Tom Hays was honored when he answered the telephone in his Middleburg jewelry boutique and learned that the directors of the Oak Spring Library hoped he would help them evaluate Mrs. Bunny Mellon’s jewelry collection.

“Let’s just say the call came out of the blue,” Tom explained smiling.  “I was honored by the request and excited by the prospect as I drove to Oak Spring, the Mellon farm, for our first meeting.”

Mrs. Mellon jewels were carefully secured at the Oak Springs Library. Designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, the library, a skylit structure of white-washed local stone, holds more than 13,000 garden-related books, many of them rare.

She provided for the Library in her will stipulating that the Library was to receive the proceeds of the Sotheby’s auction.

Tom Hays discovered to his delight, that carefully boxed among hundreds of spectacular jewels, was a blue diamond, a 9.75ct, pear-shaped diamond of such clarity and depth of color that when Tom first saw it, he knew it was of astounding quality.

“When we began to go through the collection for valuation, two of Mrs. Mellon’s staff and I were seated at a large table in the vault room of the garden library.”

We were presented with one box after another, each lead-lined, that held gems that took my breath away. Each of these boxes was filled with jewelry boxes of all sizes.  Some with personal notes from Mr. to Mrs Mellon, another with a note from Jacqueline Kennedy to Mrs. Mellon and another with a note from Jean Schlumberger included in objects d’art.”

“I discovered a treasure trove of Schlumberger jewelry, possibly unmatched in the world as a collection held by a single individual.  Many of the pieces were created for Mrs. Mellon personally.” 

“Also among the hundreds of pieces I valued were three pieces that were so beautiful and important I really needed another professional’s opinion to be certain my own instincts were correct.” 

The three pieces Tom wanted another’s opinion of included a large pink diamond ring; an intense canary diamond ring and a pear-shaped blue diamond.”

“They were all remarkable,” Tom says quietly, but the blue diamond was astounding.”

“I was immediately overwhelmed by its beauty,” he recalled. I asked the director if I could drive it to a professional colleague whose experience I trust and respect for a second opinion.  He not only agreed, but arranged for two security guards to accompany me.”

So, Tom, the security guards and the small collection of jewels, including the blue diamond, took off in Tom’s modest Suburu for a professional confirmation of the quality of the pieces.”

There was absolutely no question about quality.   In fact, the blue diamond was exceptional.  Tom could see its value reflected in the amazement on his colleague’s face when they first looked at it. 

“Watching my professional colleague see the blue diamond for the first time was exciting.   After a careful inspection, he was relatively certain that it was a natural intense blue diamond.”

But without a valuation by the Gemological Institute of America, the blue diamond could not be priced for auction.  So, off it went to Sotheby’s for the GIA valuation.

Tom and his colleague had agreed on a value of $11 million for the blue diamond.  Sotheby’s valued it at $10-15 million.

Collectors agreed about the blue diamond’s value.  But Tom, his colleague and the GIA were a little low.

When bidding concluded, Mrs. Mellon’s blue diamond sold for a staggering $32,645,000 to a Hong Kong bidder who competed with seven others for 20 tense minutes for the splendid stone.  The sale set a new auction record for any blue diamond and for price-per-carat for any diamond.

Oak Spring Garden Library

Often described as one of the most compelling horticultural repositories in the nation, the Oak Spring Garden Library was Mrs. Mellon’s proudest achievement, just as gardening was her greatest pleasure. 

Recently described as “Bunny’s Grand Finale” the Sotheby Auctions drew $218 million for the Library.  This will greatly benefit the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, the foundation she created in 2002 in her father’s name.

The Library includes Rachel Lambert Mellon’s celebrated collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artifacts relating to gardening, landscape design, horticulture, botany, natural history and travels.  For those of you who have not yet visited the Garden Library, it is well worth investing a telephone call and a sunny afternoon in a trip there.

Five thousand visitors viewed her collection at Sotheby’s Auction House and 98% of the 1,551 lots were sold.

In addition to jewelry, Mrs. Mellon’s collection included art, furniture and decorative objects.  Sotheby’s estimate of $100 million was, in the end, more than doubled by the final sale of $218 million.

Tom Hays, whom no one would describe as “a country jeweler,” reminds one of Dick Powell in The Thin Man mysteries.  His modesty and charm, and the beautiful pieces he offers create a sophisticated and discrete atmosphere in which every customer feels well served and special. 

A talented goldsmith, Tom creates pieces that gesture to times gone by, and his beautiful engagement and wedding rings are prized throughout the metropolitan area.

“Valuing Mrs. Mellon’s jewelry was an experience far beyond my expectations, it is definitely the highpoint of my career” he concluded.  “Her kind and devoted staff at Oak Spring honor her memory in everything they do.  They were an invaluable help to me. Their civility is an absolutely accurate reflection of hers.”

To contact The Oak Spring Garden Library, visit the website,

To contact Tom Hays, please email, or telephone 540 687 6997.

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