Kashmir Sapphires: A Rhapsody in Blue

When you think about sapphires, the color blue naturally comes to mind. After all, out of all the sapphire colors, it is the most well known. But of all the blue sapphires gifted to us by the earth, the most beautiful and treasured of all are indisputably the legendary Kashmir sapphires.

The great allure of Kashmir sapphires begins with their unexpected discovery in 1881 in a majestic yet nearly inaccessible corner of the high Himalaya Mountains of northwest India. The location is so remote in fact that only a handful of trained geologists have ever been there.

The discovery was due to a landslide that struck the area, exposing gemmy blue crystals the likes of which had never been seen. The sapphires were found in a glacial cirque thousands of feet high on the slopes of the Himalaya’s rugged Zanskar Range in the Paddar region of Kashmir.

Zanskari traders, navigating the treacherous terrain, were first responsible for bringing the sapphires from Paddar to the attention of the outside world. Local villagers began trading the Kashmir sapphires for consumer goods such as salt. Before long, Kashmir sapphires found their way to larger commercial centers where they were soon sought after for their inherent beauty and great value.

What made the Kashmir sapphires so desirable was their extraordinary vivid blue color—often called “cornflower blue”—a moderate purplish-blue, the finest of which is likened by those in India to the striking color of a peacock’s neck. What’s more, the deep blue color is highly saturated and uniform throughout the stones, and lacks the modifying colors of green and pink seen in many other blue sapphires. The color also remains consistent even under various lighting conditions.

Equally as exceptional is the Kashmir sapphire’s velvety luster. Brought about by color zoning that’s often associated with microscopic layers of internal liquid inclusions, it gives Kashmir sapphires their characteristic "silkiness" or glow.

When the maharaja of Kashmir heard about these special sapphires, he claimed his rightful ownership of the mines in 1882 and dispatched troops to guard them and prohibit dealing. The crystals were then worked in earnest from the original site, known as the “Old Mine,” with hand tools, much like “digging for potatoes.” It’s been said that some of the crystals were “as large as eggplants” or “bigger than a polo or croquet ball.” Ultimately, the most magnificent Kashmir sapphires were recovered during this period until the mines were eventually depleted in 1887.

New sapphires were discovered in the area in the years that followed, but the quality of the stones could not compare with the Old Mine Kashmir sapphires. They are a rare phenomenon of nature that has come to signify the most desirable and expensive of all blue sapphires, setting them apart from even some of the best Ceylon and Burmese sapphires of similar value.

Look for them today at such renowned jewelry houses as Cartier and Harry Winston, at the best jewelry auctions around the world, in private collections, and here at Jogani, where we’re honored to have a few spectacular Kashmir sapphires in our inventory. They are some of the finest gemstones in the world.

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