Cafesjian gem collection worth more than $1M to be sold in Denver

Before he died in September at age 88, Gerard Cafesjian amassed a huge collection of art, jewelry and gems. Much of the fine art now is housed in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia, and more than 900 pieces of jewelry were auctioned in Chicago in April, a collection worth $1.8 million . But his huge collection of lapidary art, minerals and gems — valued at at least $1 million — is now in Denver, being prepared for sale in September by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, The Denver Post reports.

The collection of more than 700 pieces arrived last month in a pair of box trucks from the West Publishing Co. executive’s Florida home.

Cafesjian had a staff dedicated to crating and shipping his valuable objects, and so they arrived immaculately packed, said Alexander Eblen, the auction house’s natural history director.

Cafesjian began his career as a legal editor for West Publishing and rose through the ranks. He retired in 1996, when the legal publishing and research company was sold to Thompson Publishing.

Eblen spent more than a week unpacking and assessing the objects, which include gems and minerals from places like South Africa, Brazil and Colorado, and elements of what he described as a “pretty stupendous” menagerie of stone carvings.

Managing and sorting such a large and diverse collection is chaotic. Packing materials mingle with photo equipment in the Chicago-based auction house’s Cherokee Street office. Boxes are stacked along nearly every wall, from its front entrance to the loading dock.

In one crate, there’s an eagle carved from a single piece of ruby weighing some 50 pounds. Elsewhere, there’s a realistic falcon made from agate and perched on a copper base, and a pink morganite sea turtle mounted on a piece of clear quartz.

There are about 200 pieces like them, Eblen said, including a large number of works by some of the world’s best lapidary artists in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.

“What’s so interesting is just the quantity of the single-owner collection, the diversity of it, some of the crazy, fantasy pieces that can be made from these pieces,” said Annie McLagan, one of two auctioneers handling the sale. “It’s startling.”

The collection includes unusual raw gem specimens, some collected from Colorado, and a 500-pound amethyst geode cut to serve as a coffee table.

The auction — held in person and online Sept. 15 — will be previewed during the Denver Gem & Mineral Show Sept. 12-14. The show is one of the world’s largest, said James Hagadorn, geology curator for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 come to the show at Denver Mart each year, inspiring a pair of secondary shows and other sales, Hagadorn said. Each year, sellers convert hotel rooms into makeshift showrooms, making it a week-long event. The size of the show — one of the three largest in the world, Hagadorn said — speaks to the size of Colorado’s collecting community.

Metro Denver alone has eight gem and mineral clubs, and it’s one of the largest such communities in the world, Hagadorn said.

“It’s grown and grown and grown,” Hagadorn said. “It’s not as big as the Stock Show, but in 10 more years, it might be.”

Colorado ranked No. 8 in the nation for gemstone mining in 2011, worth $440,000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Foreign stones are brought here, too, to be processed, Hagadorn said.

And, he said, mining is embedded in the state’s history: It led to Denver’s founding, helped lead Colorado to statehood and drove people to the mountains.

“They’re full of minerals, they’re full of rocks and they’re full of fossils,” Hagadorn said. “There are phenomenal specimens that have been coming out of these mountains for 100 years.”

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