The world’s largest cut cat’s-eye chrysoberyl

The Eye of the Lion.This Cat’s-Eye Chrysoberyl is the largest cut example in the world(as documented by the Smithsonian Institute)with a fascinating history

4 Minute Read

HomeLearning CenterGemologyThe Lighter Side of GemologyThe world’s largest cut cat’s-eye chrysoberyl

The "Eye of the Lion"

The world's largest cut cat's-eye chrysoberyl 465 carats
The world's largest cut cat's-eye chrysoberyl - 465 carats

Throughout history, the lion has been a symbol of power oft emblazoned on coats of arms, national flags and a wide variety of emblems representing a vast array of historic motifs. The nation of Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon, was in the early part of the last millennium revered as the mystical island of Serendib, the old Arabic name for Sri Lanka (also known in Persian as Serendip). Today, the national flag of Sri Lanka sports a lion symbol as part of its heritage.

Flag of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the most prolific gemstone producing regions in the history of planet earth. The variety of precious, obscure, rare and common gemstones found on this small island nation is unprecedented, and, with the possible exception of Madagascar, will not likely ever be repeated. Sri Lanka was affectionately known as Ratna - Dweepa, which means Gem Island, a name which reflects its natural wealth. In 1292 Marco Polo wrote "I want you to understand that the island of Ceylon is, for its size, the finest island in the world, and from its streams comes rubies, sapphires, topazes, amethyst and garnet". Ptolemy, the second century astronomer recorded that beryl and sapphire were the mainstay of Sri Lanka's gem industry. Records from sailors who visited the island state that they brought back "jewels of Serendib". Persian traders crossed the Indian Ocean during the fourth and fifth century to trade gems from Sri Lanka to the East.

Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy was born in 1852, the daughter of Iddamalgoda Basnayake Nilame, an aristocratic Chieftain in the Sabaragamuwa Province and Chief Custodian of Saman Devale, a 750 year old temple serving the region.

Iddamalgoda KumarihamyDuring his visit to Ceylon , the Duke of Edinburgh wrote of her:    "She was known to be a splendidly formed Classical Beauty and Heiress, who was entering the ripening development of Oriental 18; her limbs might have formed studies for a sculpture; her features would have charmed Correggio; her rich black glassy hair, dark as midnight, falling in luxuriant clusters over her bear shoulders, and looped up here and there with threads of gold, studded with jewels, might well have been envy of any Queen".

In the late 1800's, in the gem rich gravels of the Pelmadulla rice paddy fields, a rough cat's-eye of over 700 carats was discovered on the land of this famous aristocratic lady. Even today, the Walauwa (the residence of a member of the aristocracy), her large Manor House, overlooks the lush paddy fields where the gem was discovered, and is occupied by her descendants and heirs.

The Grand Lady Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy had four daughters, and gifted the uncut Cat's-Eye to her eldest daughter's husband from another prominent family in the area. The stone was preserved in its rough form and in turn inherited by his son and the first Grandson of Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy.

As The Grand Lady had no male heirs, she legally adopted her grandson as a son who inherited over 20,000 acres of land including life interest over the largest rubber plantation in the entire country privately owned by an individual . He was also a Dissawa, a Sri Lankan title for a 'Governor'.

The Dissawa, a noted Philanthropist and renowned for the finest Cacti and Orchid collection in the country, decided to cut the precious gem. In 1930, the Dissawa invited the most famous gem cutter in the Ratnapura area to his Walauwa, and personally supervised the shaping of the stone. The final product was a staggering 465 carat cabochon. This Cat's-Eye Chrysoberyl is the largest cut example in the world (as documented by the Smithsonian Institute) with a fascinating history, owned by a family descendant from King Rajasinha the First, who ruled the island nation from 1581 A.D. to 1593 A.D. The family appropriately named the gem "The Eye of the Lion"

Chieftain's gathering
Chieftain's gathering

The priceless cabochon was set into a beautiful pendent, fixed to a grand necklace and was worn with the Kandyan Chieftain's Ceremonial Costume by the Dissawa. On one such occasion, during the Independence Day Celebrations held at the Parliamentary Speaker's House, Mumtaz Mahal, the Maharaja of Baroda (India) was captivated by the Eye of the Lion. He is said to have not been able to take his eyes of off it the entire evening. The sparkling ray of the "Eye of the Lion" represents one of the greatest gem finds in the history of the island of Sri Lanka.

In 1978, Paul E Desautels, Curator of the Division of Mineralogy at The Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. wrote:

"I have not yet been able to find anyone here willing to buy the chrysoberyl cat's eye as a gift to the Smithsonian's world famous gem collection. However, I shall keep trying because it is a superb museum piece. This gem, as you know is the largest cut stone of its kind in existence. In addition the "eye" is so intense and striking, under proper lighting, that it is quite spectacular. Ever since it was first shown to me I have been interested in acquiring this world record gem for the Museum. All we lack is the money."

Smithsonian Institution letter

In September, 2006, the "Eye of the Lion" visited the AGTA lab in New York for an updated identification report:

AGTA Identification Report
AGTA gemologist Garry Dutoit holding the
Former AGTA gemologist Garry Dutoit holding the "Eye of the Lion"

Jeffery Bergman

After the Smithsonian expressed interest in acquiring the "Eye of the Lion" in 1978, nothing was heard of it for nearly three decades. In September, 2006, the "Eye of the Lion" resurfaced to visit the AGTA New York lab in the hands of gemstone dealer Jeffery Bergman of Primagem, Bangkok.

For more information please contact:

Jeffery Bergman at Primagem.

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC

Jeffery Bergman, SSEF SGC, founder and director of 8th Dimension Gems in Thailand, is an American gem dealer with more than 40 years of experience in gemstone and fine jewelry mining, cutting, wholesaling and retailing. His career has taken him to more than 50 countries and every continent except Antarctica. He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, NBC, ABC and GEO; and has been featured in Time, USA Today, National Geographic, Gems & Gemology and Discovery Channel magazine. He is a regular guest speaker at gem lab seminars and gemological association conferences and universities.

Never Stop Learning

When you join the IGS community, you get trusted diamond & gemstone information when you need it.

Become a Member

Get Gemology Insights

Get started with the International Gem Society’s free guide to gemstone identification. Join our weekly newsletter & get a free copy of the Gem ID Checklist!