Ultra-rare rubies found by 'modest mountain man' in NC could fetch $90 million

The Mountain Star Ruby collection. (Courtesy Guernsey’s Auctions)
The Mountain Star Ruby collection. (Courtesy Guernsey’s Auctions)
Published: Apr. 9, 2018 at 5:17 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 9, 2018 at 7:09 PM EDT
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Abbie Bennett | The News and Observer) - Rubies are already rarer than diamonds. But star rubies are something incredibly special.

A collection of four "extraordinary" rare star rubies discovered outside of Asheville, North Carolina, nearly 30 years ago — which could be worth more than $90 million — have found their way to a New York auction house.

The four stones, weighing in collectively at 342 carats, are called the "Mountain Star Ruby Collection" and are considered the finest collection of such stones in the world.

Each "pigeon's blood-red" stone has six radiating lines on its face that refract light in a star shape. One of the four, "The Smoky Mountain Two-Star Ruby," has stars on its front and back faces.

"Volumes could easily be written about the remarkable discovery by a modest mountain man from western North Carolina (Jarvis Wayne Messer, of Buncombe County) who, as a self-described 'rock hound,' was constantly in search of rare and unusual stones in his native Appalachia," according to Guernsey's, a New York-based auction house.

Star rubies are the rarest rubies, according to Guernsey's, and they are among the most valuable types of colored gemstones available in the world. Most are rarer and more valuable than diamonds of comparable size.

For hundreds of years, Myanmar was the world's main source for rubies. But deposits also have been found in Thailand, India, Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Namibia, Scotland and Japan. Very few have been found in the United States, in areas including Montana, South Carolina, Wyoming and North Carolina.

The Mountain Star Ruby collection is "all the more astounding for its North American origin," according to Guernsey's.

After Messer discovered the stones in 1990, they were examined by leading geological testing labs in the United States and in Europe before an exhibition of one of the stones at the Natural History Museum in London, where a record audience of 150,000 people viewed the ruby over two weeks.

"When I found it, there was a red-tailed hawk that soared right over me," Messer told local talk show North Carolina Now in an early 1990s interview, as reported by Garden & Gun magazine. "I knew it was something special, but I didn't realize how important the stones would be."

They were the first star rubies found in western North Carolina, according to Arlan Ettinger, founder and president of Guernsey's.

Shortly after the exhibition, Messer died and the collection was returned to his family where it has "quietly resided ever since," according to Guernsey's.

The family tried to sell the stones for 10 years, but with appraisals approaching $100 million for the entire collection, there were few buyers, Garden & Gun reported. The family contacted Guernsey's, known for unusual sales including possessions of John F. Kennedy, Elvis, Rosa Parks and more.

Famous star rubies include the "Rosser Reeves Star Ruby," which is 138.7 carats and held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the "De Long Star Ruby," weighing 100 carats at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The largest of Messer's discovery, the "Appalachian Star" weighs just more than 139 carats.

The other stones are called the Promise Star, the Misty Star and the Smoky Mountain Two-Star.

"The acclaim that the Appalachian Star and its companion stones have received from both gemologists and connoisseurs speaks clearly of the quality of North Carolina's gem resources and the significance of the Mountain Star Ruby Collection," Guernsey's wrote in a release about the stones.

"Our job now is to help Wayne's widow," Ettinger told Garden & Gun. "She deserves to live comfortably."

Owing to its superior hardness combined with its rich color and silky shine, fine quality ruby is classed as one of the group of four so-called "precious" stones, along with diamond, emerald and sapphire, according to gem retailer GemSelect.

The value of a ruby is typically determined based on color, cut, clarity and carat weight, but rubies also are evaluated based on their geographic origin.

Ruby gets its name from the Latin word "ruber," which means red. In the Sanskrit language, ruby is called "ratnaraj," which translates to "king of gemstones."

The Mountain Star Ruby Collection is available for a privately negotiated sale before the official auction — which had not been scheduled as of April 5.