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Kashmir Sapphire

You hear so much about the hands-down superiority of the Kashmir sapphire over every other variety of this blue corundum that sooner or later you feel obligated to put this dictum to a test. So I arranged for a private showing of Kashmir sapphires at the office of a connoisseur gem specialist.

It only takes one stone, the very first one I see, to make a believer of me. The stone’s blue is rich, royal and velvety, the quintessence of sapphire color. And because the gem is 24 carats, the telltale color banding that supposedly confirms Kashmir origin is immediately noticeable. Beyond such brief details, the mouth- and eye-watering beauty of this sapphire is hard to convey.

Astonishingly, this magnificent gem, which has papers tracing it back at least 85 years, probably sold for less than $1 per carat when it was still in its rough state. Today, the finished masterpiece could fetch as much as $60,000 per carat, close to $1.5 million, in a posh Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive jewelry salon.

But if $60,000 per carat strikes you as too steep a price for a sapphire, even one so pedigreed, another Kashmir stone we examined, this one only six carats, can be bought for $45,000 per carat. Smaller size and a slightly lighter tone prevent it from commanding as much as the 24-carat splendor. Yet this stone, which its owner casually dismisses as “fine but not gem, “ is better than most sapphires jewelers and dealers may ever see. Once again, the color is a serenely soft, almost princely blue with the same giveaway color banding. When put next to a fabulous eight-carat Sri Lankan sapphire, the latter seems sharper, cooler, less sensuous (although still gorgeous).

So much for the ineffable beauty of Kashmir sapphire. Rarely, except in a few tanzanites, has this writer seen a blue that was as awe-inspiring. And yet, these Kashmir sapphires may fall far short of the standard this species set after it first flooded the gem market late in the last century.

A Flood of Blue

Believe it or not, when sapphires were discovered around 1882 in Kashmir, a small Indian state in the northwest Himalayas, they were so plentiful and large that locals would pick them off the ground to use as flint stones. When they realized these rocks were facetable, they took them to Indian dealers in places like Delhi who bought them as amethysts for pennies a carat. Later, when the gems were properly identified as corundum, their prices jumped. Gemologist Max Bauer reports in the 1904 edition of “The Systematic Description of Precious Stones” that the usual price for Kashmir sapphire rough in London, then a major colored stone cutting center, was 20 pounds (or$120) per ounce (86 cents per carat). However, the price fell when the market was glutted with this material.

Who could have foreseen that the Kashmir deposits would be nearly depleted by 1925? Even after the mines were nearly exhausted, dealers learning their craft in London in the 1930s recollect that prices never exceeded $500 per carat. Despite the sharp decline in production, sporadic parcels still made their way to the West. Even today, smugglers continue to bring out occasional stones, despite heavy police guarding of the known mine sites. No official sales of Kashmir rough have taken place in nearly 30 years. Meanwhile, the reputation of Kashmir sapphire endures so strongly that fine stones from this region are entitled to breathtaking premiums- based, in large part, on origin. The trouble is that proving origin is nowadays exceedingly tricky.

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Kashmir Sapphire