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Sapphire Mining

Sapphire Mines In Central Asia

Home to the famed Kashmir location for sapphire mining, Central Asia has an illustrious history, and new mining hints to a beautiful future.

Central Asia Sapphire Mining Guide

Home to perhaps one of the most revered producers of gorgeous sapphires in the nation of Kashmir, Central Asia has produced some historic sapphires that are the stuff of legends. New mining in Pakistan and Afghanistan contribute to the intrigue about whether stones to match what Kashmir produced in its short lifespan are still to be found.

Kashmir Sapphire Mining

map of kashmir sapphire mining
A map of the region known as Kashmir during its heyday of sapphire mining.

It is fair to say that Kashmir sapphires set the standard by which all other blue sapphires are judged. Kashmir’s sapphires were initially discovered by accident in 1881 in the Padar area when a landslide revealed the presence of large blue crystals, which were then collected and traded by locals.  

From 1882–1887 the site was mined extensively, and according to admirers, it produced crystals “as large as an eggplant” and “bigger than a polo or croquet ball.”  Presently many challenges to effectively mine due to the high altitude in the Himalayas, the mines only ran during the summer months and by 1887, the mine was depleted.

cornflower blue kashmir sapphire rough
Cornflower blue Kashmir sapphire crystal rough.

When the Maharajah of Kashmir heard of the presence of such exquisite blue sapphires, he posted guards to protect the mines. During the five years of extensive mining, stones as large as 5 inches by 3 inches were discovered.

As the mine was shown to not be producing any more sapphires, the Maharajah closed the “Old Mine” effectively turning Kashmir sapphires from this period of time as world-class gemstones that would go on to adorn some of the most famous pieces in world and be stolen and coveted many times over. Old Mine Kashmir sapphires are some of the most rare and expensive gemstones to be found anywhere.

kashmir blue sapphire gemstone
Blue Kashmir Sapphires that show great color are one of the rarest gems on earth.

Kashmir sapphires are known for their highly saturated violet-blue color and “velvety” transparency , which is caused by the presence of silk in the composition, leading to these sapphires being considered the purest of blue. The color tone term “ cornflower blue ” was coined from these stones. The term is often described as “sleepy” as the color is very soothing and appealing.

This remote and inhospitable site has been worked intermittently over the last century in the “New Mine,” but few new discoveries have resulted.  The region is also fraught with political instability.  The sapphires traded today are majority found in antique jewelry or selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.  However, one can hope that other deposits will be found, yielding a fantastic treasure of velvety blue.

Pakistan Sapphire Mining

pakistan map
A map showing the country of Pakistan.

Because the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border, sapphires are often smuggled out of Afghanistan and sold in Pakistani markets. Many are not aware that Pakistan has its own wealth of gemstone deposits because they remain unexploited.  

The Pakistani government has taken an active role in promoting foreign investment and development, bringing the mining industry in the country out of a stage of infancy, and into a full-fledged operation over the last decade or so. While emeralds and rubies are the most common stones found, sapphires have proven to have a strong presence as well.

sapphire mining rough gemstone
A before and after example of rough blue sapphire into a faceted gemstone.

To prompt interest, the Pakistani government leased parcels of five acres at two sapphire mines in Mansehra in the northern part of the country for continued mining.  The mines in this region are situated in remote and inhospitable areas at or above 15,000 feet.  The weather is extremely harsh and year round mining is not feasible.  

Despite these obstacles, mining has been successful and has experienced consistent growth over the years. The Silk Roads of Northern Pakistan that were an integral part of the trading culture for 1500 years now have a life producing a range of beautiful gemstones.

Afghanistan Sapphire Mining

map of afghanistan
A map showing the country of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is an important historical source of both ruby and sapphires.  Early traders, including Marco Polo, were impressed by corundum from Afghanistan, which was traded thousands of miles from its source.

Prospects for future production in Afghanistan are considered favorable if the political climate stabilizes and governmental policies are relaxed.  At present, many sapphires are smuggled into Pakistani markets through the border shared by the two countries.  The Afghani government also had allowed local merchants to sell gemstones at military bases, which means some goods left the country with foreign military personnel.

various sapphire crystal rough colors
A selection of various colors of sapphire crystal rough right out of the ground.

The extent of the Afghan sapphire deposits is unknown.  Although the country’s rugged terrain hinders production, yields at the Jegdalek mines are estimated to be about 85 percent sapphire and 15 percent ruby, all of stunning quality.

After a 2010 US Geological Survey report indicated a fortune in mineral wealth present in Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits, mining and extraction has become a centerpiece of political and industrial activity, hopefully to the benefit of the people and the nation.

Moving into other hemispheres, next let’s explore Sapphire Mines In Australia.

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