updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
The first story (Dec. 1, 1986) told how Whetstine had paid $10 at a Tucson gem show for a potato-size rock that turned out to be a 1,905-carat whopper, the largest pure crystal star sapphire ever found. The second story (Feb. 16, 1987) continued the saga of how Whetstine settled on master gem cutter John Robinson, 37, to cut the stone, freeing the star inside. When he finished, the Star of America sapphire was 1,154 carats, topping such dazzlers as the Star of India.
Robert Cutshaw, 43, a rock collector who lives alongside Highway 19 in Andrews, N.C., spotted the second story. It prompted him to reconsider a stone he had found 20 years before in one of his "holes" deep in the Great Smoky Mountains. He had periodically thought about cutting it, even put it on display several times at his small roadside rockshop, and would gladly have taken $100 for it. "I knowed it was a sapphire, and it was a purty blue, but I didn't have no real idear of what it was worth," says Cutshaw, a self-styled mountain man partial to such expressions as "shoot fahr" and "hot dang."
He telephoned Robinson, who had already gotten more than 100 calls from rock owners around the world who had seen the story and wanted to consult about their stones. "I couldn't believe what effect the story had," says Robinson. "I went to a gem show and I must have signed about a thousand copies of the magazine that people brought up to me." Intrigued, Robinson told Cutshaw what he told some others: Send the stone to his Dallas bank and he'd examine it with his banker as a witness.
Instead, Cutshaw and his brother, Lemuel, got into Lemuel's pickup and drove with the stone and a couple of pistols to Robinson's house near Dallas. "I didn't know him from Adam," says Cutshaw. "But I felt better when I saw he had a Bible up on the shelf right thar in the main room. I figured if he had a Bible, it might be okay."
As Cutshaw tells it, he said to Robinson, "If my rock ain't worth nothing except chunking out in the yard, you just tell me and it won't hurt my feelings none." Robinson took a look and declared the stone a monster, a killer gem. He wouldn't put a value on it but estimated its weight at 5,500 carats (he had to calculate; carat scales don't go that high). He predicted the finished stone will come in close to 3,000 carats. "It's head and shoulders above anything ever found," he says, and that includes Whetstine's Star of America. Robinson then called Kent Demaret, PEOPLE'S Houston correspondent, who had reported the first two stories, to find out if he was still on the sapphire beat.
Cutshaw is back home in Andrews. The newest world's largest sapphire, as yet unnamed, now rests in his bank rather than under the bed. Robinson will cut the stone within a few days, then Cutshaw will have it authenticated as a natural star sapphire by the Gemological Insitute of America.
There's still no price tag on the stone, but Whetstine's Star of America sapphire, uncut, was appraised at the time at $2.28 million. Cutshaw says he and his wife Rita, 24, who only last year moved with their baby daughter from a trailer to a rented house, have "always wanted us a paid-for house. Sometimes Rita has sort of dreamed about one with a pool in the back. Maybe we'll get it yet." Robinson, not given to overstatement, adds dryly, "Several of them, I think."