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About Kashmir Sapphire: The Blue of the Valley
The gem of the soul and autumn—the blue sapphire is said to preserve the wearer from envyand to attract divine favor. Belonging to the gem family corundum, sapphire occurs in manycolors and is the name given to all colors of corundum other than red. When used on its ownthe name ‘sapphire’ implies blue sapphire. All other colors are called sapphire with the colorprefix- for example- yellow sapphire or green sapphire. Certain districts of Kashmir are famousfor sapphires of a magnificent cornflower blue color with a slightly milky appearance—the muchcoveted Kashmir sapphire. The blue color in sapphire is caused by a combination of titanium andiron.
Specialists and connoisseurs regard the Kashmir color with its velvety shine as the most beautifuland most valuable blue. These magnificent gemstones from Kashmir, were to have a lastinginfluence on people's idea of the color of a first-class sapphire. Typical of the Kashmir color is apure, intense blue with a very subtle violet undertone, intensified by a fine, silky sheen. It is saidthat this hue does not change in artificial light.
Blue sapphires are first discovered in the Padar region of Kashmir, allegedly where a landsliphad uncovered their occurrence, this occurrence remains disputed to this day. The famoussapphires of Kashmir are mined from a remote region high in the Great Himalayan mountains ofnorthwestern India. Lying at an elevation of approximately 4,500 m, they are located in the smallKudi ('rock') Valley, near the hamlet of Sumjam (Soomjam), in the Padar (Paddar) region ofKashmir. The district of Zanskar, which has been incorrectly listed as the source of the sapphires,lies just to the north of this area. The exact date when sapphires were first discovered in Kashmiris unknown. A historian lists it as about 1879 or 1880, but another gives 1881 or 1882. Two ofthe earliest accounts of the discovery of sapphires in Kashmir are that they were either exposedby a hill-side slipping, or were discovered by hunters.
Sapphire occurs in metamorphic rocks, lavas and pegmatites, however production is mostly fromplacer gravels. Major areas include Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, the USand Cambodia apart from Kashmir. In Kashmir they occur in a pegmatite vein in associationwith tourmaline, garnet, kyanite and euclase.
From where they are mined, raw sapphire crystals are taken to cutting centers where they arefaceted or cut into cabochons by skilled gem cutters. Particular skill is required to cut sapphiresand especially Kashmir sapphires as they are incredibly hard stones, second only to the diamond.Also the cutter has to be very skillful as these gems have different colors and intensities of colordepending on the angle from which they are viewed. It is a much nuanced job indeed to orientate
the raw crystals in such a way that the color is brought out to its best advantage. The cutter alsohas to be aware of the yield of the stone and cut it in a way that ensures least wastage.
The mineral composition of blue sapphire is aluminum oxide, and comically denoted by theformula AI2O3. It has a hardness of 9 on the Moh’s scale and its specific gravity ranges between3.99-4.00 with a refractive index of 1.766-1.774. The slight milky appearance inKashmirsapphires is caused by very fine inclusions. Other characteristic inclusions include color zoning,zircon crystals, stress fractures and negative crystals.Cuts, shapes, sizes
The deposits of the Kashmir sapphire lie in a small valley about a kilometer long by a kilometerand a half wide near a tributary of the river Chenab. The valley lies midway between Srinagarand Jammu and except for a few months of the year is under deep snow. When first discovered,the sapphires were extracted from the face of a precipice at the head of the valley and known asthe ‘Old Mine.’ Later the entire floor of the valley was found to contain sapphires, although thequality was lower than that of the stones from the ‘old mine’ and were worked on sporadicallyuntil the late 1920s, however today the mines lie abandoned.
Beauty, magnificent color, and durability are qualities much appreciated in Kashmir sapphires bygemstone lovers and connoisseurs.
The value of a Kashmir sapphire depends on its size, intensity of color and transparency. Withvery fine quality stones, these are not the only main factors affecting value. The origin of thestone also plays a very important role. Neither is the color itself necessarily an indicator ofgeographical origin of a blue sapphire. This explains the substantial differences in price betweenthe various qualities of blue sapphires. The most valuable are genuine Kashmir sapphires.Treatment is also a factor in determining price, since gemstones which can be certified asuntreated are gaining popularity in today’s markets. If a stone then also happens to be a genuine,certified Kashmir sapphire, the price will probably be in the realms of the heavens whence thisstones is purported to come from.
Heat treatment is the most widely used procedure for sapphires. Sapphires are heat treated toimprove color by either lightening too dark material or inducing color in colorless or washed outstones. To put it in simple terms, a sapphire heated in an oxidizing atmosphere lightens its color.Heating in a reducing atmosphere enhances the blue color. Of course there are some conditionsand additives needed in addition to plain heating.
In November 2011, Christie’s Auction House, Hong Kong, sold a 26.41 carat Kashmir sapphire for3,838,508 or $145,342.00 per carat, establishing a new world record for the price of Kashmir sapphiressold at auction. Formerly the record established at Christie’s New York was for the 22.66 carat HillSapphire that was sold in April 2007 for $3,064,000 or $135.216.00 per carat. This sapphire named afterits former owner, railroad executive James J. Hill, was originally part of a necklace that was set with 36other sapphires and diamonds. The Duke of Gloucester is said to have proposed to Lady Alice Montugu-Douglas-Scott with an exquisite oval Kashmir sapphire ring in the 1930s. In recent times ex-wife ofreal estate mogul Donald Trump, Ivana Trump Mazzucchelli was gifted an engagement ring set with aKashmir sapphire made by a London jeweler by her fiancee.