The most famous sapphires in the world are from Kashmir, but chances are you will never see one except in a museum or in photographs. New sapphires are rarely discovered in Kashmir, and in fact most of the material that exists was discovered more than 100 years ago. Kashmir sapphires are so highly valued because the best specimens have a superb cornflower blue color and a sleepy quality (due to rutile inclusions) that has been described as "blue velvet." Some of the best Ceylon and Burmese sapphires come close, but Kashmir sapphire continues to be the pinnacle in the sapphire world. Their extreme rarity gives these stones a nearly mythical reputation.
Kashmir sapphires rarely appear even at the high end auctions. In April 2007, a cushion 22.66 carat Kashmir sapphire, set in a pendant surrounded by diamonds, was sold at Christie's auction for $3,064,000 to an anonymous bidder. At $135,000 a carat, it set a new record for sapphire. Some gemologists described this piece as "a nice stone," indicating that it was far from the finest sapphire from Kashmir. It was the rarity of these stones that drove the price so high.
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, lying mainly in a valley between India and Pakistan. A region of great natural beauty, Kashmir was a princely state in the 19th century. It became a disputed territory after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, when it joined India rather than Pakistan. The dispute continues to this day, with parts of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan.
Sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir around 1880. The story is that a landslide in the Padar region uncovered the deposit, high up in the Himalayas at about 4,500 meters. Between the years of 1882 and 1887 the mine was very productive, yielding sapphire crystals of exceptional quality and size. But by 1887 declining production led the Maharajah of Kashmir to request geological assistance from the government of British India, in the hope of finding more material. The British geologist found the original mine to be exhausted, and turned his survey to placer deposits elsewhere in the valley.
But subsequent exploration failed to uncover significant new material. Over the years occasional geological surveys were mounted and mining efforts undertaken during the three months of summer free from snow. But the marvels that came out of the original mine were never matched in any way, and today the area is mostly under control of Muslim guerillas. Whether there is more of this marvellous material to be found in the Indian Himalayas is a matter of much speculation.
- First Published: October-22-2008
- Last Updated: March-04-2011
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