top of page

George Frederick Kunz,

a Tiffany’s gemologist, was instrumental in the international adoption of the metric carat as a weight standard for gems, and the Tiffany standard for sterling and platinum have been adopted as U.S. standards.

the Kunz garnet

 In 1885 Kunz added to his personal collection a very large (9 pound, 10 ounce) Manhattan Island garnet crystal that was found by a man digging a sewer on West 35th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue. That crystal he donated to the American Museum of Natural History where it remains today. 

"I hadn't acquired this passion from any acquaintances; I certainly didn't inherit it; yet I can't remember the time when I wasn't solitarily and unbearably thrilled by the spot of ore in a bit of rough rock."




"By the turn of the century, Morgan had become one of America's most important collectors of gems and had assembled the most important gem collection in the U.S. as well as of American gemstones (over 1,000 pieces). Tiffany & Co. assembled his first collection under their Chief Gemologist, George Frederick Kunz. The collection was exhibited at the World's Fair in Paris in 1889. The exhibit won two golden awards and drew the attention of important scholars, lapidaries, and the general public.

George Frederick Kunz continued to build a second, even finer, collection which was exhibited in Paris in 1900. These collections have been donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where they were known as the Morgan-Tiffany and the Morgan-Bement collections. In 1911 Kunz named a newly found gem after his best customer, morganite."

"Now in my mineralogical investigations I had from time to time come across many beautiful minerals that had all the qualities of gems, being of great hardness, tenacity, brilliancy, transparency, purity and exquisite coloring. Cut and polished, many of these stones rivaled in beauty the precious stones. They were indeed, in every acceptance of the term, gems, even though denied the epithet "precious."

The question of preciousness is an interesting one. Just what is it, I am often asked, that ranks a gem as precious? What excludes it? It is no one quality but a combination of several. The opal may certainly lay claim to be as beautiful as the ruby; yet the ruby is precious and the opal is not. The zircon is as brilliant as the diamond, yet not precious. The beryl is as hard as the emerald, yet not precious. The tourmaline is as durable as the pearl, yet not precious. The hiddenite is more rare than the sapphire, yet not precious. Here are the prime qualities that determine the rank of a gem-all of them possessed by stones ranked as semiprecious. But preciousness is like the beauty of a face; it is not alone a fine pair of eyes or a lovely complexion that constitutes beauty, but a combination of several qualities.

Therefore it is only when a gem possesses to the nth degree, first hardness-the principal qualification-then brilliancy, then beauty, then durability, then rarity, that it is given the brevet of preciousness. As in a horse or a dog, it is a question of the highest number of points. That is why the diamond outranks all other jewels. It really possesses the qualities of all other stones-the greatest hardness, an unsurpassed brilliancy, an unrivaled beauty-due to its play of color and its fire-an unexcelled durability and extreme rarity. But, above all, it is its supremacy in hardness that places it beyond all other stones. It is the hardest known substance on earth and, as far as we can judge, on any planet.

Rubies and sapphires come next in hardness-they are one and the same stone, except for the coloring matter-and emeralds rank third, being, even though third, yet so hard that nothing will scratch them but a precious stone. The pearl stands alone. The diamond is king, the pearl, queen-with just that touch of feminine frailty that is part of a woman's charm. For the pearl is less hard than many even of the semiprecious stones; yet-again like a woman-it has as much endurance as the masculine gems. I have myself tried its feminine durability by the severest tests. I once took a number of pearls weighing two grains each and, placing them on pine, oak, mahogany and rosewood boards, pressed them in with my heel, and none of them was broken or scratched, though they sank clean into all the boards, with the exception of the rosewood, into which they sank only halfway. It is this quality of the pearl that raises it unquestionably above the opal, which is more or less fragile.

In those early days, as I have said, no so-called fancy stones were on sale in any jewelry store in the country; one could scarcely find them in a lapidary's shop, yet, reviewing those that I had gathered, it seemed to me that many ladies, even those who could afford the gesture of diamond tiara and pearl choker, would be happy to array themselves in the endless gorgeous colors of these unexploited gems. As I looked over a collection of them, with the sunlight imprisoned in the sea-green depths of the tourmaline, lapping at the facets of the watery-blue aquamarine, flooding the blood-red cup of the garnet, glancing from the ice-blue edges of the beryl, melting in the misty nebula of the moonstone, entangled in the fringes of the moss agate, brilliantly concentrated in the metallic zircon, forming a milky star in the heart of the illusive star sapphire-how, I thought, could a woman ever resist their appeal?


So one day, buckled in youth, I wrapped a tourmaline in a bit of gem paper, swung on a horse car, and all the way to my destination rehearsed my arguments. Arrived there, I was finally received by the managing head of what was even then the largest jewelry establishment in the world, and showed him my drop of green light. I explained-a very little; the gem itself was its own best argument. Tiffany bought it-the great dealers in precious stones bought their first tourmaline from me. The check which crinkled in my pocket as I walked home in the late afternoon, forgetting there were cars, stargazing, tripping over curbs, meant very little in comparison with the fact that I had interested a foremost jeweler of that time in my revolutionary theory and made the acquaintance of a man who was later to become my close friend."  (GFK)

"Thereafter I sold Tiffany's many other semiprecious stones.


Then one day came the offer to join the firm as their
first gem expert,
and ever since
I have held that position."

bottom of page