THE STONES OF THE MAHARAJAS

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

WHY ARE KASHMIR SAPPHIRES CONSIDERED SOME OF THE FINEST AROUND?



The most mesmerizing of blues; looking into a Kashmir sapphire is like swimming with your eyes open in the Caribbean - crystal clear with a touch of haze and plankton.


A BIT OF HISTORY

The story begins between 1779- 1881 when a new mine was discovered following a landslide in the north-western Padar region of Kashmir, the finest stones being in Simla. The financial potential of this new sapphire source quickly reached the ear of the Maharaja who sent a regiment of his army to control and protect the mines. Word was out; the beauty and charm of Kashmir sapphires was unparalleled.

By 1887, the first site, the “Old Mine“ was mostly exhausted although lesser quality stones were still being found in the floor valley. The reputation of Kashmir sapphires was already strong worldwide.

The mines were leased to the Kashmir Mineral Co. and C.M.P Wright who dug trenches to the south of the Old Mine. What was then called the “New mine” yielded some fine sapphires though most were of inferior quality. Over the next 40 years the mines changed hands several times and the intensive mining production led to their exhaustion in this short time period. Mining methods in Kashmir have always been primitive, due to the incredible altitude (4500m), terrible weather conditions and the remote location. Still today, the mines remain accessible only by foot or helicopter. The closest road is in Kishtwar, 6–8 days walk from the mines.


Drawing from Middlemos (1931) showing the exact locations of the old & new mines of Kashmir.

SOME FUN FACTS FOR OUR GEOLOGY & GEM GEEKS

Simply put: Sapphires from Kashmir form when pegmatites cut through limestone. The heat released from this occurrence triggers the limestone metamorphism into marble and thus corundum begins to form at the contact zones. Typical inclusions found in Kashmir sapphires are prismatic pargasites, tourmaline crystals, and distinct growth zoning; transparent and slightly milky growth bands (often called «Parquet» as they resemble old Parisian V-shaped parquet floors). These milky bands contain numerous nanoparticles of Iron-Titanium Oxides which scatter the incoming light which creates the glow effect and velvety appearance typical of Kashmir sapphires.

Although found in all shapes, typical old Kashmir sapphires are commonly cushion cut with a brilliant cut crown, a step cut pavilion and often an open culet. Most of the original stones were cut in Europe, either in London or Paris, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Kashmir sapphires are always bought and sold as faceted stones as finding rough in today’s market is the equivalent of Mission Impossible.

Shown above: 1. The the "Jewel of Kashmir" weighing 27.68 carats, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2015 2. A "Parquet" structure found in a Kashmir sapphire, SSEF 3. The Kashmir Ring: sapphire & diamond ring set in platinum, RacineJewels, Geneva



THE NUMBERS

The mines of Kashmir now defunct, supply is low and rarity high. The obvious thing happened: prices escalated! To date, The world record at auction for a Kashmir sapphire is USD $243’703/carat for the "Jewel of Kashmir" weighing 27.68 carats, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2015.

In 2016, there was an influx of beautiful «Kashmir-like» stones in the market. Stones with Kashmir-like cutting styles, the velvety appearance and even a parquet-ish inclusion (upon closer one can see that while it was a similar V shaped inclusion it was not a typical milky growth band structure).Some of these stones were accompanied by certificates from legitimate laboratories stating Kashmir origin. Thankfully, the labs were quickly able to conclude that these stones actually originated from the new deposit near Bemainty/Ambatondrazaka in Madagascar and were not in fact from Kashmir. It is now common for buyers to request more than one laboratory certificate to confirm Kashmir origin.


IN CONCLUSION

Combined with the general economical decline worldwide, the discovery of theses «Kashmir-like» stones from Madagascar has slowed the soaring Kashmir market down a bit. It was bound to happen, end consumers can buy a stone with a Kashmir look without the hefty price tag. Some laboratories even issue certificates for Sri Lankan and Madagascar sapphires stating «Kashmir Style». Marketing!

Over the last few years, the prices of Kashmir sapphires have dropped roughly 20 to 30 % on average. At auction today it is not uncommon to see a Kashmir go unsold, only the high-end, top quality remains strong.

Kashmir sapphires are surrounded by myth and lore. Coming from an obscure source in an almost-impossible-to-reach Himalayan mountain region exhausted for over a century, the stones of the Maharajas will surely remain some of the most beautiful, charming sapphires to be seen.






References

Hughes, R. 2016, Ruby & Sapphire,chapter 12

Hänni, Dr. H.A. 1990, A Contribution to the Distinguishing Characteristics of Sapphire from Kashmir

Krzemnicki, Dr. M.S. 2017, Kashmir-like sapphires from Madagascar entering the gem trade in large sizes and quantities

Krzemnicki, Dr. M.S. 2013, Kashmir Sapphire

Gübelin, E.J, Koivula I. 2004, Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, Vol. 1

Sothebys.com

Christies.com



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