
She acknowledged the aquamarine in her 1949 autobiography This I Remember: “I think it does interest people and perhaps does serve a good purpose by symbolizing the kindness and generosity of Brazilian feeling toward our country.”
The First Lady passed away in 1962 at the age of 78.
Credits: Aquamarine images courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York; FDR and First Lady photo, by Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library Digital Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Eleanor Roosevelt photo, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.