Sapphires of Kashmir: Among nature’s rarest and precious stones
The word ‘Sapphire’ is derived from the Latin word ‘sappirus’ and Greek word ‘σάπφειρος’ (sapheiros) both of which mean ‘dark blue stone’. However, it is also said that this word has been derived from Sanskrit origin ‘sauriratna’ and some even relate it to the Hebrew word ‘saffir’ meaning ‘most beautiful’ or ‘perfect’. Sapphires are typically blue, but natural sapphires of colors resembling yellow, purple, orange and even green do occur. However, of all the varieties and colors, Blue Sapphires are undoubtedly the most prevalent. Blue Sapphires are the most sought-after color and are famous for their valiant shade which signifies love, faithfulness, supremacy and wisdom.
Kashmir Sapphire - Kashmiri Neelam
Blue Sapphire extracted from the mines of Kashmir is acknowledged as the premium variety of Blue Sapphire and is accredited and highly endorsed due to its blue hue and a totally different velvety texture. The velvety texture or the velvety transparency of the Kashmiri Neelam is caused by the presence of parallel silk lines running and crafting through the stone.
It is said that the extraction of Blue Sapphire started during the latter part of the 18th century (around 1881). However, it nearly depleted within a few decades (1920) because of excessive mining but on the other side it gained the reputation of a prized, exquisite and a highly rare gem.
Being rare and scarce Kashmir sapphires are amongst the most highly popular and coveted gems because of their exceptional uniqueness and enticing characteristics.
Benefits of wearing Kashmir Blue Sapphire
As per the sacred Vedas, Saturn is acknowledged for steadiness and disciplined motion and hence in the Indian Vedic astrology the natural Kashmir Sapphire holds an effective place and a high regard as the most effective gemstone for calming Saturn. The sapphire comes with effective and strong metaphysical properties that helps to cure bones, mind and other sensory ailments. It also keeps the wearer determined, focused and much progressed towards their life goals.
Kashmir Sapphire - Historical Perspective
Once a trader went to the market to sell a bag full of borax, and the legend is that in the street sapphire happened to fall out of the bag. A passerby who happened to be a jeweler noticed the same, and immediately recognized a gem stone of very high value. Another legend is that a local hunter once found a piece of sapphire which he later sold at a local jewelry and gems shop. One more story narrates that once a Shikari (Hunter) who wanted to light a smoke had lost his flint. So he gazed around in order to find quartz or a hard stone which was used to produce/spark a fire, and he found a blue stone which did serve his purpose and in a much better way. So he carried it along and on the way back gave it to a Lahouli trader. The word ‘Lahouli’ is said to have originated from the word ‘Lah’, which means mountain, peak or pass. In 1881, a landslide atop the Himalayas caused by a tremor revealed unusual types of rocks under the layer of soil. The landslide exposed a pocket of corundum blue crystals. Kashmir sapphires; as they are richly saturated with the velvety texture, are known for their superiority and have inscribed for them a legendary status. As in geographically active and austere regions natural calamities like avalanches, quakes, landslides etc. are common. But it was in 1882 when one of the spectacular corundum crystals identified for its exceptional quality was accidentally discovered. The ‘Blue Sapphire’ is regarded as the finest Kashmiri sapphires and is referred as the ‘Peacock’s Neck’ for its velvety touch and composition. Initially, locals and many gem hunters congregated at the landslide debris and many gemstones reached the market. The stones in the primary phase were sold at farcical cheap prices until the Kashmir Sapphire reached the markets of Calcutta which transformed the monetary face of the valuable stones to a brand new benchmark.
And then the news reached Maharaja…
The ‘Maharaja of Kashmir’ (a regional ruler in India) sent a regiment of forces to guard and protect the digging site and along with them did also send an additional team of miners. Maharaja at the earliest possible time ordered for all the transactions to be undone. The trade deals ranging from Kashmir to Calcutta had to be redone backwards. The traders in Calcutta had to return stones valuing even $400 000 to their respective sellers. The process was continued under strict vigil until the stones reached their initial market. Such harsh were the orders that even some packs of salt reached back to their first trader. The valuable stones (sapphires) came to the treasury of the Maharaja of Kashmir.
Old Mine and the New Mine
The Maharaja of Kashmir claimed the proprietorship of the ‘Old Mine’ which extensively worked from 1883-1887. These were the peak days of glory for the miners as this period yielded a stockpile of the finest exquisite large stones, some measuring 3 x 5 inches. The mining processes diminished, and under the direction and guidance of renowned geologist Tom D. LaTouche, a subsequent site on the valley floor yielded additional sapphires, but the quality of the stones was not that good as compared to the earlier one. The mining process was put to a halt from 1889 to 1905, and in 1906 the land was leased to a private company under the name ‘Kashmir Mining Company’. The said company initially reworked on the earlier deposits and produced only a few good stones.
In the year 1906, preliminary diggings and extraction began in a new adjacent site, which was later referred to as the “New Mine”. The digging and allied processes didn’t last long and in 1908 the company had to abandon the project, reasons being challenging location and harsh weather conditions. Very little has been extracted from the ‘New Mine’ and the land since then has been under various possessions and direction.
Also, it is to be noted that it was the Maharaja who played the lead role in exhausting the sapphire mine of Kashmir. Even in the mining process of the so-called ‘New Mine’, the Maharaja sought help from the British Geologists and this mine exhausted more quickly, and even today, no other such rich deposits have been found in Kashmir.
Brief Timeline – From discovery to depletion
1880: Kashmir Mine is discovered.
1882: Kashmir Mining undergoes the best period and discovers the largest of the sapphires. Even most of the Kashmir Sapphires that are available today were mined during these years (1880-1885). This period can be referred to as the glory period for the Kashmir Sapphires.
1887: Just seven years of its discovery, Kashmir Sapphire Mine depleted drastically in 1887.
1906: C.M.P. Wright and the Kashmir Mineral Co. leases the mines and digs in a new location. This accidentally gave birth to New Kashmir Mines – New Mine. But due to challenging location and harsh weather conditions the team gave up.
1927: Last recorded small discovery of any Kashmir Sapphires from new mines.
1937: The production of the Kashmir Sapphire fell significantly and the year marked an end to the second phase of mining in Paddar – the new mine.
1969: The last public sale of rough sapphire to date takes place in Srinagar city.
Paddar Valley: The sapphire valley of India
Paddar, is a picturesque remote valley in the Kishtwar district of the Union Territory Jammu and Kashmir. It borders Zanskar (Ladkah) in the north and east, Pangi (Himachal Pradesh) in the south and the rest of J&K in the west. The valley lies along the Chenab River basin of the Great Himalayas. Paddar valley is famous for the sapphire mines. These mines are situated at an altitude of 15411 feet above the sea level and are stretched over an area of 116 kilometers. The peacock-blue colour sapphire found in the Paddar valley is worldly renowned for its clarity and transparency. The high ornamental value of these pure sapphires easily crosses $100,000 – a carat, which makes it the most expensive in the category.
The current situation is that neither the old nor the new mines are operating at this time. And the permission to work on either of the sites falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Geology and Mining, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir. With no new gems coming out of the Kashmir mines, the ones already in market circulation are even more in demand with prices rising steeply as well. Gemologists who have studied and conducted research on Kashmiri Sapphires have highlighted the huge unexplored potential in gem and jewelry. One of the reasons for the high value of Kashmiri Sapphire is because of their finest specimens. The uniqueness and the beauty of the Kashmir Sapphire have ever since brought fame to the valley. Kashmir stone of caliber and fine quality displays a character that sets it apart on a different level in a world relatively bountiful in precious stones and corundum gems.