Saffronart Co-founder Minal Vazirani and jewellery historian Usha Balakrishnan on the upcoming conference, The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels.Read more ›
Saffronart Co-founder Minal Vazirani and jewellery historian Usha Balakrishnan on the upcoming conference, The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels.Read more ›
Eesha Patkar highlights the five revered gemstones from Saffronart’s upcoming jewellery auction
Last month was a milestone for Saffronart. We held our most successful sale ever in our 15 year journey as an auction house. We achieved world records for four important Indian artists, both Modern and Contemporary. We made headlines. And we basically raised the bar.
Even as we pat ourselves on the back—just the tiniest bit—we are already preparing for our next auction. This time, we’re adding some sparkle in the dry days of October. Not to mention, a bit of polish.
Coming up is our Online Auction of Fine Jewels and Silver on 28 – 29 October on saffronart.com. From traditional Indian jewellery that draws on centuries of craftsmanship, to peculiar sounding jewels that are as rare, as they are beautiful—we have it all.
For the next few weeks, we will cover some of the highlights of our auction in a series of blog posts. Today, we look at the Big Five: pearls, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. They’re part of an important order of nine gemstones—or navaratna—in Indian gemmology, and highly valued.
History is littered with stories, gruesome to romantic, that involve these prized jewels. And our auction features a bunch of them. They’re guaranteed to invite looks of envy. After all, as Harry Winston famously said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”
“You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night. But they’re sure fun when the sun shines.” —Elizabeth Taylor
DIAMONDS have a long history in India, which was the world’s first and only source for this precious gemstone for more than 2000 years, until the discovery of diamond mines in Brazil in 1729.
The Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who travelled to India in the 13th century, narrates an exotic — and exaggerated — tale about the unapproachable diamond valleys of Golconda inhabited by deadly, venomous snakes and eagles who fed upon them, and the arduous manner in which the diamond seekers got their prize.
Maharajas, Mughal courts and royal families collected vast quantities of loose diamonds both, for their treasuries as well as for jewellery. These diamond crystals were rarely cut, so as to retain their original size and weight, and flaws were only camouflaged with small facets.
Of the many ways a diamond could be cut, the rose-cut—the flat-backed, domed and faceted top, as seen in the three-tiered diamond necklace on auction—was attributed to Indian lapidaries. Mughal jewellers used this technique to make the best use of irregular, flat type of rough diamonds.
The lot on auction is a modern version of diamond necklaces favoured by royalty. It is significant for its use of unusually large, rose-cut diamonds, inverted, with a nod to the flat-cut diamonds used in traditional Jadau jewellery. The use of spacers with peacock motif as a harness is a subtle nod to traditional Indian design, while maintaining a modern minimalism which allows for a focus on the stone rather than the setting.
Fact: In 1947, King George VI—the last Emperor of India—inherited 239 loose diamond collets, believed to be from India, among other Crown heirlooms. He had a diamond necklace commissioned for his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, using 105 of these stones, set in a style similar to those in the necklace on auction. The resulting piece was named the Queen’s Festoon Necklace. After her ascension to the throne, the Festoon Necklace has adorned Queen Elizabeth II at various state dinners and galas in 1957, 1958 and 1962 and later.
“Pearls are always appropriate.” —Jackie Kennedy Onassis
PEARLS are classic. They have been admired since antiquity, appearing in all kinds of variations in traditional Indian jewellery. In the navaratna order, they’re associated with the moon (the celestial deity Chandra) for their soft radiance and satin sheen.
In the Mughal era, pearls were ubiquitous among the ruling class. Emperor Akbar was frequently depicted wearing multi-strand pearl necklaces. Later portraits and accounts of the Maharajas of post-Mughal India—which depicted them decked head-to-toe in jewellery worth their weight—show an abundant display of pearls in necklaces, turban ornaments and other sartorial accessories. According to historian Oppi Untracht, the natural pearls owned by the Maharaja of Patiala were considered to be among the world’s finest.
Most natural beds of pearl-bearing oysters ran dry due to over-harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, natural pearls are extremely rare and expensive. By the early 20th century, cultured pearls—grown under tightly controlled conditions through a technique perfected in Japan—came into mass production, and were widely used in the jewellery trade.
The five-strand magnificent pearl necklace on auction bears a setting seen quite commonly in traditional Indian jewellery—pierced and strung as beads. Pearl stringing was an art, requiring experience and judgment, and a great way to determine the value of a necklace by its arrangement.
The lot on auction is a striking example of the sharp graduation style of pearls, where the focus is on the size and lustre of the central pearls. The design is further enhanced because all five strands end with larger sized pearls which connect to the clasp, as opposed to the more conventional way of stringing pearls according to size. This style of sharp graduation was popular among royal families all over India.
Fact: In medieval Europe, only royalty and high nobility were allowed pearls. Queen Elizabeth I, although abhorrent of them initially, came to love pearls so much in her later life that she had them sewn on to her wigs and dresses.
“Girls can wear pearls, but it takes a woman to wear serious emeralds.” —Hettie Judah
EMERALDS have a powerful place in the world of gemstones as the most famous members of the Beryl family. Ancient myths credit this brilliant green stone with magical properties, from the ability to predict the future, to detecting falsehoods. Emeralds were even worn as protective talismans and were believed to cure fatal diseases.
In Hindu texts, the emerald was one of the navaratna stones, representing the planet Mercury. In Persian culture they symbolised goodness and purity. But it was in medieval Europe—where jewels held symbolic importance in political circles—that this gemstone was perhaps considered the most sacrosanct. According to Hettie Judah, “Sumptuary laws of Byzantium, and many from medieval Europe, forbade the wearing of gemstones such as emeralds by those outside the circles of the court; money alone could not purchase the right to wear jewels.”
The earliest known emerald mines were in Egypt, dating as far back as 330 BC, and functioned well into the 1700s. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra was known for her love of emeralds, often using it in her royal wardrobe. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors discovered emerald mines in Colombia, which produced infinitely finer emeralds in terms of colour, clarity and size.
The quality of an emerald is largely assessed on the basis of its colour. For the longest time, Colombian emeralds have led the market, as they are “blessed with near-perfect colour chemistry”, according to Jonathan Self, author of Emerald: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power.
Microscopic inclusions in a Colombian emerald can cause the light penetrating the stone to scatter, giving rise to a rich “green fire” that is widely recognised by experts and desired by collectors, who consider Colombian emeralds as undisputedly the best. The pendant on auction contains a step-cut emerald from Colombia, weighing 24.11 carats.
Fact: India became acquainted with emeralds through Portuguese traders, who brought it through the ports in Goa and Deccan. One of the largest emeralds, dating back to 1695, is believed to have come from the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughal rulers. The Mogul Emerald, as it is known, weighs 217.80 carats and is about 10 cm high, with one side inscribed with Islamic prayers and the other with flower ornaments. In 2001, it sold in auction for a cool $2.2 million.
“A kiss on the hand may feel very, very good, but a diamond and sapphire bracelet lasts forever.” ―Anita Loos
A bracelet it’s not, but the Burmese Sapphire and Diamond Ring lot on auction not only feels good, and is one to last for eternity. The blue sapphire—(yes, sapphire comes in a range of colours, besides blue)—belongs to a translucent, dark-blue variety of the mineral species corundum.
From 1880 to 1920, Kashmiri sapphires had attracted a lot of attention, found after a landslide hit the region at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The pure, intense blue with the subtle undertone of violet—mined heavily for over eight years—is still considered the holy grail of the sapphire groups. This prized sapphire is rare and coveted now, given that the region was completed depleted of its sapphire sources.
In the last few years, fine Burmese sapphires from the Baw Mar area of Mogok have gained recognition in the market. After the Kashmiri sapphire, the Burmese colour is regarded as highly valuable—ranging from a rich, full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue. The ring on auction has at its centre an oval-shaped natural Burmese sapphire cabochon of vivid blue colour, with no indications of heat treatment.
In Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon, mining for gemstones began since antiquity, and the oldest sapphires are found there. Sri Lankan sapphires are recognised for their luminosity—colours range from light to mid-blue.
Today, most blue sapphires come from Australia or from Thailand.
While a lot of Indians treat the sapphire with superstition and wear it with great caution—due its association with the unpopular Saturn (Shani) planet in Hindu mythology—many other cultures enjoy its cool, spirituality-invoking colour. The visual allusion to blue skies and the infinite universe is an easy one to make. Those who adopt gem therapy believe the sapphire brings about tranquillity and better concentration, and can cure rheumatic aches, ulcers and eye problems.
Fact: The world’s most famous sapphire and diamond ring is as engagement ring worn by Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. It was once worn by Princess Diana during her engagement to Prince Charles, Prince William’s father, and has a great resemblance to the ring on auction.
“Rubies do not age. The fire that was locked in their hearts millions of years ago still burns, even after the emperors and empires that fought for them have crumbled to dust and ashes.” —Fire and Blood: Rubies in Myth, Magic, and History
Rubies have been called the Ratnaraj, or “The Emperor of Gems,” in Sanskrit. In Hindu mythology, the Ratna Pariksha describes the demon Vala, who was dismembered for a sacrifice. Each of his body parts turned into a brilliant gemstone as it fell to earth, the ruby being one of them. Rubies were believed to treat heart and blood diseases, and to bless the wearer with longevity and excellent health. A Burmese legend mentions that warriors embedding rubies in their flesh to remain invincible in battle. Whether it was the allure of its brilliant red or its reputation as an amulet, many sought their claim to this lyrical gem.
The ruby has a rich genealogy. Rubies are related to sapphires and belong to the corundum family. They earn their fiery red colour from the presence of chromium. Rubies vary in colour, and are assigned value accordingly. Until recently, Burmese rubies dominated the colour valuation with their pigeon-blood red colour.
The discovery of ruby mines in Montepuez, Mozambique, however, has had many turn their attention to Mozambique as a significant source of fire-red rubies. Mozambique rubies are distinct for their rich, deep, red colour, which is highly coveted today. The price of Mozambique rubies is still a steal for the quality of colour and value they provide.
Fact: The ruby ear pendants on auction were worn by Mila Kunis, the brand ambassador for Gemfields—a gemstone mining company headquartered in the United Kingdom—at an event by Burberry, held at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, earlier this year.
Are you ready to invest in emeralds, but still have apprehensions regarding this big decision? Pooja Savansukha of Saffronart has put together an informative guide with everything you’d like to know about emeralds.
Undeniably, you have been captivated by the mystical charm of emeralds. You can’t be blamed; it is impossible to resist the deep green radiance that an emerald exudes. In fact, these stones have often been considered to be the most precious stones, greatly revered historically by the Inca’s, the Aztec’s and most notably the Egyptian pharaohs. Today, adorning an emerald instantly places you in the legacy of Cleopatra, Shah Jahan, and many other royal or historic figures. While this may already incentivize you, we have decided to provide you with everything else you should know to help you make your choice to invest in emeralds.
Emeralds and Emerald Formation:
Fine emeralds form naturally when a rare blend of pressure, heat and chemical solutions in the earth causes an emerald to form. Emeralds belong to the beryl family that also consists of aquamarine, heliodor and beryls in other colours. A green beryl is only classified as an emerald when its colour is darker and deeper than an ordinary beryl. While there are other green gems such as peridot and tourmaline, an emerald is associated with the richest and most extraordinary shade of green.
Considering the origin of emeralds immediately brings to mind ‘Cleopatra’s Mines’ near the red sea in Egypt that are known to be the earliest account of the extraction of these stones, dating back to 3500 BC. Most emeralds embedded in ancient Egyptian jewellery were from these mines. Emeralds have also been procured from Colombian mines since 500 AD.
Currently, emeralds are mined from several countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Zambia, Afghanistan, India, Zimbabwe, Russia and Pakistan. Colombian mines are known to contain some of the highest quality emeralds in the world. Zambian mines are also gaining prominence for not only producing high quality emeralds but for also adopting the most ethical standards socially, environmentally and in terms of safety while mining.
Mining emeralds is an extremely delicate process. It is however not the only delicate process that an emerald goes through. Before an emerald is ready for sale, natural emerald crystals extracted from mines must go through several procedures before they attain the shapes, cut and polish that we appreciate so much. Often certain stones may go through numerous additional treatments too, and these affect their value. The easiest way to evaluate an emerald is through the 4 C’s: Colour, Clarity, Cut, and Carats.
The colour of an emerald is indicated by the amount of trace elements such as chromium, vanadium and iron that it contains. The best emeralds have colours that range from a bluish-green to a pure green. Usually, the darker the emerald, the higher its value, but a tone that is too dark is also undesirable. An emerald will be translucent, and the most precious emeralds will be highly transparent, with an even distribution of colour. Remember that if an emerald appears to be too yellowish or bluish in colour, it may not be an emerald, but just another kind of beryl.
Colombian emeralds are generally known to have a pure green colour while Zambian emeralds are said to have a bluish-green colour.
During the formation of an emerald, small amounts of minerals, liquids or other fluid may get trapped into the emerald. These are called inclusions. Too many inclusions can reduce the transparency of an emerald, but a few inclusions are essential to differentiate natural emeralds from synthetics. An emerald may also contain fissures or fractures that affect the clarity of a stone. The most prized emeralds have few inclusions and very minor fractures, if any.
Most emeralds undergo clarity enhancing treatments. Historically, oils have been used to fill fissures and fractures. Resins might also be used as fillers. While both oils and resins have similar effects and are temporary procedures, a resin may last longer as filler. Generally, fillers cause no harm to an emerald and can easily be removed or altered. Emeralds that require the least enhancing treatment are usually the most valuable. You can easily enquire what types of treatment an emerald has been through before buying it.
Emeralds are fragile compared to most precious stones and are easily susceptible to being damaged. Furthermore, most emeralds contain fractures, making them even more vulnerable. But rest assured, for cuts can be used to protect the stone from damage. Usually, the corners of an emerald are cut to create facets that protect them from chipping. The octagonal shape obtained by this kind of cut is known as an emerald cut. While cuts are supposed to be protective do verify that your emerald has been cut well, as an error in the cut can drop the value of your stone. Cuts are also used to create other shapes for emeralds.
Emeralds are available in a multitude of sizes. While you might easily assume that a higher carat weight must account for a high value, this is not true. An emeralds value is judged primarily upon its colour and clarity. It is thus completely possible for an emerald with a lighter weight to be a better investment than one with a higher carat weight.
How to Look After your Emeralds?
Emeralds are very delicate and may require more care than other precious stones, but they are beautiful and maintaining them well will ensure that they remain in good condition for a long time. You just need to ensure that you don’t expose your emerald to too much heat or steam, or very strong rays of light from a close proximity. The most ideal way to clean an emerald is gently scrubbing it with slightly warm, mild soapy water.
On an ending note, remember that a good quality emerald is considered to be even more valuable than diamonds.
Check out our Columbian and Zambian Emerald Exhibition catalogue by clicking here
In conjunction with the dazzling collection of unmounted and strung gemstones on The Story, Everything that Glitters, Manjari Sihare of Saffronart traces the origins of the Peridot
New York: This week, Saffronart launched a collection of fine quality gemstones on The Story. On sale over the next three weeks is a beautiful selection of unmounted and strung stones including peridots, emeralds, tanzanites, rubies, amber, yellow beryls, sapphires in different colors and tourmalines. My personal favorite of these are the peridots, vivid green stones, with a slight tinge of gold, which I find to be the ideal gemstone hue to go with a light summer wardrobe.
Peridot or the ‘golden stone’, originally known as topazion, is a variety of the mineral olivine and is transparent. The earliest reference to the gem is in the Historia Naturalis written by the Roman historian Pliny in the 1st century. Pliny gives a detailed account of a gem named ‘topazion’ and dates its discovery to approximately 300 BCE. He writes: “Juba says that there is an island in the Red Sea called ‘Topazion,’ at a distance of three hundred stadia from the main land; that it is surrounded by fogs, and is often sought by navigators in consequence; and that, owing to this, it received its present name, the word ‘Topazion’ meaning ‘to seek’.”
Pliny’s island of ‘Topazion’ later known as Zabargad, was the largest of a group of islands off the south-eastern coast of Egypt in the Red Sea. Zabargad was once an oceanic volcano, which became visible above sea level after Africa and Asia’s tectonic plates collided. As a result of its unique mineral forming conditions, the island of Zabargad once possessed large deposits of the gem forsterite-olivine or Peridot. The ancient Egyptians treasured this beautiful green-gold gem and some of Cleopatra’s famed emeralds are now believed to have actually been peridots.
The origin of the word peridot itself is unclear. In fact, fascinated by its radiant green color, the Romans nicknamed it ‘the evening emerald’. The gem assumed the name peridot sometime in the 13th century, a term perhaps derived from the Arabic word ‘faridat’ meaning ‘gem’ or the French word ‘peritot’ meaning ‘unclear’. From the 18th century onward, the name peridot alone was used.
Considered to be a sacred gem, the peridot was often treated as a symbol of purity and virtue. The stone was believed to have magical properties, and was worn as protection against evil. Peridot is said to protect the body’s aura and bring its wearer success, peace and good luck.
Other ancient sources of the stone include Burma, South Africa and Brazil. In recent times, the United States, Pakistan and Kashmir are the largest producers of peridot. Most American peridots are 3 carats or less. Larger stones are mostly from Pakistan or China. A gem associated with success, power and good luck, peridots featured prominently in the collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad. Mahboob Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam, was particularly fond of the gem, and had them set into belt buckles, rings and coat buttons.
The largest cut peridot weighs around 310 carats, and is on display in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution. Similarly, in Moscow’s Diamond Treasury there is a 192.75 carat peridot that belonged to the Czars. A 146 carat peridot is on display in the Geological Museum, London. Smaller peridots are relatively less expensive, but their value considerably increases if they are over 5 carats, like one of those featured on The Story. Peridots with a weight of 10-15 carats or more are rare, making them quite valuable.