A nuclear physicist by trade, the late Dr. Peter Buck is famous for making one of the most lucrative investments in US history — and for donating the 23-carat Carmen Lúcia Ruby to the Smithsonian as an everlasting tribute to his beloved wife. The ruby is the official birthstone for the month of July.
The investment part of the story begins in 1965 when a 17-year-old college student named Fred DeLuca sought advice from family friend Dr. Buck on how to pay his tuition at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. With an idea to open a submarine sandwich shop and an initial $1,000 investment from Dr. Buck, the two formed a business partnership that would ultimately change the landscape of the fast food industry.
DeLuca honored his benefactor by naming the shop “Pete’s Super Submarines.” That single store has since grown into the mammoth Subway chain, with 37,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries. Only McDonald’s has more restaurants worldwide (about 40,000).
Dr. Buck was able to parlay his good fortune into acts of philanthropy, which leads us to the gemstone part of the story…
Since 2004, visitors to the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, have marveled at the Carmen Lúcia Ruby. Prominently displayed in the showcase titled “Rubies and Sapphires,” the gem has the distinction of being the largest faceted ruby in the collection and one of the finest Burmese rubies ever known.
The Carmen Lúcia Ruby is named for Carmen Lúcia Buck, the beloved second wife of Dr. Buck, who provided the funds for the Smithsonian to purchase the stone after her passing in 2003. Carmen had been undergoing cancer treatments in 2002 and had seen photos of a magnificent ruby that she learned might be coming on the market after being in private hands for decades. Carmen had hoped to purchase the ring to celebrate her recovery.
Sadly, she would never wear it.
Instead, Dr. Buck would gift the Carmen Lúcia Ruby to the American people with the assurance that it would go on permanent display.
“So it seemed like a really appropriate thing to do, to give it to the nation so people could come and see it,” he told The New York Times in 2004. “She would have really liked that people could see it and know it was the Carmen Lúcia Ruby, and that it wasn’t locked away in a vault somewhere.”
At the time, National Gem and Mineral Collection curator Jeffrey Post called the Carmen Lúcia Ruby “the most important addition to the collection in the 20 years that I’ve been here.”
Sourced in the fabled Mogok region of Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1930s, the Carmen Lúcia Ruby displays a richly saturated red color with undertones of pink and purple, a coveted hue known to gem experts as “pigeon blood red.” The oval-cut stone is set in a platinum ring and flanked by two trillion-cut white diamonds weighing a combined 2.38 carats.
In January of 2023, The Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation (PCLB) announced that it would be receiving Dr. Buck’s 50% stake in the Subway restaurant chain. Forbes estimated Buck’s stake to be worth upwards of $5 billion.
Noted Carrie Schindele, Executive Director of PCLB, “This gift will allow the Foundation to greatly expand its philanthropic endeavors and impact many more lives, especially our work to create educational opportunities for all students, work Dr. Buck cared so deeply about.”
Credit: Photo by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.