Likeness of Civil Rights Icon Martin Luther King Jr. Is Carved Into 4,180-Carat Black Sapphire

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a review of a very special exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. For a limited time, a work called Martin Luther King in Sapphire is headlining the museum’s Konovalenko Collection, the fascinating and whimsical gemstone carvings of Ukrainian-born Vasily Konovalenko, who many consider to be one of the best gem carvers the world has ever known.


Carved in 1984, Martin Luther King in Sapphire is a regal rendition of the civil rights leader’s bust carved into a 4,180-carat black sapphire. This carving is extraordinary because it is the only instance in which Konovalenko carved the image of a real person in a gemstone, and because the likeness was rendered from a single piece of sapphire.

A Denver Museum press release explained that Martin Luther King in Sapphire is on loan from Kazanjian Brothers, a jewelry dealership in Beverly Hills, Calif. The extraordinary tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., is on display in the Konovalenko Gallery on Level 3 of the museum.


Konovalenko, who passed away in 1989 at the age of 60, is a darling of the museum, which has about 20 of his carvings in its holdings. This is the largest collection of Konovalenko carvings on display outside of Russia.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is currently working on The Konovalenko Project, the museum’s ongoing effort to systematically photograph and publish all of the artist’s sculptures. Archaeology curator Stephen Nash and photographer Rick Wicker are overseeing the project.

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