Vargas Diamond-Famous Diamonds

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Origin of name

The massive rough diamond weighing 726.6 carats was discovered in 1938 in Brazil, and became the largest diamond ever to be discovered in that country. The diamond was named in honor of President Getulio Dornelles Vargas, who was the President of Brazil at the time of its discovery and ruled Brazil for almost 20 years.

Characteristics of the diamond

The rough Vargas diamond was cut into 29 gems, out of which 19 were of considerable size and the  remaining 10 were smaller stones. The total weight of the finished diamonds was 411 .06 carats. Out of the 29 gems, 16 were emerald-cut stones, one pear-shaped, and one marquise-cut. 10 of the smaller gems were triangular brilliants and one was a baguette. All diamonds were D-color diamonds of exceptional quality.

The largest diamond was an emerald-cut, weighing 48.26 carats and retained the name President Vargas.

Being D-color diamonds, the Vargas diamonds are most probably type IIa diamonds, that are chemically pure and structurally perfect diamonds. The presence of chemical impurities such as nitrogen, boron and hydrogen impart colors to diamonds. Likewise the presence of structural distortions can also impart rare fancy colors to diamonds. Thus the absence of these two factors make the diamonds absolutely colorless. The occurrence of these diamonds however is only about 1-2 % of all naturally occurring diamonds.


The enormous Vargas rough diamond was discovered accidentally on August 13, 1938, when the diamond was picked up from the gravels of the San Antonio river in the Coromandel district of Minas Gerais, by two diamond diggers (garimpeiros), whose attention was drawn by the shining stone. The lucky finders of the stone were Joaquim Venancio Tiago and Manoel Miguel Domingues. According to an alternative version of the diamond's discovery, the shining rough stone was picked up by two farmers who were walking along the path of a dry river bed. The stone glinted in the sunlight and the two farmers passed by unconcerned. However one of them becoming curious, turned back and picked up the shining pebble, which turned out to be the 726.6-carat massive rough diamond, the largest ever to be discovered in Brazil.

At the time of its discovery the Vargas diamond attained the twin distinction of becoming the 4th largest gem-quality rough diamond and the largest alluvial rough diamond to be discovered in the world. But today the Vargas is the 9th largest rough diamond to be discovered in the world. See table below.

List of largest gem-quality rough diamonds discovered in the world


Country of discovery Year of discovery Carat Weight


Cullinan South Africa 1905 3,106 1
Excelsior South Africa 1893 995 2
Star of Sierra Leone Sierra Leone 1972 969.80 3
Incomparable Zaire 1984 890 4
Great Mogul India 1650 787 5
Millennium Star Zaire 1990 777 6
Woyie River Sierra Leone 1945 770 7
Golden Jubilee South Africa 1985 755 8
President Vargas Brazil 1938 726.60 9
Jonker South Africa 1934 726 10
Jubilee-Reitz South Africa 1895 650.80 11
Unnamed South Africa 1984 620.14 12
Sefadu Sierra Leone 1970 620 13
Kimberley Octahedral South Africa   616 14
Lesotho Promise Lesotho 2006 603 15
Centenary South Africa 1986 599 16
De Grisogono Central Africa   587 17
Jacob-Victoria South Africa 1884 457.50 18
Zale light of peace Sierra Leone 1969 435 19
De Beers South Africa 1888 428.50 20
Niarchos South Africa 1954 426.50 21

The lucky finders of the diamond lost no time in finding a suitable buyer for their precious find, and sold it to a diamond broker for $ 56,000. In their undue haste to convert their precious find into hard cash, the finders of the diamond suffered a great loss, for within a short time the broker who purchased the diamond sold it at the enhanced price of $ 235,000. Eventually the diamond was purchased by a Dutch syndicate represented by the Dutch Union Bank of Amsterdam. The diamond had by then be named "President Vargas" in honor of the ruling chief executive of Brazil, President Getulio Dornelles Vargas, who ruled Brazil for 15 years from 1930 to 1945 and again for 4 years from 1951 to 1954.  President Vargas is credited with having brought about social and economic changes that helped modernize the country. He has also gone down in history as the "Father of the Poor" for his battle against big business and large landowners.

The diamond was then taken to Amsterdam  where it was kept in the safe deposit vault of the Dutch Union Bank. In the meantime the famous diamond dealer and jeweler of New York, Harry Winston, learnt about the existence of the massive diamond of exceptional quality from his agents in Brazil. Harry Winston who was a reputed buyer of such exceptional rough stones, lost no time in taking a trip to Amsterdam via London. In Amsterdam he initiated negotiations with the Dutch syndicate who owned the diamond, and finally acquired the stone. The diamond was insured by Lloyds for $ 750,000, and yet the company agreed to the shipping of the diamond to New York by ordinary registered post. This was a usual strategy adopted by Harry Winston in dispatching valuable diamonds to his office in New York, in order to minimize attention towards the precious items, that would otherwise have involved serious security risks.

Harry Winston's team of master cutters studied the rough diamond extensively and after a long period of study that lasted several months, finally decided to cleave the diamond to many pieces in order to obtain several smaller diamonds of exceptional quality, rather than going in for one or two larger diamonds of inferior quality. The cutting of the diamond began in 1941. At first a 20-carat piece was sawn off from the top of the diamond before the actual cleaving took place. This piece was later transformed into a 10.05-carat, exceptional quality, pear-shaped diamond. The diamond was first cleaved into two unequal large pieces, one weighing 550 carats and the other 150 carats. Subsequent cleavings  followed, and eventually the diamond was cut into 29 smaller pieces from which 29 gems were faceted and polished, out of which 19 were of fairly large size, with the largest being 48.26 carats, and the remaining were smaller ones. The total weight of the finished diamonds was 411.06 carats, resulting in a loss of 43 % of the original weight of the stone.

In terms of shape, 16 diamonds were emerald-cut stones, one pear-shaped, and one marquise-cut. Out of the smaller diamonds ten were triangular brilliant cuts and one was a baguette. The largest diamond which was an emerald-cut weighing 48.26 carats, retained the name President Vargas.

The 48.26-carat President Vargas diamond was purchased by the wife of Robert W. Windfohr of Fort Worth, Texas, in 1944, with whom it remained until 1958. Harry Winston re-purchased the diamond in 1958, and got it slightly re-cut to 44.17 carats, elevating the stone to internally flawless clarity grade. He sold the stone again in 1961 to an anonymous buyer. Presently the diamond is owned by Robert Mouawad, and forms part of his magnificent collection of famous, historic and rare diamonds. See table below. Robert Mouawad also owns the 27.33-carat President Vargas IV, which he purchased for $ 781,000, at a Sotheby's auction held in New York in April, 1989. The diamond that previously belonged to Lydia Morrison, now adorns a sumptuous Mouawad bracelet, with the precious diamond set on a band of black and white brilliant-cut diamonds. The current estimated value of this bracelet is £ 4 million. The President Vargas VI weighing 25.4 carats was sold at another Sotheby's auction in New York, held in October 1992, for $ 396,000.

Robert Mouawad's collection of diamonds



carat weight color


1 Jubilee 245.35 D-color cushion
2 Premier rose 137.02 D-color pear
3 Queen of Holland 135.92 D-color cushion
4 Mouawad Magic 108.81 D-color emerald
5 Unnamed 106.00   modified pear
6 Mouawad Monolith 104.02   emerald
7 Mouawad Splendor 101.84 D-color pear
8 Ahmedabad 78.86 D-color pear
9 Excelsior I 69.68 D-color pear
10 Taylor-Burton 68.07 D-color pear
11 Mouawad Mondera 60.19 D-color pear
12 Star of Abdul Aziz 59.00 D-color pear
13 Mouawad White 48.28 D-color marquise
14 Indore Pears I 46.95 D-color pear
15 Indore Pears II 46.70 D-color pear
16 President Vargas 44.17   emerald
17 Mouawad Blue 42.92 fancy blue pear
18 Mouawad Lilac 24.44 fancy pink emerald
19 Mouawad Pink 21.06 fancy pink radiant

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Dr Shihaan Larif
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