Origin of name
The 22.66-carat Kashmir blue sapphire is an unnamed blue sapphire that once belonged to the family of the railroad magnate James J. Hill, and was incorporated as the centerpiece of a pendant to an elaborate diamond and sapphire encrusted necklace consisting of 36 other gemstones. The necklace was purchased by James J. Hill on December 24, 1886, and presented to his wife Mary. The sapphire pendant remained with the hill family until the year 2006, when it was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society situated at the James J. Hill house, by a granddaughter of Hill. The unique 22.66-carat Kashmir blue sapphire, has become an internationally famed gemstone, after it set a new world record, for price per carat and whole stone, at a Christie’s, New York City, auction held on April 25, 2007. For purposes of description on this web page devoted entirely to this sapphire, we have named this hitherto unnamed internationally renowned gemstone as the “Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire.”
Characteristics of the gemstone
AGTA and GGL certifies the gemstone as a Kashmir sapphire
The 22.6-carat Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire, has been certified by the AGTA Gemological Testing Center on 24th January 2007, as a natural untreated sapphire, with data obtained during examination indicating that the probable geographic origin of the sapphire is Kashmir. This observation by the AGTA Gemological Testing Center was confirmed by the Gubelin Gemological Laboratory to whom the sapphire was referred for a second opinion. In a report dated February 20, 2007, the Gubelin Gemological Laboratory stated that the sapphire was natural, free of any form of treatment including heating, and having characteristics consistent with those sapphires originating from Kashmir.
Combination of outstanding characteristics in the sapphire
The sapphire is a cushion-cut stone, with a deep intense blue color known as cornflower blue, with a velvety appearance, so characteristic of Kashmir sapphires. The Hill’s sapphire is indeed an extraordinary gem as it possesses a combination of outstanding characteristics, such as :- 1) Large size for a Kashmir stone 2) Richly saturated and homogenous color 3) High degree of transparency 4) Good clarity, almost free of inclusions 5) Perfect shape 6) Well proportioned cut providing vivid internal color reflections 7) Free of heat treatment. To find a gemstone with so many outstanding characteristics combined together is extremely rare, and this undoubtedly explains the record breaking price fetched by the stone at the auction.
Sapphire set as the centerpiece of pendant
The cushion-cut sapphire was set as the centerpiece of a pendant surrounded by 20 old European-cut diamonds mounted in gold. The necklace that was associated with this pendant, consisted of 36 other gemstones and the entire magnificent piece was purchased by James J. Hill in 1886 for $ 2,200. Thus the style of cutting of the sapphire and diamonds, represent the styles that were in vogue at that time.
Why Kashmir sapphires are superior to other sapphires ?
But, let us see what makes a Kashmir sapphire superior to sapphires from other regions of the world. The main factor is color saturation. Kashmir sapphires contain the highest concentration of blue color possible, and the color is homogenous, and spread evenly. There is no color banding as in some Sri Lankan blue sapphires. Another characteristic feature of Kashmir sapphires is their velvety look. This is caused by the presence of very fine and evenly distributed silk in the sapphire crystal.
Some properties of blue sapphires
Blue sapphire is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, known as corundum, in which the blue color is caused by the displacement of some aluminum atoms in the crystal lattice by atoms of titanium and iron. They have excellent toughness and good hardness, which is 9 on the Mohs scale, making them very durable, and ideal for setting in jewelry. Most sapphires do not show fluorescence in ultra-violet light, but Kashmir sapphires can show a red or orange fluorescence in long wave length ultra-violet light. Kashmir sapphires may contain inclusions of green mica, tourmaline, and fine rutile.
Source of the Hill’s sapphire
The most desirable color in blue sapphires is the intense cornflower blue color, which is found mainly in the Kashmir blue sapphires, which at their best have a very saturated, slightly milky (also known as velvety), violet blue color. Sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir around the year 1880, in a remote region of Kashmir, in northwestern India in a valley known as the Kudi Valley, near the hamlet of Sumjam in the Paddar region of Kashmir, at an elevation of about 4,500 meters above sea level.
How sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir – first version
There are different versions of how the first discoveries of sapphires were made. According to one version sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir by hunters (shikaris), but their value was not known and villagers tried in vain to barter the stones for essential consumer items like grains and salt. But one day the colored stones eventually reached the hand of a jeweler in the cities, who after identifying the gemstone, tried to trace back its origins. When the source of the sapphires were identified, there was a rush to the remote village of Kashmir, by jewelers from Delhi and other cities. Large quantities of rough sapphires change hands at give away prices. When the news of the sapphires reached the Maharajah of Kashmir, he place armed guards in the region to prevent illegal mining, and promulgated laws that automatically transferred the ownership of new finds to the Maharajah’s treasury. This led to the accumulation of a large quantity gem-quality sapphires in the treasury of the Maharajah of Kashmir.
According to a second version sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir after a landslide in the region, which exposed the deposits of sapphires. Around this time a mule caravan that included traders from Afghanistan happened to pass by this region, and seeing the blue stones collected several sacks full and loaded them on one of the mules. On reaching Delhi, the sacks full of stones were traded for the more valuable salt. The stones eventually reached a jeweler who identified the stones as rough sapphires, which were eventually sold in Calcutta at an enhanced value. Traders from the big cities in India, now rushed to the region in Kashmir looking for more of the rough sapphires, but found that the mine was now under the control of the Maharajah, and whatever stones they could buy had to be purchased only through official channels. In the year 1882, more than rupees two lakhs worth of sapphires were sold to the Delhi traders by the Maharajah.
Boom period for sapphires in Kashmir
During the period of 1882-1887, there was very intensive mining for blue sapphires in the region, and this period can be referred to as the boom period for sapphires in the region, when production was at its maximum and the revenues earned by the Maharajah skyrocketed. Several extraordinarily large crystals were also uncovered during this period. James J. Hill purchased his sapphire on December 24, 1886. This date falls within the boom period for sapphires in the Kashmir region. Thus in all probability the Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire was discovered in this region somewhere between 1882 and 1886.
Decline in production of sapphires
After 1887 there was a serious decline in production of sapphires from Kashmir, with a drastic fall in the revenues accruing to the princely state. Alarmed by the situation the Maharajah called for assistance from the British administered Central Government of India, who responded by sending a qualified geologist T.D. La Touche, to undertake a detailed geological survey of the area. Studies conducted by Mr. La Touche showed that the old mine that was producing the sapphires had almost been exhausted., and therefore he turned his attention towards discovering placer deposits on the floor of the valley. Studies conducted on the floor of the valley was not so promising, and thus official mining came to a halt in 1889. However poachers continued to mine after this until the year 1906, when a joint enterprise consisting of the Kashmir Mineral Co. and Mr. C. M. P. Wright lease the mines. Initially the new company works on the placer deposits and some very fine specimens were discovered. However, later they opened up a new mine about a few hundred meters south of the old mine, but this too proved uneconomical, and was later abandoned due to the difficult terrain and the inhospitable nature of the area. in 1911 and 1920 more attempts are made in exploring the mines but with poor results.
The second successful mining operation in Kashmir – 1926-27
After a series of disappointing exploratory activities the next successful exploration takes place only in the year 1926, 36 years after the initial successful exploration. Lal Jagan Nath of Jammu explores the area after obtaining a prospecting license. His successful mining activities produced 64 Kg of blue sapphires, the highest production since 1887, but unfortunately his license was revoked due to certain irregularities. The Kashmir Government took over the trench dug by Lal Jagan Nath, and within 15 days produced 454 kg of sapphires, but cutting the material produces disappointing results. Once again the mines were abandoned by the government, but illegal poaching continued.
The third successful mining operation in Kashmir – 1933-38
The last bout of successful mining took place again for a five year period between 1933 and 1938, producing on an average 128 kg of sapphires annually. Since then except for illegal poaching, mining activities had almost come to a stand still, or had been sporadic with disappointing results.
Factors that militate against successful exploration
The main factors that militate against a successful exploration of the area are :- 1) Difficult terrain 2) Inhospitable environment, covered with snow for a greater part of the year, except for three months during the summer. 3) Political instability of the area, the mining areas coming under the control of Kashmiri separatist guerillas.
History of the Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire
The 22.66-carat cushion-cut blue sapphire first made its appearance on December 24, 1886, when the railroad magnate James J. Hill purchased the sapphire set as a centerpiece to a diamond and sapphire encrusted necklace for $ 2,200 from Randel Baremore Billings. James J. Hill was not only a collector and connoisseur of artworks, artifacts, and rare books, but also of gems and jewelry for his wife and children and as an investment. He presented the necklace to his wife Mary T. Mehegan whom he married in 1867, and who bore him ten children.
James J. Hill
James Jerome Hill came to St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, from the neighboring Canadian province of Ontario, in 1855, at the age of seventeen, and soon involved himself in the shipping business, establishing transportation lines on the Mississippi and Red rivers. Soon he arranged for a traffic interchange with the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. With the failure of St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1873, Hill in association with Canadian investors reorganized the company, as the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway Company, and became its President in 1882. In the year 1890 when Hill founded the Great Northern Railway Company, the St. Paul. Minneaopolis. and Manitoba Railway Company was absorbed into the new company, and Hill became its President. Subsequently in 1901, Hill also took control of the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. His business interests also expanded into other important sectors of the economy, such as banking, agriculture, copper and iron-ore mining and the timber and milling industries in the northwest. Thus, James J. Hill became one of the wealthiest industrialists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In 1867, he married Mary T. Mehegan. and was blessed with ten children. It is said that at the time of his death in 1916, his personal fortune was worth $ 63 million, and owned other assets worth $ 200 million. Most of his collection of European paintings such as the French Barbizon and Romantic artworks, have been donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. His St. Paul home was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society
Dismantling of the necklace containing the Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire
In 1919, three years after Hill’s death, the necklace containing the Hill’s Sapphire, was dismantled, and the sapphire and 36 other gemstones were divided among Hill’s six surviving daughters. The pendant containing the sapphire came into the possession of one of the daughters Gertrude Gavin, who later gave it to her sister Rachel Boeckmann. When Rachel Boeckmann died, she left the pendant to one of her daughters, and this grand-daughter of James J. Hill bequeathed the sapphire pendant to the Minnesota Historical Society, which is housed in the former St. Paul residence of James J. Hill, with authorization to sell it if necessary. The pendant was not considered as part of the financial assets of the Historical Society, as the Director of the Society, felt that it may not have much value, being only a part of a magnificent necklace.
Endowment for the maintenance of James J. Hill House of the Historical Society
The Minnesota Historical Society set up a endowment for the maintenance of the James J. Hill House at Summit Avenue, St. Paul. In order to swell this endowment, the Director of the Historical Society, Nina Archabal decided to sell the sapphire and diamond pendant, and credit whatever proceeds realized, to this fund. Archabal was told that the blue sapphire might fetch $ 80,000 to $ 90,000.
Christie’s sale of the Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire setting a world record price for blue sapphires.
The Historical Society assigned Christie’s to undertake the sale of the sapphire, and Christie’s placed a pre-sale estimate of $ 250,000 to $ 350,000 on the sapphire. However, when Rahul Kadakia, senior vice president and head of jewelry at Christie’s America, saw the stone, for the first time, he was confident, that the unique blue sapphire would fetch a much higher price, reaching the million dollar mark.
The sale was held on April 25th, 2007, in a packed auction gallery at Christie’s New York City, and the 22.66-carat Hill’s Kashmir Sapphire, was lot no. 261 at the auction. After a keenly contested bidding process, the extraordinary Kashmir sapphire was finally sold to an anonymous bidder for a walloping $ 3,064,000, setting a new world record price, for price per carat, and whole stone, ever paid for a blue sapphire. The previous record for a blue sapphire was held by the 62.02-carat Rockefeller Sapphire of Burmese origin, which was also sold at a Christie’s auction in New York City, in April 2001, for a sum of $ 3, 031,000.
The record price realized by the sapphire took the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society by surprise, and gave them the shock of their lives, as they seldom realized that a blue sapphire could ever fetch such a fantastic price. The Director of the Society was extremely pleased by the outcome of the auction, as the money realized was more than sufficient for the purpose its sale was originally intended for.
Comments made by Rahul Kadakia, senior vice-president and head of jewelry at Christie’s America.
Rahul Kadakia said, “the gem’s age, family history, the fact it was unknown to the market, and the money was going to a good cause, all made the sale, the perfect auction situation. It’s one of the finest Kashmir sapphires I’ve ever seen.”
He further commented, “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.”
By his latter remark he was undoubtedly referring to the rare and elusive species of sapphire, known as the Kashmir sapphire which has set a world standard for quality of blue sapphires, in it’s brief period of appearance on this planet between 1882 and 1887, when large quantities of gem-quality Kashmir sapphires were mined, immediately after a landslide exposed deposits of the rare stones in a remote and inaccessible region of Kashmir.
The elusive Kashmir blue sapphires make a re-appearance
During the five-year period from 1882-87, when the Paddar mines of the Jammu region of Kashmir, had its peak production, substantial quantities of rough blue sapphires entered the treasury of the Maharajah of Kashmir, after the promulgation of the law that the mines belonged to the king, and all mining activities would be undertaken only by the agents of the king. Illegal poaching was prohibited and carried heavy penalties. During this period the princely state of Kashmir earned substantial revenue by the sale of rough blue corundum obtained from these mines.
During another short period of exploration that lasted from 1926-27, another 500 kg of blue corundum were mined from a site a few hundred meters away from the original site, but cutting the stones produced disappointing results, as the corundum was probably not of gem-quality. Another period of successful mining was between 1933 and 1938, when a total of 640 Kg of rough corundum of fairly good quality was produced.
Sale of 16 kg of rough blue corundum by Jammu & Kashmir Minerals Ltd.
In the year 1960, mining activity was taken over by a newly formed company known as the Jammu & Kashmir Minerals Ltd. belonging to the State Government. The company operated until 1978, and during this 18 year period 1,169,247 grams (1,169.247 kg) of rough blue corundum were produced, which brought in a revenue of Rs 8.51 lakhs (851,000) for the state government, which was a great fortune at that time. The company again went into production from 1998 to 2005 though on a relatively smaller scale, and built up a small stock of rough corundum. About 16 kg of this rough corundum was placed in a safe vault at the Punjab National Bank. In the meantime the Jammu & Kashmir Minerals Limited were starved for cash and unable to pay the salaries of its employees for several months. As a result the company was finally compelled to put up the 16 Kg of rough corundum for sale. In fact the company had not held an auction of its rare rough corundum for the last 20 years. Thus when plans for the auction was announced an enormous interest was generated in the international gem industry, given the international branding earned by the Kashmir Sapphires as the standard for quality in blue sapphires, and particularly after the record breaking sale of the 22.66-carat Hill’s Kashmir sapphire in April 2007, for a sum of $ 3,064,000. There were around 70 bidders at the auction including several Non-Resident Indians, and nationals of Thailand. The auction that was held on March 11, 2008, was inaugurated by the State Minister for Industries and Commerce Nawang Rigzin Jora, and lasted for two days. At the end of the auction the Jammu & Kashmir Minerals Ltd. had netted a sum of rupees 1.32 crore (13.2 million) by the sale of the corundum.
The Minister of Industries and Commerce who was satisfied with the outcome of the auction, said, “So far no scientific assessment has been done; we will do a scientific assessment of the sapphire reserves and then exploit them in a scientific way.”
Seminar on Kashmir Sapphires conducted by Gemological Association of Great Britain
According to a news report released by the website greaterkashmir.com on March 9th, 2007, the Gemological Association of Great Britain held a seminar on Kashmir sapphires, at its office chambers at Hatton Gardens, London, which was attended by prominent geoscientists, geologists, gemologists and jewelers from several countries around the world. The seminar which was chaired by the C. E. O. of the Gemological Association of Great Britain, Dr. Jack Ogden, was addressed by the world renowned Geo-Scientist Haji Abdul Majid Butt, who in his presentation dealt with the history, legends, chemistry of the Kashmir blue sapphires, general geology of the area, production so far, and the availability of additional reserves in the area. The most significant reference made by the learned Geo-Scientist was on the results of the satellite imagery by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Hyderabad. According to Haji Butt, on the basis of estimation supported by tonal inference drawn by satellite imagery, around 480 kg of corundum was available for recovery through mining as initial deposit on the ridge. He invited prospective entrepreneurs to come forward and submit their tenders to the Jammu and Kashmir Government, with their plans for investment and mining the deposits.
1) Ruby & Sapphire – Richard Hughes
2) Christie’s website
3) Greater Kashmir, On Line Edition – Thursday, March 20. 2008
4) The Tribune, On Line Edition – March 11, 2008
5) La Crosse Tribune.com – La Crosse, Wisconsin.