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Burma Sapphire

Three times since 1971, a sizeable Burma sapphire once owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and now named after him has come up for auction at Sotheby’s. All three times the stone was bought by the same New York fine gem specialist, Ralph Esmerian. So great is his esteem for the 62.02-carat emerald cut that he paid $2.85 million ($46,000 per carat) to reacquire it the last time the behemoth hit the block at a St. Moritz sale in February 1988.That was top dollar for a Burma sapphire then.And now.

Come to think of it, so was the $1.5 million Esmerian and his father paid for the stone in May 1980, as was the $200,000 they spent to obtain it in November 1971.

Some dealers versed in upper echelon sapphire don’t feel quite as keen as Esmerian about the stone. But that’s the funny thing about fine Burma sapphire. Unlike exemplars of the Kashmir variety, the best of Burma rarely elicit the same unanimity of praise from dealers.

But there are enough tastes that agree with Esmerian to make Burma sapphire a secure No. 2 on the totem pole of connoisseur preferences for sapphire—one notch below Kashmir’s best and one notch above Sri Lanka’s.

Still, what is it about Burma’s blues that leaves dealers divided in their opinions about it?

Seeing the Rockefeller sapphire answered these questions.

Royal Blue

At a glance, the Rockefeller stone explains why Burma’s blue is so revered. Its color is royal, vivid and electric. As striking, the blue is so rich that it seems to be deposited in solid sheets. Although fine Sri Lankan stones often exhibit a similar blue, their color generally appears more watery and less forceful. (Kashmir color is of a different—and, most agree, higher—order of magnificence: softer, lighter-toned, more velvety.)

So much for the considerable pluses of Burma blue sapphire. “The blue is a bit over-intense,” says Reggie Miller, the New York lapidary who recut the stone from 66.03 to 62.02 carats in the early 1970s. “It’s a problem with this breed that their color runs so strong, stones are often too dark.”

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Burma Sapphire