The Stotesbury emerald, a gem with a “soap opera” background, sold for nearly $1 million at Sotheby’s New York.

WHAT: The Stotesbury emerald, a six-sided Colombian gem of 34.4 carats, has been celebrated since the early 1900s for its size, shape, color and quality. Set in a platinum ring by haute jeweler Harry Winston in the 1940s, and framed by pear-shaped six-carat diamonds, the emerald disappeared into a private collection after it last sold in 1971. When it surfaced for sale recently, the stone fetched nearly $1 million.

MORE: The story behind the gem is as sensational as the stone. Its earliest history is unknown, but circa 1908 the emerald belonged to Evalyn Walsh McLean, best known as owner of the Hope diamond. McLean wore the emerald as part of a necklace designed for her by Pierre Cartier. Then, the stone hung above her 94.8 carat Star of the East diamond.

Three years later, when Cartier showed her the 45.52 carat blue Hope, McLean tried to negotiate a swap of her necklace for the Hope; but things got ugly, a lawsuit ensued, and at the end Cartier had the emerald.

SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: The emerald has its name from the next owner Eva Stotesbury, a banker’s wife who commissioned an emerald suite from Cartier; it became the center piece of a necklace. In 1946, she sold the set to Harry Winston; he removed the stone, putting it into a ring that later sold to newspaper heiress May Bonfils Stanton. In 1971, it was last seen at the sale of Stanton’s estate.

HOT TIP: Fine Colombian emeralds of such quality are no longer mined. When great old stones do come to market, bidding is frantic and worldwide.

BOTTOM LINE: That happened during the heyday of buying fine jewels in America. Note the convergence of wealthy, demanding women and creative status jewelers, and how stones were reworked so that all had their way.