Professional Jeweler Archive: A Ruby with Heart

March 2005

Adventures in Professionalism


A Ruby with Heart

Donation to the Smithsonian Institution recalls a generous spirit

By Frank Cappiello


Carmen Buck was a regular in my store for years. She would stop in every few days after visiting the nail salon next door, often bringing all her sisters with her. She was the Brazilian-born wife of billionaire businessman Peter Buck, a former nuclear scientist and co-owner of the Subway restaurant chain. She loved jewelry, which was, of course, my good fortune.

But she wasn’t so fortunate. Diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, she was undergoing radiation treatments when she stopped in one day and noticed a photo of a spectacular 23.10-ct. Mogok Burmese ruby set in a platinum and diamond ring on my desk. Entranced by its beauty – perhaps it distracted her from her troubles – she listened as I told her how high-quality rubies over 20 carats are exceedingly rare. But it was one of the lowest points in her life, and I dropped the subject. It wasn’t the right time for her to think about a big purchase.

What she didn’t know was I’d learned about the ruby from Jeffrey Post, curator of gems and minerals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. After looking for years for a ruby worthy of the museum’s collection, he’d found this one and called my attention to it. He asked me to look out for someone who might want to buy the ruby and donate it to the Smithsonian.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Buck lost her battle with cancer soon after. I knew she’d been exceedingly generous during her lifetime, giving many gifts to family and friends. She’d built hospitals in her birthplace, Minas Gerais, Brazil, a state known for its gem riches. She also loved her adopted country, so I asked her husband whether he might consider buying the ring and donating it to the Smithsonian in her honor. I told him she had admired the ruby during one of her last visits to my store.

To my delight, he agreed. On Oct. 16, he officially donated the Carmen Lucia Ruby to the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection, a part of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems & Minerals. The ruby will be on exhibit indefinitely.

The Carmen Lucia Ruby is the largest faceted ruby in the collection and one of the finest Burmese rubies known to exist in the world. Cristian Sampler, director of the National Museum of Natural History, says it’s the most significant addition to the National Gem Collection since the Hope Diamond came to the museum in 1958. But to Peter Buck, it’s simply a tribute to his loving wife, a woman who was proud to be a U.S. citizen. It was my honor to play a role in helping the museum acquire a magnificent gem that will forever remember a life well-lived.

Frank Cappiello owns Cappiello Jewelers in Danbury, CT.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications