Blue Velvet: The Myth of the Kashmir Sapphires

Amy Lin of Saffronart explores the significance of the Kashmir sapphire in this month’s auction of Fine Jewels & Watches

A cushion-shaped modified brilliant and modified step cut sapphire, weighing 11.15 carats
Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches (OCT 30-31, 2012)

New York: At 11,000 feet above sea level, miners risk dangerous situations to procure one of the most precious gemstones in the world, the Kashmir sapphire. Kashmir sapphires retain a brilliant, dreamlike blue colour that captivated the hearts of kings and civilians alike. Some call these stones ‘blue velvet’, while others simply know them as the rarest sapphires in the world.

We are proud to feature a magnificent 11.15 carat Kashmir sapphire in this month’s auction of Fine Jewels & Watches. The gem is cushion shaped, with step cuts that illuminate its radiance. Its un-mounted nature allows designers and jewelry lovers countless ways in which to set it in a unique ring, brooch or pendant.

Sapphires are part of the mineral corundum family, and carry traces of aluminum oxide. Although they come in different colours, the most famous and sought after are blue sapphires that carry hints of titanium. Besides their brilliance, sapphires are extremely resilient, placing them second only to diamonds on the Mohs Hardness Scale. The value of sapphires is determined by their colour, purity, reflection and size.

The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, late 19th century
Photographer: Deen Dayal
Image Credit:

Sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir in the 1880s, when a landslide revealed a mineral deposit of exceptional quality and size. The British Indian geologist F.R. Mallet was hired to indentify the stones, which turned out to be sapphires like no other. He recorded his discovery in the Manual of Indian Geology at the Indian Museum. Upon hearing about the blue gems in his region, the Maharaja of Kashmir sent troops to secure the mines but allowed his subjects to keep the ones previously extracted. From 1882 to 1887, Kashmir flourished as riches spilled into the kingdom.

Before long, heavy mining led to the decline of profits and the depletion of resources.  Although evacuations have been led to find other mines, none could rival the quality of the first. In modern times, the Indian Himalayas have seen a lot of guerilla warfare. Therefore, whether additional deposits of Kashmir sapphires are still hidden underground is a matter of speculation. It is without a doubt that the sapphires from Kashmir’s early mining days are the best in the world in terms of their colour and size. Their unique, intertwining crystals give them a hazy, hypnotic quality that evokes dreams and mysticism. Because of their short mining debut, they are one of the rarest gems in the world, making them a true collector’s item.

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