Thursday, May 17, 2007

Kashmir Sapphire Sets Record; A Victory for Style Over Substance?

A Victory of style over Substance?

April 25th at Christies, in a packed auction gallery, lot 261 a cushion cut 22.66 carat Kashmir sapphire set in a pendant surrounded by diamonds sold for a world record price of $3,064,000 to an anonymous bidder. At $135,000 per carat, this sale topped the former world record held by the 66.02 carat “Rockefeller Sapphire” a Burmese gem that sold for $48,871 at auction in 1991. This sale marks the ascension of sapphires found on a rocky hillside in the Indian State of Kashmir into the pantheon of super-star gemstones.

Speaking in the wake of the sale, Christie’s Head of Jewelry, Rahul Kadakia, made the following rather curious statement:

“This auction marks a turning point in the jewelry world where original design, rarity and provenance prove to be just as important as the quality of a gem.”

What precisely did Mr. Kadakia mean? Is he celebrating the final triumph of style over substance? Does he mean that the sapphire in question though rare is not so fine? The record breaking sapphire pendant (above) is certainly not a striking example of original design.

According to Christopher Smith, Vice President & Chief Gemologist at The American Gemological Laboratory, the sapphire in question is a “nice stone”. Smith, who has seen the stone but under less than ideal circumstances, makes the point that sapphires of the finest color tend to be a bit dark particularly in subdued lighting. This stone is a bit lighter and brighter at about 70% tone on the AGL scale where 80% would be ideal. The stone is well proportioned, brilliant and on a scale of 1-10 would rate between 8-8.5.

As to the gem’s provenance, interesting though not remarkable, it was never owned by royalty nor lost on the field of battle nor has it had any remarkable stories or curses associated with it. It was purchased by James J. Hill, a Minnesota industrialist of the Gilded Age, and given to his wife, Mary, on Dec. 24, 1886. Originally part of an elaborate necklace—since broken up-- the sapphire remained in the Hill family until the death of Hill’s granddaughter Gertrude Boeckmann Follett, in 2006.

So what business does a nice sapphire like this have claiming a record price? Well though it may not be able to stand toe to toe with the former record holder, the 66 carat Rockefeller Sapphire (image:right), which is in Smith’s words “extraordinary” and one of the “world’s preeminent sapphires”, it is rare. Kashmir sapphires in excess of 20 carats are quite rare and if you own one it’s a seller’s market.

The fact is the finest of the Kashmir sapphire has been recognized as the top of the mark in sapphire almost since the stone’s discovery in the late 19th Century. Celebrated for it’s cornflower blue color and its trademark sleepy quality, a gem with proven Kashmir provenance commands four times the price of a comparable Ceylon stone and twice the price of a comparable Burmese sapphire. Due to its beauty and rarity it was the next logical candidate for gemstone super-stardom.

Is this a “turning point”, a victory of style over substance, of provenance over quality in the gem markets? This much is obvious, just the price of natural Burmese ruby skyrocketed in the wake of the record breaking sale of the 8.01 carat gem at Christies just two years ago, Kashmir prices, already edging toward $100,000 per carat wholesale, will strengthen. Anything with a Kashmir certificate from gem quality to aquarium gravel will see a big boost in asking prices and the publicity will further induce star-struck consumers to choose geography first and quality second. But, this is not a new trend rather just a continuation of a trend that has been in evidence for quite some time.

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John S. White said...

Dear Richard:

Loved your piece on the record- breaking Kashmir sapphire. While style over substance may be a new concept (not sure it is), there is nothing new about provenance over substance, witness the extraordinary value claimed for Kashmir sapphires over other often superior ones from elsewhere. Then there is the problem of "proven Kashmir provenance." How does one do that? I am not convinced that anyone, even Cap Beasley, can examine a sapphire and determine absolutely that it is from Kashmir.



Deepak Gupta said...

well,i do agree with john s. white that determining origin in a kashmir sapphire is difficult,and its becoming more tricky now a days with lots of material coming from new mines in kashmir valley.Recently i have been shown rough samples with greenish hue.similar to australian sapphires.local miners who bring this material to me claims they r kashmir,i bet anyone among aal of you will reject this material as kashmir.problem is very few people actually have reached the mining area to study actual samples and their inclusions.
i think if a famous seller like christies is selling some sapphire as KASHMIR,everybody will keep a mum,or may be the buyer wont even send the stone to gubeline or some other lab.
dealers like me living in india do not even have access to laboratories who certify origin,we have to rely on our knowledge.
Richard have u ever travelled to kashmir sapphire mines?if no then u r invited....plan a trip and tell this world what is the truth about its production and different locations it is found in kashmir.

Richard W. Wise said...


John and Deepak,
Points well taken. People forget, lab determinations are opinions, educated opinions but opinions none the less. They depend on the current knowledge base. Imagine improved technology, perhaps in 10 years another lab will examine this this stone and pronounce it Burmese !
This is the inherent problem of buying the cert rather than the stone. The buyer will then have a "very nice" stone with yet another title: "the world's most overpriced sapphire."

As Deepak points out, Kashmir has produced some pretty awful stones. So Kashmir, what's in a name? My advice in my books and to my clients, "first, look at the rock!"

A trip to Kashmir, what a great idea. Send me an email. If I decide to go I will be in touch.


Anonymous said...

I think I might have run across a Kashmir Sapphire. What do I do?

DS said...

Anonymous, are you there? Where did you come across a Kashmir sapphire, may I ask you? And what makes you think it is a kashmir sapphire?

From the extensive work of Hughes, I understand that you can identify a kashmir sapphire by its telltale inclusions. Please correct me, if I am wrong.

I too think I have come across a Kashmir sapphire.

Please tell me where you think you found one, I wonder if our source is the same.

DS said...

Oh, and one more thing. According to the work of Hughes, in India, they used to identify 3 kinds of sapphires, - I assume that goes back to the times when the kashmir mines were active - : blue ones, green ones, and purple ones. So why would a green one not qualify as Kashmir? There are also reddish kashmirs, according to Hughes. I read and re-read that text many times.

Richard W. Wise said...


I am not sure of the subject or to whom your comment is addressed.

I know it would make my life easier if comments were posted at the blog's new address:


ranggasapa said...

i have gems of shappire from kashmire my be..... look at Facebook. rangga sapa'at... who's know best to u n' me so thank's...