Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Rock purchased for $10 proves to be a valuable star sapphire.
Origins: One of the top "get rich quick" daydreams involves a lucky buyer who stumbles across something offered for a relatively low price by a seller who doesn't realize its true
This favorite form of financial fantasy seemingly played out for real in February 1986, when Texas gemstone broker Roy Whetstine came across a potato-sized rock in the bin of an exhibitor at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Sale. Bargaining the seller (who thought the stone was a lavender-colored agate) down from his $15 asking price, Whetstine hurriedly purchased the rock for a mere $10.
Nine months later, after he had the stone appraised, certified, and insured, Roy Whetstine announced to the world what he had bought: a whopping
Whetstine and his fabulous find became overnight celebrities, their story featured in such popular media outlets as network news segments, People magazine, the New York Times, and Joan Rivers' talk show. Whetstine announced plans to sell his bargain gem in uncut form for
But by a few months later, the wheels had fallen off his ride to the land of riches.
Follow-up news stories disclosed that
"I've handled it and I've spoken to the owner. It reconfirmed all my initial opinions: It's an insignificant stone."The Los Angeles Times talked to five gem experts, most of whom had either examined or handled the stone (since cut, polished, and named the Life and Pride of America's Star), and found a consensus that the sapphire was worth a few thousand dollars at best:
"We wouldn't buy it. We wouldn't want it, I don't think, even if it were offered to us. We certainly couldn't accept it as a gift, given the crazy values on it."
"Technically it's a sapphire" — it has a six-ray star, and its size is "very interesting" — but to qualify as a gem, its color should be attractive.
"The color," he says, "is awful — it's just kind of muddy gray."
Mr. White says his estimate of the stone's value "would be modest indeed — maybe as low as a few hundred dollars."
"You would put it on your desk to keep papers still," saidBy August 1987, a year and a half after purchasing the sapphire, Whetstine was still maintaining that "we are negotiating to sell the stone" and that "we firmly believe we're going to get several million dollars for it." Nonetheless, the lack of any further news stories on the subject in the subsequent two decades tends to indicate that either he never found a buyer or he unloaded the stone for an amount too small to merit press coverage of the sale. The find may have been a windfall, but apparently not quite the life-changing one that was originally reported.
Whetstine suggested that The Times call appraiser Elly Rosen, an independent appraiser from Brooklyn who has been a gem consultant for the Internal Revenue Service. Rosen said: "It is not of gem
Asked about the value of the stone, Rosen said, "I don't think the word million can enter into conversation. I don't think six figures can enter into the conversation. I think the difficulty would be in the five figures. It is not what it has been made out to be. It is nice to see, it is an
Last updated: 17 October 2007
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