Sapphires from Kashmir
It is fair to say that Kashmir sapphires set the standard by which all other blue sapphires are evaluated. Kashmir sapphires are expensive and very rare. Kashmir sapphires are known for their highly saturated violetish-blue color and “velvety” or “sleepy” transparency, which is caused by the presence of silk. Kashmir sapphires are also known to have significant color zoning.
Historically, the “cornflower blue” stones of Kashmir came from outcrops in the high wall of the Kudi Valley in the Zanskar range of the Himalayas (northern India). The region is very remote and the weather particularly harsh. Although the mines were known for their blue stones, on occasion pink sapphires were also found.
Kashmir’s sapphires were initially discovered when a landslide revealed the presence of large blue crystals, which were collected and traded by locals. As the stones passed from hand to hand, their value increased exponentially. When news of the fabulous stones reached the ears of the Maharaja of Kashmir, he quickly confiscated the sapphires and posted guards at the vicinity where they were found.
From 1882–1887 the site was mined extensively, at least during the summer months, and according to admirers, it produced crystals “as large as an eggplant” and “bigger than a polo or croquet ball.” By 1887 or 1888, the mine was depleted, and T.D. La Touche, a trained geologist, was dispatched to the site to conduct a survey of the area. La Touche discovered that the sapphires came from two separate locations: an “Old Mine” consisting of pits in the valley wall where a majority of the fine stones were found, and placer deposits located on the valley floor below the Old Mine. We now know that the old mine deposit was formed by a huge pegmatite intruding into limestone, which accounts for the size of the crystals.
This remote and inhospitable site has been worked intermittently over the last century, but few new discoveries have resulted. The region is also politically unstable. The majority of the Kashmiri sapphire traded today is found in antique or vintage jewelry. However, one can only hope that other deposits will be found, yielding a fantastic treasure of velvety blue.