You may have seen some incredible auction prices for sapphires from the fabled Kashmir mines in recent years. Could that sapphire ring in your jewelry box possibly be one? First, a bit of a background on these sought-after stones. In 1881 in the Zanskar Range of the Himalayas, a landslide revealed a remarkable deposit of sapphires. These sapphires had a unique velvety cornflower blue appearance and were brighter than other stones. Mining began in 1882 and continued until 1887 when the mine was depleted. There have been sporadic attempts at finding new mines, with extremely limited success. This means that most Kashmir sapphires were mined during that very brief five-year period, which makes them the rarest sapphires in the world.
Most of the Kashmir sapphires that we have sold at auction are from consignors that had no idea what these stones are and how valuable they can be. In fact, they are often the last piece in a group appraisal (often included as an afterthought!). As everyone besides gem experts frequently overlooks them, it is still possible to discover Kashmir sapphires languishing unrecognized in private collections.
While the only way to definitively tell if you have a Kashmir sapphire is to send it to a reputable gemological lab, several clues can tell you if there is a possibility that your sapphire may be one of the rare examples.
Look at the mounting
Is the sapphire set in a piece of jewelry? This a good place to start your examination. As Kashmir sapphires were mined in the 1880s, most of the stones were originally set in jewelry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Don’t discount sapphires that are not in antique jewelry though! People often reset stones to keep up with changing fashions, and we sometimes find old stones removed from their original settings.
You will often hear the term “cornflower blue” to describe a Kashmir sapphire. For those of us without a horticultural background, this means a vivid blue color with a hint of purple. It helps to slowly rock the stone in your hand and look for the flashes of color reflected.
“Sleepy,” “Velvety,” “Milky,” “Fuzzy,” and “Soft” are all terms used to convey the famous effect of a Kashmir sapphire. Many tiny inclusions within the sapphire that resemble dust in a shaft of sunlight diffract and reflect light. As you look at the stone, these inclusions impart the soft, velvety appearance that Kashmir sapphire collectors prize. The inclusions also give the sapphires a distinctive glow.
If you think you may have a Kashmir sapphire, what are your next steps? Our experts in the Skinner jewelry department are always happy to review sapphires that you may want to sell at auction. After an examination in our office, we can advise you on the next steps and help guide you through the process of identifying the sapphire, establishing its value, and attaining the highest price possible in this very strong market.