Ruby & Sapphire cover

Burma ruby, Mogok ruby, Mogok, ruby, sapphire, spinel, corundum, gems, gemology

Note: The following is only one of forty-five studies of world sources found in Chapter 12 of Richard Hughes' book, Ruby & Sapphire. If you like what you see, order a copy direct from the publisher.

IndiaKashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

India has long been synonymous with gemstones. Beryls, pearls, carnelians and Golconda's storied diamonds were but a few of the precious substances which for millennia drew visitors to the subcontinent. To the ancient Romans, the East, specifically India, was the repository of all wealth. Indians not only sold their mineral treasures to Rome, but were leaders in developing the technologies that allowed such deposits to be exploited. India's rulers were also the world's greatest gem collectors, amassing riches of incalculable value.

No land save Sri Lanka has venerated the corundum gems longer than India. In fact, the term corundum is derived from the Sanskrit word kurand (see page 29). Since the earliest times, ruby and sapphire in India have ranked among the Maharatnani ('great gems'). India's ancient jewelers divided gems into two main groups: Maharatnani ('great gems') and Uparatnani ('secondary gems'). In the former class was placed diamond, pearl, ruby, sapphire and emerald. Early Sanskrit texts dealt with ratnapariksa ('investigation of gems,' or 'gemology'), and divided blue sapphire ('nilamani') into two varieties, indranila and mahanila. The former was described as rarer and more precious, displaying a rainbow blue, while the latter apparently included stones of a darker hue (Brown, 1956). According to Holland (1898), three classes of sapphires were recognized by Indian jewelers: deep blue, those with a tinge of green (subj-pun nílá) and those with a tinge of red (lál-pun nílá).

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 1  Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundumA selection of both rough and cut sapphires from the famous Kashmir mine. The cut stones range from 6–14 ct. (Photo: Henry Hänni/SSEF)

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundumSupernatural powers were attributed to gems in India. One way this was manifested was the interdependence between gems and planets. Ruby, associated with the Sun, was the Lord of Gems, for the Sun lorded over all the planets. Sapphire was associated with Saturn (Wojtilla, 1973).

The earliest Sanskrit texts mention only Sri Lanka as a source of ruby and sapphire. Somewhat later, Kalinga (northeast India, between the valleys of the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers) and Kalpur (Kalpura; in central India) are added, but neither are today sources of corundum. About 1884, a buried treasure of some sixty rough sapphires was unearthed from a mound amongst the temples atop the sacred hill of Mahendragiri, in the Ganjam district of Kalinga. They were probably placed there as a votive offering at some unknown date in the past. After being cut in Madras, they were examined in by the Geological Survey of India, and pronounced to be of good quality (Brown, 1956).Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Timeline of Kashmir sapphire
1879–82 Blue sapphires are first discovered in the Padar region of Kashmir, allegedly where a landslip had uncovered their occurrence (Mallet, 1882; Shepard, 1883; Ball, 1885b; La Touche, 1890).
1882 Sapphires begin to appear in Simla. The Maharajah of Kashmir intervenes by sending a regiment of sepoys to take control of the mines (Ball, 1885b). Delhi jewelers buy up more than two lakhs (#20,000) worth of stones (Mallet, 1882).
1882–87 The glory days of the Kashmir sapphire mine. During this period, crystals as large as 5" (12.7 cm) long by 3" (7.62 cm) wide are found (La Touche, 1890).
1887–88 Declining revenues cause the Maharajah of Kashmir to ask the British Indian Government for assistance. T.D. La Touche is dispatched to the mines to undertake the first detailed geologic survey of the area. He finds the "Old Mine" exhausted and turns his attention to placers on the valley floor, where systematic sampling via pits is done. Placer yields are found to decrease at the lower end of the valley, and below the 1 m level. During 1887, his team finds one parti-colored piece of rough weighing ~6 oz (933 ct)[a] (La Touche, 1890).
1889–1905 Official mining halts, but local poachers continue to dig (Minerals Yearbook, 1906).
1906–08 C.M.P. Wright and the Kashmir Mineral Co. lease the mines. Wright reworks the placer deposits and obtains a number of fine stones. He digs a trench a few hundred meters south of the Old Mine, but eventually gives up, due to the difficulties of mining in such an inhospitable area. Wright's trench later becomes known as the "New Mine" (Middlemiss, 1931). One stone reportedly sells for #2000 (Heron, 1930).
1911 Lala Joti Parshad visits the mines as Mining and Prospecting Officer. He mines the southwest opening of the New Mines, but results are poor (Middlemiss, 1931).
1920 Sohnu Shah of Jammu leases the mines, with poor results. This apparently confirms the belief that the mines are exhausted (Middlemiss, 1931).
1924 Pandit Labhu Ram, Junior Assistant Superintendent Mineral Survey, maps the area of the Old and New Mines. This results in much useful information on where sapphire is found in situ (Middlemiss, 1931).
1926 Lala Jagan Nath of Jammu is given a prospecting license and obtains 5,500 tolas (~64 kgs) of sapphire. His license is revoked due to certain irregularities (Middlemiss, 1931).
1927 Lala Joti Parshad and Pandit Labhu Ram of the Kashmir government extract 39,029 tolas (~454 kgs) of material from Lala Jagan Nath's trench at the New Mines in 15 days. Cutting the material, however, produces disappointing results (Middlemiss, 1931).
1928–32 With the exception of poachers, no mining is done (Brown & Dey, 1955).
1933–38 Systematic mining again commences. Average annual production is 641,656 ct (128 kgs). (Brown & Dey, 1955)
1939–43 Outbreak of World War II results in declining production (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).
1944 Geologist R.V. Gaines and R.C. Rice, on leave from the US Army in Calcutta, visit the mines. Theirs is the first trip by Western geologists in many years. They find the mine guarded by a team of police (Gaines, 1946).
1945–51 Sporadic mining by private lessees, with little of quality found (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).
1952–59 Sporadic mining by the Kashmir state government (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).
1960 The mine is taken over by Jammu & Kashmir Minerals Ltd., a state government concern. They continue to operate at least through 1979 (Anonymous, 1978).
1961 Kashmir government geologist, B.K. Raina, makes a detailed, but confidential, survey of the mines (Raina, 1961).
1966–67 Raina and M.L. Parimoo undertake a detailed, but confidential, mapping of the mines (Parimoo & Raina, 1968).
1967 The Maharajah of Kashmir's political power is broken (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).
1977–79 The Indian government discusses leasing the mines, without success (Anonymous, 1977b, 1978, 1979a, 1979c).
1981 D. Atkinson and R.Z. Kothavala make the first visit by outside geologists to the area in many years. Their reports are the best accounts of the mines published to date (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983, 1985).
1982–present Government continues to discuss leasing the mines, but without success. Muslim guerrilla activity in the mining area increases and, as of 1994, the mining region was considered rebel territory (Cap Beesley, pers. comm., Dec. 5, 1994).

a. Although La Touche did not specifically say so, it is assumed these are Troy (apothecary) ounces. [return to Timeline]Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum While India's use of impure corundum as an abrasive appears to stretch back at least a millennia or more (see page 199), the country's history of gem corundum production is relatively brief. Low-grade ruby has been mined for an indefinite period, but India did not enter the major leagues of gem corundum production until the 1880s, with the discovery of sapphire in Kashmir. It is to these mines that we now turn.Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Kashmir sapphires – blue velvetKashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

The famous sapphires of Kashmir are mined from a remote region high in the Great Himalayan mountains of northwestern India. Lying at an elevation of approximately 4,500 m, they are located in the small Kudi ('rock') Valley, near the hamlet of Sumjam (Soomjam), in the Padar (Paddar) region of Kashmir. The district of Zanskar, which has been incorrectly listed as the source of the sapphires, lies just to the north (Ball, 1885b; Steve Karpa, pers. comm., 1990).

History of the Kashmir mineKashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Exactly when sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir is unknown. Ball (1885b) lists it as about 1879 or 1880, but La Touche (1890) gives 1881 or 1882. The following is one of the earliest accounts of the discovery of sapphires in Kashmir:

There are two versions of the discovery of the corundum deposits at Sungchang in Zanskar, one being that they were exposed by a hill-side slipping, the other that they were discovered by hunters. Their value was so little known that the villagers bartered them for a trifle to Lahouli traders, who in their turn vainly endeavored to exchange them for grain in Kulu. On their value becoming known, there was a rush of jewelers from Delhi and other places; and they speedily rose to 100 rs. per tola = about #20 stg. per oz., for good specimens, at which rate they have remained; at present none are to be had, all the stock brought down has been sold, and the mine is strictly guarded by one of the Maharajah's Dogra regiments. So far as I can learn, the matrix is a schistose or slaty rock….

The Maharajah has recently released from prison and largely rewarded two native hunters, who had been imprisoned for dealing in sapphire, on condition of their showing him two other deposits, one of blue and the other of red corundum. I have no information regarding these deposits. A small fragment of the red corundum has, however, found its way to Kulu; it is true oriental ruby, perfectly clear, and of a beautiful water.

A. Grahame Young, Kulu, Aug. 8, 1882
(from Shepard, 1883)

Another version of the discovery was told to Albert Ramsay (1934):

In India my eyes have been dazzled by such jewels as never have been seen in the Western world. When I was last in the Srinagar palace of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir thirty trays were brought before me, and if I were to say that any one tray, sent to market, would fetch a million dollars, I would be giving only a faint impression of the astonishing wealth and beauty of those treasures of an Indian gentleman.

A handsome man is Colonel His Highness Maharaja Sir Hari Singh. In the afternoon he had shown me his sapphires and told me the story of how they were found.

It seemed that in the old days a band of men with beards dyed red found some blue stones exposed by a landslide in the hills of Kashmir. These men had come from Afghanistan, part of a mule caravan on its way to Delhi. The stones, as curiosities, were put away in the bags on one of the mules, and then, in Delhi, they were traded for salt. Thereafter they were sold to someone who recognized them to be rough sapphires: and they were resold and resold and resold, until finally, in Calcutta, they brought in rupees a price which was equal to $400,000. The news of this transaction got back to the maharaja of that time, who discovered that the sapphires had been picked up in his own Kashmir hills. In great wrath he went to Calcutta and demanded them. Every single transaction in the long train had to be undone. The man who had sold the sapphires gave back the $400,000, and so it went through many towns, until, at Delhi, a merchant received back a few bags of salt. Today, I should think, those Kashmir sapphires are worth $3,000,000. One of them is as large as an eggplant. For one of the smaller fragments I offered His Highness $25,000. He just laughed at me; he does not want to part with any object in his beloved collection, but, oh, how I should like to buy some of those treasures!

Albert Ramsay (with Boyden Sparkes), 1934

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 2  View of the Kashmir sapphire mines. Taken in 1887–8, this is among the earliest photos of the fabled deposit. (From La Touche, 1890)

Still another version is that of T.D. La Touche (1890):

The existence of sapphires in considerable quantities in some part of the North-West Himalayas was first brought to light in 1881, or early in 1882, when some were brought into Simla by traders from Lahol, who stated that they had been obtained from a spot among the mountains on the borders of Zanskar, where a landslip had laid bare the rocks beneath the soil, and disclosed the presence of the gems. Various stories are told of the original discovery; according to one of these, which was told me on the spot, a certain shikari, having lost the flint from his gun while out hunting, or, as is the custom of the natives when in want of a light for their pipes, looking for a handy fragment of quartz or other hard rock to strike a light with, picked up a small sapphire, and finding that it answered his purpose better than the ordinary fragments of quartz he was in the habit of using, carried it about with him for some time, and eventually sold it to a Laholi trader, by whom it was taken to Simla, where its value was recognised. Enquiries were then made, which resulted in the discovery of the spot where the shikari had picked up the stone, and for some time, until guards were posted near the locality by the Maharajah of Kashmir, in whose territory it lies, large quantities of the stones were brought to Simla and sold at absurdly low prices, the Laholis only asking about one rupee per seer for them. Another story runs to the effect that a number of traders who had arrived in the Simla bazaar with borax from Rupshu were emptying their baskets in a merchant's shop, when a stone fell out and was thrown by the merchant into the street. The well-known jeweller, Mr. Jacobs [1], happened to be passing at the time, and, so the story goes, was struck by the stone. Picking it up, perhaps with the intention of returning it, he saw what it was, and on the merchant's claiming it, when he saw that there was something unusual about it, bought it for a small sum. This latter story, if it is to be relied on, would seem to point to the existence of another and as yet unknown locality for the gems, somewhere in Rupshu; otherwise it would be difficult to account for the presence of the sapphire among the borax, which is brought to Simla along a route that does not pass anywhere near the known locality in Padar. Various stories have been circulated of the discovery of sapphires in Kulu and other portions of the North-West Himalayas, but up to the present time none of these have been confirmed.

T.D. La Touche, 1890

In the beginning, sapphires were so abundant that one person reported seeing about 1 cwt. (~50.8 kg) of them in the possession of a native (Brown, 1956).

Gradually, as they were carried by traders to distant points, especially to Simla, their value became known, and the agents of jewellers commenced a brisk competition, till most of the available stones had been bought up. The Maharajah of Cashmere then intervened by sending a regiment of sepoys, with their officers, to take possession of the mines; and, it would appear, with carte blanche to harry the inhabitants who had, or who were suspected of having, any of the stones in their possession. Indeed, so thoroughly did they fulfil their mission, that any one they laid hands upon who was found to have money, was suspected of either having sold or being about to purchase sapphires, was thereupon despoiled, and if not arrested and confined, was placed under observation.

The effect, as described by the few Europeans, principally missionaries, who live in the country, has been to cause those who knew, or thought they knew, other localities where similar stones were to be found to remain silent, and to conceal evidence of their knowledge so as to escape oppression.

Valentine Ball, 1885b

Theft of stones was a constant problem, and remains so today, with "gangs of hardy smugglers" appearing out of nowhere, ever ready to take advantage of the extreme remoteness of the locale to pilfer stones (Middlemiss, 1931). Due to the altitude, conditions were difficult at the mines. Even in the best years, mining was limited to the three short summer months of July-September, being covered in snow at other times. Some years, barely 30 days of mining were possible, due to snow.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 3  This 3.03-ct Kashmir sapphire illustrates the color and velvety texture which has made stones from this locality so famous. (Photo: ©1986 Tino Hammid; gem: Meyer & Watt)

In the year 1887, on finding a steady decrease in revenues from the mines, the Maharajah approached the Government of India for assistance in assessing and developing the site. T.H.D. (T.D.) La Touche, a trained geologist, was dispatched to the site in September of that year. His account (La Touche, 1890) was the first scientific description of the area.

Upon his arrival, La Touche found that material was obtained from two different sites. The first of these, now termed the "Old Mine," was a group of shallow pits sunk into an actinolite-tremolite rock containing small pegmatite lenses, high on the northeast wall of Kudi Valley. The vast majority of fine stones were found in these lenses. Sapphires were also mined from the placers 250 m below the Old Mine, on the valley floor, but were generally of lower quality.

La Touche also traced the pegmatite-bearing rock through the ridge to the north side, and did discover large blocks of corundum-bearing granite. However, despite La Touche's ingenious attempt to create a landslip to trace the source of these blocks, it was not found. Since that time others have also attempted to locate sapphire-bearing lenses on the opposite side, but without success.

At the time of La Touche's visit, the Old Mine was practically exhausted. Although another site (termed the 'New Mine'), was later found, it produced little. What this means is that virtually all of the large fine Kashmir sapphires in existence were taken from the site known as the Old Mine during the period from 1881–1887. In just six years, this mine produced such a quantity of fine stones that they achieved a reputation second to none among sapphires. So fine was their quality that, today, they remain the standard against which all others are measured. Utterly incredible, but absolutely true.

Finding the Old Mine exhausted, La Touche turned his attention to the placers below, and worked them with mostly mediocre results. One success, however, was the discovery of a 6 oz (933 ct) parti-colored giant. In 1888, he was back for another try, but found little.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 4  The sapphire washing apparatus constructed by La Touche at the Kashmir mine. Taken in 1887–8, this is the earliest photo known of mining at this storied location. (From La Touche, 1890)

From 1889 to 1906 there was a lull in official mining, with the only digging being that of poachers. In 1906, the Maharajah leased the mines to private interests. C.M.P. Wright reworked the placers after much study and obtained many fine stones. 1907 brought the discovery of the New Mine, a few hundred meters southeast of the Old Mine. Wright, however, was eventually forced to abandon his efforts, due to the many difficulties encountered in mining in such an inhospitable region. Active efforts did not resume until 1924.

In 1926, Lala Jagan Nath reopened the New Mine and extracted over 60 kg of corundum. His license was revoked for irregularities just one year later. 1927 was to be the last gasp of the Kashmir sapphire mines. Over 450 kg was taken from the New Mine in just 15 days, but few fine cut stones above 10 ct resulted. Middlemiss, in his report of 1931, had great hopes for the mines. These were based, in part, on the potential of discovering the sapphire outcrop on the opposite side of the ridge. Unfortunately, his hopes were never realized.

In 1944, geologist R.V. Gaines and R.C. Rice, both on leave from the US Army in Calcutta, visited the mines. They found most openings had been walled up and sealed to prevent poaching. As a further hindrance, in addition to the permanent police post at Kudi, a platform was erected on the ridge overlooking the mines. This platform was named the "Black House," in allusion to the bleak and lonely life of the three policemen stationed there (Gaines, 1946). It later burned and has not been rebuilt (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).

Today the adits are heavily barred to prevent entry and the entire valley is closely watched by a small team of police stationed at its mouth year round (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983; Steve Karpa, pers. comm., 1990).

Since 1927, the mines have been worked intermittently, but with no real success. Every few years the Kashmir Government makes noises about leasing out the mines, but so far these attempts have not come to fruition (Anonymous, 1977b, 1978, 1979a, 1979c). From 1889 to 1906 there was a lull in official mining, with the only digging being that of poachers. In 1906, the Maharajah leased the mines to private interests. C.M.P. Wright reworked the placers after much study and obtained many fine stones. 1907 brought the discovery of the New Mine, a few hundred meters southeast of the Old Mine. Wright, however, was eventually forced to abandon his efforts, due to the many difficulties encountered in mining in such an inhospitable region. Active efforts did not resume until 1924.

In 1926, Lala Jagan Nath reopened the New Mine and extracted over 60 kg of corundum. His license was revoked for irregularities just one year later. 1927 was to be the last gasp of the Kashmir sapphire mines. Over 450 kg was taken from the New Mine in just 15 days, but few fine cut stones above 10 ct resulted. Middlemiss, in his report of 1931, had great hopes for the mines. These were based, in part, on the potential of discovering the sapphire outcrop on the opposite side of the ridge. Unfortunately, his hopes were never realized.

In 1944, geologist R.V. Gaines and R.C. Rice, both on leave from the US Army in Calcutta, visited the mines. They found most openings had been walled up and sealed to prevent poaching. As a further hindrance, in addition to the permanent police post at Kudi, a platform was erected on the ridge overlooking the mines. This platform was named the "Black House," in allusion to the bleak and lonely life of the three policemen stationed there (Gaines, 1946). It later burned and has not been rebuilt (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).

Today the adits are heavily barred to prevent entry and the entire valley is closely watched by a small team of police stationed at its mouth year round (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983; Steve Karpa, pers. comm., 1990).

Since 1927, the mines have been worked intermittently, but with no real success. Every few years the Kashmir Government makes noises about leasing out the mines, but so far these attempts have not come to fruition (Anonymous, 1977b, 1978, 1979a, 1979c).

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 5  The location and geology of the famous Kashmir sapphire mines near Sumjam. Rubies are mined near Gharan in Afghanistan / Tajikistan, as well as near Aliabad in Pakistan. (Modified from Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983; based on Middlemiss, 1931)

Description of the deposit

Mining methods at the Kashmir mines have always been primitive, due to the altitude and remote location. Still today, the mines remain accessible only by foot or helicopter. The closest roadhead is at Kishtwar, 6–8 days' march from the mines. Much of the journey is over narrow mountain paths fit only for man and small pack animals. In many places large rivers must be crossed, spanned only by hanging bridges not designed for large loads. This, as much as anything, has ensured that mining methods remain primitive.

The sapphires of Kashmir occur in outcrops high on the wall of the Kudi Valley. Within an actinolite-tremolite rock, small pegmatite lenses occur, and it is within these lenses that the sapphires are found. Originally a landslip exposed the sapphires at the surface, allowing discovery. At first, huge quantities were obtained by simple digging. In places they were as thick as "plums in a pudding," and sometimes of enormous sizes. Many of the finest stones were obtained by the Maharajah and were stored at the Kashmir State Treasury. A number of authorities reported that large sacks and chests containing literally a king's ransom worth of rough and cut sapphires lay hidden away in the Kashmir State Treasury Chambers. The material, culled from 40 years' production, was quite literally the cream of the crop. C.S. Middlemiss (1931) described this hoard as follows:

We are aware that one of these outcrops, namely that of the Old Mine, continued yielding gemstone [sic] for an appreciable time, and gave an extremely good output of very large stones from about the year 1881 to about 1887. This is a historical fact and is well known to many living people. A few specimens of sapphire then collected are still preserved, jealously guarded by the State, in the toshakhana [treasury], and have been seen by the writer. Of these there is at least one large piece, bigger than a polo or croquet ball, and others smaller all of a rich blue colour. There are also many cases of cut gems of pendant size which are superficially as large as florins.

C.S. Middlemiss, 1931

Incredible! Bigger than a croquet ball. What became of these stones? We just do not know. Although many merchants visited Jammu and Srinagar with the intention of purchasing some or all of these stones, their offers were refused (Halford-Watkins, 1935). The present author recalls reading about a caretaker trying to steal this treasure about 1978–82, taking one piece each day in his lunch pail. He was caught and the stolen goods apparently recovered. Since then, nothing further has been heard of the "hoard of Kashmir." All we can do is wait and hope.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Uncorroded Crystal Corroded Crystal
Figure 6  The famous Kashmir sapphire mines produce two different types of rough. Some of the crystals display heavily corroded surfaces, while in others the original crystal surfaces are largely intact. Like the ottu sapphires from Sri Lanka, the color in Kashmir sapphires lies mainly along the crystal faces, with the core of the crystal being colorless. Unfortunately, in the corroded crystals this vital color layer is largely absent, making them poorly suited for cutting. Both corroded and uncorroded crystals have proven satisfactory for heat treatment. (Redrawn by the author from Middlemiss, 1931)

Middlemiss also discussed the failure of all the first geologists on the scene to describe the actual occurrence from which these fine stones emanated:

But of the details of the in situ rock occurrence whence these magnificent trophies were won we unfortunately know hardly anything, nor have we any recent descriptions by the Mineral Survey or Mining Engineer of the nature of the quarry, pits or other openings made by the early pioneers at this place. It is a curious fact that all the geological and mining men who have visited and reported on these mines, from La Touche downwards, though agreeing as to the position of the Old Mine workings, have one and all seemed to shirk any description of them. Are they rock-face workings, irregular burrowings, tunnels, pits or what, what is their extent and how deep from the surface do they go? We simply do not know! La Touche, in his published paper simply says "here the face of the rock has been laid bare by a landslip, and at first the sapphires were taken out of the granite itself: but when I visited the mines this patch of rock had ceased to yield any for some time, nor did the closest search bring any more to light". Labhu Ram in his report says "the Old Mine is also located in the same actinolite-tremolite mass that contains the New Mines…. No trace of pegmatite veins is found near it and the mine has not yielded any stones for very many years since the late eighties". Later on in his report he discusses the point whether or not the sapphire may have had a different source altogether to that of the New Mines "having been derived either from the garnetiferous gneiss bands found exposed above and below the mine, or directly from the actinolite-tremolite schist".

None of the others who visited the mines, including the Mining Engineer, have anything to say at all on this matter.

This is all very unsatisfactory; but at least we may conclude that very large sapphire pieces were got from this point of the rectangular area mentioned above, although details as to its matrix, mode of occurrence and the nature of the workings remain obscure.

C.S. Middlemiss, 1931

Evidently, those who did have a chance to observe the workings at the Old Mine were so impressed by what was found that they completely forgot to describe the workings. This means that we know little about how these incredible stones were obtained. Today all that remains of the Old Mine are a few shallow burrows dug into the rock.

About 100 m from the Old Mine are a series of shallow adits distributed over a small area. In the early 1980s, much blasting had been done to get at the sapphire-bearing pegmatite (Atkinson & Kothavala, 1983).

Kashmir sapphires compared

Overview

In the 30–40 year period during which the mines were intensively worked, Kashmir sapphires achieved a reputation second to none. Today, with the exception of estate sales, fine Kashmir sapphires are virtually unobtainable, mute testimony of the degree to which they are coveted. Outside the collection seen in the Jammu and Kashmir State Treasury, few cut stones of greater than 65 ct have been reported (Schwieger, 1990). Crystals are sometimes of enormous size. Mallet (1882) reported on one which measured 1 ft (30 cm) in length.

The treasures of Kashmir –
Mother lode, or mother of futility?

Is the Kashmir mine played out, or do riches still await those patient enough to explore further? The possible answer lies in the nature of the occurrence. Kashmir sapphires occur as the result of pegmatites cutting through a limestone. Heat from the intrusion has resulted in metamorphism of the limestone to marble, with corundum forming at the fringes. Such heat does not normally occur in one area only. Thus the discovery of sapphire in Kashmir is possibly more widespread than what has so far been discovered. While La Touche reported that placer yields were found to decrease at the lower end of the valley, and below the 1 m level, it is possible that he was testing only the fringes of the deposit (Delmer Brown, pers. comm., 30 Nov., 1994). Similarly, the primary pockets in which the sapphires are found are probably scattered throughout the fringes of actinolite-tremolite band. Typically, the nature of such pocket-based occurrences is feast or famine, and history is replete with examples where such mines were abandoned just a few meters or days' work short of paydirt.

In the case of the Kashmir sapphire mine, a logical course of exploration would involve mapping the extent of the intrusions within the limestone. Then it would be a matter of bringing in appropriate equipment and getting down to work. As the Russians have shown with their Siberia diamond mines, extreme weather is not a barrier for those who have the drive to succeed. A road could be constructed from the mine to a lower-altitude area with plentiful water for washing the sapphire ore. This ore could then be stockpiled in the winter months, for later washing in summer. But with the Kashmir mines, location and access are just convenient excuses for a lack of action. The real barriers to mining in this area are the backward economic policies of the central government, and the political problems which have resulted from the conflicts with Pakistan. Until these problems are solved, the famous sapphires of Kashmir will continue to repose in their icy tomb.

Color

Kashmir sapphires range from near colorless through a deep blue, with the occasional pink to purple stone found. The large fine gems of years gone by were generally cut from the blue areas of much larger crystals. Those specimens that possess smooth faces contain this blue layer intact. However, many pieces feature heavily corroded surfaces and thus the blue layer is only partially present, if at all. The following description of Kashmir sapphire by Jaipur gem trader, Rajroop Tank tallies well with the author's experience:

KASHMIR:--The Sapphires of Kashmir form an exclusive class of their own. In the Jewel trade it is customary to attach the appellation 'Kashmir' to any fine Sapphire regardless of its geographical origin. This is an indication of the outstanding qualities of Kashmir Sapphires. The colour of these Sapphires resembles the beautiful hue of the peacock's neck. Even a small concentration of that fine colour illuminates the entire structure of the Gem.

It may, however, be noted that the product of the Kashmir mines suffers more from flaws and blemishes than that of many other mines. The Gems of Kashmir mines often have window, hole, or cavity in their texture, and they also suffer at times from ambiguity of colours. It requires special skill to cut the Jewels as the crystals are covered with a hard crust of earth and it is difficult to know beforehand the internal structure. If a specimen is free from cavity or window and does not exhibit ambiguity of colour it can be cut into an excellent Gem. The produce of the old mine in Kashmir did not suffer from so many blemishes, but the Sapphires of that mine are no longer available…. Kashmir Sapphires generally remain thick after cutting. Stars are not found in them.

Rajroop Tank, n.d., Indian Gemmology

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Figure 7 Blue velvet—inclusions of Kashmir sapphires
Top left. Most distinctive of the Kashmir sapphire inclusions are the rounded zircon crystals with tiny accompanying black uraninite crystals.
Top right. Healed fissure with flat, strongly recrystallized cavities (negative crystals) in a Kashmir sapphire. Some of these cavities contain tiny opaque crystals of unknown identity. 50x.
Below left. Pargasite crystal in Kashmir sapphire.
Below right. Tiny hexagonal crystals with thin-film satellite haloes in a Kashmir sapphire. These are similar to those found in Thai/Cambodian rubies. (Photos: Henry Hänni/SSEF)

New Mine & placer sapphires

Sapphires found at the New Mines differ in one important respect from those of the Old Mine, and this difference is important in understanding Kashmir material. New Mine material comes in two types, both of which are coated with a tenacious white clay. In almost all, the blue color is found mainly at the outer crystal edges, especially the tips. Virtually all are spindle-shaped hexagonal bipyramids, as shown in Figure 6. Other than the blue tips and faces, the rest of the crystal is typically colorless (the New Mines also produce the occasional stone with blue tips and a pink core). What this means is fine blue stones must be cut from the tips of the crystals, similar to the way in which Sri Lanka's ottu sapphires are cut. Witness the statement by Parkinson (1952):

I am quite satisfied that many of the so-called "Kashmir sapphires" are actually of Ceylon origin; certainly they are not mined in Kashmir.

To this author, it seems that Parkinson saw a stone that looked like it was from Ceylon, and so assumed it was. Many faceted Kashmir sapphires bear a certain resemblance to Sri Lankan ottu stones.

One of the ways in which ottu stones are typically cut is to lay the table facet parallel to a pyramid face, along the intensely colored area at that face (see Figure 9.3 on page 200). While this produces a larger stone, it also produces an overly blackish color, as well as losing the velvety softness. Many Kashmir sapphires display this color. [2]

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 8  Kashmir sapphires, such as the stone above, are often cut as sugarloaf cabochons. Note also the blackish color, which many Kashmir sapphires display. (Photo: Mouawad, Geneva)

In the vast majority of New Mine and placer stones, the blue faces have been corroded away. Rather than having flat, well-formed faces, most have deeply pitted faces; thus the colored areas are, by and large, missing due to surface corrosion. When the faces are intact, fine stones can be cut. This fact alone may account for the great scarcity of fine Kashmir sapphires, as the Old Mine, where evenly-colored stones were apparently more common, has produced virtually nothing since 1887.

Old Mine sapphires

Probably the only detailed description ever recorded of Old Mine material was that of Grahame Young of Kulu, which is reproduced here:

…The vein consists of

  1. Ordinary quartz crystals, some very large.
  2. A few crystals of amethyst.
  3. Deep blue corundum of a beautiful water, very rough externally, no crystal more than 4 inches [10 cm] long; sp. gr. 3.985.
  4. Corundum, sapphire-colored only in the middle, shading lighter until both base and apex are perfectly limpid.
  5. Perfectly limpid corundum.
  6. Black corundum.
  7. Opaque white corundum, sapphire tinge in places, small black crystals (probably tourmaline) imbedded. All the above are beautifully crystallized, apex very acute.
  8. Massive corundum, both black and opaque white.
  9. Chlorite, crystals imperfect.
  10. A little magnetite.

…The facts I have collected regarding the first discovered deposit are derived from an examination I made of about an hundred weight [1 cwt. = 50.8 kgs] of the crystals; their owner would not allow me to apply any tests, but I used a compound lens magnifying 30 diameters.

A. Grahame Young, Kulu, Aug. 8, 1882 (from Shepard, 1883)

The above was written prior to the discovery of either the New Mine or valley placers. Extrapolating, we can surmise that at least some Old Mine material contained substantial internal coloration (nos. III. and IV. above). From this location of color in the crystal, we can further extrapolate that the polished shapes of those Old Mine stones with substantial internal color would differ from New Mine stones. In fact, many of the Kashmir sapphires today sold at auction are cut as "sugarloaf" cabochons. While this is in contrast to Tank's statement that Kashmir sapphires generally remain thick after cutting, he was probably familiar only with New Mine material. The author's own experience with New Mine material also agrees with Tank's, in that gems are often strongly zoned and cut with deep pavilions, similar to Sri Lankan ottu sapphires. But apparently the Old Mine produced some material which would allow both more even coloration and, thus, stones cut to normal proportions.

In summary, it is impossible to say, based on evenness of coloration and shape, that an individual stone came from the Old or New Mine. Both mines produced the ottu-type material so similar to that from Sri Lanka. But based on the historical record, the Old Mine appears to have produced far more of the top-grade, evenly-colored material.

Heat treatment

Heat treatment can produce dramatic results with Kashmir sapphire. One large lot examined by the author both before and after burning showed a success rate better than even the best Sri Lankan geuda material. Nearly every piece had been transformed to a rich blue color. Why aren't we seeing this material in the market? The answer is simple. No rough. Even low-grade material is scarce, and no mining is being done at present.

Characteristics of Kashmir sapphire

The following is based on the studies of Gübelin (1953, 1973), Gübelin & Koivula (1986), Hänni (1990a), Phukan (1966) and Schwieger (1990), as well as the author's own studies on a 1 kg lot of Kashmir material.

Crystal habit

Kashmir sapphires bear a strong resemblance to those of Sri Lanka, with almost all being spindle-shaped hexagonal bipyramids. Some of these are flattened slightly. However, the Kashmir stones often consist of intergrowths, with one crystal twisted around another, or even as multiple intergrowths of as many as ten or more crystals grown together in a single mass. Kashmir sapphire rough is easily recognized due to its distinctive mode of occurrence. Coated with a white clay-like matrix, which fills the pits of heavily corroded surfaces, this clay-like material also appears to be included in many stones with irregular cavities just beneath the crystal surfaces. So tenaciously does it cling to the skin that hydrofluoric acid is required for its removal. [3] Most crystals are small, in the 1–4 ct range, and some feature small brown tourmaline prisms [4] and mica flakes adhering to their surfaces, or intergrown with them.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 9  The turbid, rutile-based zoning that is the hallmark of Kashmir sapphires. (Photo: Henry Hänni/SSEF)

Solids

Kashmir sapphires contain solid inclusions of a number of types, but these are generally small, requiring magnifications of up to 100x to resolve their morphology. Most distinctive are the small, slightly corroded, colorless crystals of zircon. Commonly adhering to these are tiny black crystals of uraninite. Uraninite also occurs alone, typically with radiating stress fractures.

Occurring with the sapphires are dark green and brown prisms of tourmaline. These may be found growing right up against the sapphire and are occasionally included within the gem itself. Euhedral allanite crystals have also been encountered, as well as long needles of pargasite (amphibole). Specimens examined by the author have also displayed inclusions of what appears to be mica. Unidentified brown crystals of large size have been seen by the author in one specimen.

Cavities

Among the most distinctive inclusions of the Kashmir sapphires are the negative crystal guests. These tend to occur in patterns and in many cases contain small black crystals growing within. These black crystals are prismatic in habit and may possibly be tourmaline. The negative crystals containing black crystals within represent the most distinctive inclusion feature of the Kashmir sapphires examined by the author.

Table 1: Properties of Kashmir sapphirea

Property
Description
Color range/
phenomena
• Near colorless to a deep blue (almost black), including a highly prized, rich "velvety" blue that is considered sapphire nirvana to connoisseurs
• Rarely pink to purple
• Six-rayed stars have been reported
Geologic
formation
Sapphire occurs at the contact zone of a pegmatite intruded into a marble, in association with actinolite-tremolite. They are most abundant where the intrusions are quartz-free and surrounded by the actinolite-tremolite. The crystals are found in lenticular pockets of kaolinized plagioclase feldspar.
Crystal habit Spindle-shaped hexagonal bipyramids are most common, sometimes terminated by the basal pinacoid. Most crystals are coated with a tenacious white kaolin clay. Dark brown tourmaline crystals are often found adhering to the crystal surfaces. The color generally lies near the tips and exterior surfaces of crystals, similar to ottu sapphires from Sri Lanka. Two distinct crystal types are found:
• Euhedral crystals, with flat faces, where the color layer is intact
• Corroded crystals where the color layer has been partly or completely dissolved. The blue color of such crystals often appears as mottled blue spots.
RI &
birefringence

n[epsilon] = 1.762; n[omega] = 1.770      Bire. = 0.008

(based on one specimen only)

SG 4.03 (based on one specimen only)
Spectra Weak to moderate Fe spectrum. Cr-rich stones may display a weak Cr spectrum superimposed on this.
Fluorescence UV: Generally inert (LW & SW); but often with small fluorescent orange zones, occasionally yellow in surface openings (LW)
Other features May be heat treated
Inclusion types
Description
Solids • Allanite, euhedral crystals (Hänni, 1990a)
• Feldspar (plagioclase in strongly corroded crystals (Hänni, 1990a)
• Pargasite (amphibole), needles & prisms (Gübelin, 1973)
• Tourmaline (dravite): prisms, green to brown color (Gübelin, 1973)
• Uraninite, black crystals often embedded in zircon. When alone, they may have stress fractures around them. Uraninite crystals are distinctive and important in separating Kashmir sapphires from other sources. (Hänni, 1990a)
• Zircon: corroded crystals, sometimes long needles (Phukan, 1966)
Cavities
(liquids/gases/
solids)
• Primary cavities and negative crystals
• Secondary negative crystals (healed fractures) are distinctive and may contain black crystals (uraninite in the cavities)
Growth zoning • Straight, angular growth zoning parallel to the faces along which it formed. In Kashmir stones this is often composed of alternating clear and turbid zones. Such turbidity is responsible for the "velvety" appearance of many Kashmir stones.
• Color zoning is often restricted to the areas just beneath crystal faces; such stones are termed "ottu" in Sri Lanka
Twin development • Growth twins of unknown orientation
• Polysynthetic glide twinning on the rhombohedron
Exsolved solids • Rutile in fine clouds of generally tiny crystals, parallel to the hexagonal prism (3 directions at 60/120°) in the basal plane. This rutile tends to be much finer than that found in Burmese and Sri Lankan sapphires. Often only tiny particles are seen; these may occur in tiny "snowflake" patterns.
• Clusters of dust-like inclusions (probably rutile) which may resemble snowflakes
• Twinning needles parallel to the rhombohedron edges

a. Table 1 is based on the author's first-hand experience, along with published reports of Gübelin (1953, 1973), Gübelin & Koivula (1986), Hänni (1990a), Phukan (1966) and Schwieger (1990). [return to Table 1]

Growth zoning

Due to the irregular distribution of color in Kashmir rough, cut stones will also often display strong color zoning, similar to Sri Lankan material.

Exsolved inclusions

The hallmark of the Kashmir sapphire is its velvety texture, a slight haziness which, under magnification, is revealed as numerous fine particles oriented in three directions at 60/120° in the basal plane. The identity of these tiny exsolved inclusions has in the past been the subject of much dispute (see Phukan, 1966; Gübelin, 1953). While their exact identity is still yet to be determined, today it is generally accepted that they consist of exsolved rutile (Hänni, 1990a; Schwieger, 1990).

The exsolved rutile of Kashmir sapphires differs from that of Burma and Sri Lankan stones in terms of the size of the crystals. Many appear as tiny dots in snowflake patterns, and magnification of 40x or more is often required to resolve individual crystals. Due to its extremely fine nature, Kashmir rutile provides subtle light scattering without materially affecting transparency, giving these gems their velvety appearance.

This haziness is present in virtually every piece examined by the author, but is not the sole province of the Kashmir stone. Sapphires from Sri Lanka, Thailand (especially Kanchanaburi) and Pailin may also exhibit a certain milkiness, making confusion a real possibility. The haziness in Kashmir stones, however, is extremely fine in nature, not enough to seriously degrade the clarity, but just enough to impart the distinctive velvety luster to the stones (see Hänni, Fig. 1, p. 69, for an excellent illustration of this effect).

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 10  Map of India showing the principle corundum localities. Major mines are located in Kashmir, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu States.

Other corundum localities in India

Kashmir is not the only locality in India producing corundum. Other sources exist, but are of lesser importance in world markets, due to the lower qualities of production. Other Indian corundum localities are given in Table 2 (based on Iyer & Thiagarajan, 1961, Kuriyan, 1993a-b, Viswanatha, 1982).

Table 2: Other corundum localities in India

Gem tracts

Andhra Pradesh
• Anantapur, Khammam, Krishna, Kurnool, Nellore, Visakhapatnam and Warangal districts
• Guntur district: Ruby
• Bellary district: Sea-green sapphire

Assam
• Nongryniew, Khasi Hills: Clear colorless corundum

Bihar
• Unknown locality: Hexagonal ruby crystals coated with a blackish material

Karnataka (including Mysore)
• Bangalore, Bellary, Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Coorg, Hassan, Kolar, Mandya, Raichur, Shimoga and Tumkur districts

Kerala
• Travancore district

Madhya Pradesh
• Betul area

Orissa
• Kalahandi and Balangir districts

Rajasthan
• Udaipur district

Tamil Nadu
• Kangayam-Karur-Palni areas in Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchirapalli districts
• Salem district

 

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum
Figure 11  Fine rubies have recently been found in India's Orissa State, as the above photos show. (Photos: Bart Curren/ICA)

Indian ruby

For many years India has been the world's biggest supplier of low-end ruby cabochons and star rubies. These localities include:

Andhra Pradesh.  Low-quality ruby (including stars) has been reported from a number of areas in Andhra Pradesh state. These include Anantapur, Krishna, Kurnool, and Warangal (Fernandes & Joshi, 1995).

Bihar.  Facet-grade ruby has been reported from an unknown locality in Bihar. The percentage of facet-grade material has been reported up to 25% of total production (Durlabhji, 1994).

Kangayam (Tamil Nadu).  Facet-grade ruby occurs in the Kangayam area of the state of Tamil Nadu, of which Madras is the capital. Stones from this area are of a reddish color with a slight darkish tint, but are generally heavily included. This source also produces star rubies.

Karnataka (including Mysore).  Another important ruby source in India. Gems come mainly from the Channa-Patna area, but lack transparency and so are suitable only for cabochons and beads.

The Indian star rubies are generally heavily included, and so of poor color and transparency. They do possess sharp stars; however due to the lack of transparency the color is poor, and so they are usually but a few dollars per carat, or less.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 12  A large, low-quality star ruby from India's Mysore district. While such material is a staple of the low-end gem trade, today India also produces some better material. (Photo: Royal Ontario Museum)

Orissa.  In the early 1980s, important gem strikes were made in Orissa, eastern India. These included both ruby and sapphire. Ruby is found at Jhillingdhar, Hinjhrilbahal, Charbati, Rabaandangar and Odashali in Kalahandi district, while sapphire is found at Amera and Karlakot in Kalahandi, and Sangamara in Balangir district. To date, with the exception of the ruby mine at Jhillingdhar, most mining is done by small teams of locals (Kuriyan, 1993a-b). Rough ruby is of variable shapes, from distorted hexagonal crystals to rolled pebbles. They often have a coating of greenish-black or brown material. Facetable material is said to be relatively rare. Sambalpur district has also been reported as a source of ruby in Orissa (Durlabhji, 1994).

Because of their poor clarity, Indian star rubies they are often dyed and oiled. Most are filled with cracks, polysynthetic twin lamellae and parting planes which allow penetration of oils and/or dyes. The Indian trade magazine, Journal of Gem Industry (Anonymous, 1976), suggested that "the packing material used in wrapping these stones should never be absorbent, if good customer relations are desired." Perhaps even better customer relations would result from omitting these dyes and oils altogether.

Maharajahs – India's fantastic fetish prince

Among the greatest collectors of jewels were India's princes--the maharajahs.[a] According to Kipling, providence created the maharajahs simply to offer mankind a spectacle. And what a spectacle it was! Sport and sex were their preferred pastimes, but jewels were their passion.

The Maharajah of Baroda exemplified the princely state of mind. His court tunic was spun of gold, with only one family in his state allowed to weave its threads. The family's fingernails were grown long and then notched like the teeth of a comb, all the better to caress the golden threads to perfection. Among his most precious treasures were a collection of tapestries made entirely of pearls, into which were woven ornate designs of rubies and emeralds.

Jaipur's maharajah lorded over one of the largest and richest of India's princely states. Somewhere in the Jaigarh fort, on a peak above the palace, the private treasure of the Jaipur princes lay buried, guarded by an especially belligerent Rajput tribe, the Minas. Once per lifetime, each maharajah was allowed to visit the treasure and select a single item. Man Singh chose from the private treasure a bird of solid gold studded with rubies of extraordinary fire, so heavy that a woman could hardly lift it. Unfortunately, independence came before the last maharajah, Jai Singh, could choose. Even so, he did not do without. His jewels included a triple-stringed necklace of red spinels, the stones having been contributed by various Mughal emperors, each bigger than a pigeon's egg, along with three huge emeralds, the largest of which weighed 490 ct. Among the world's greatest polo players, Jai Singh died in appropriate form, atop his polo pony, one of the three richest men in England.

None of the Indian princes amassed greater treasure than the Nizams of Hyderabad. Presiding over one of the largest states (half the size of France), their dominion included Golconda, in former times the world's diamond center. They were the first to enter into alliance with the British, but later became indebted, thus allowing the British to gobble up Berar, a valuable part of their domain. For support during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British wrote off that debt and awarded the Nizam the Order of the Star of India. Berar, however, remained in British hands, causing the Nizam to remark, "Generosity is uppermost in the minds of my British allies, even though their mathematics are a trifle weak."

Among the titles of the seventh Nizam, Lieutenant General His Exalted Highness Sir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, were included "Regulator of the Country, Victorious in Battle, the Aristotle of his Age, Shadow of God and Faithful Ally of the British." While Osman Ali may not have been the world's richest man, he certainly qualified as the world's greatest miser. His wealth included two lime-sized diamonds of over 180 ct each; in keeping with his frugal nature, one was used as a paperweight. The Nizam's pearl collection was said to be so vast that it alone would cover the sidewalks of Piccadilly Circus, and he owned over seventy million dollars in gold. But despite his vast assets, visitors to the palace would be presented with only one cup of tea, one biscuit, and one cigarette. After they left, the Nizam would drink any remaining tea, eat the crumbs of the biscuit and smoke the cigarette butts to the end. Over ten million dollars in cash was stashed in his basement, earning negative interest, as rats gnawed their way through thousands each year.

A believer in the unani medical system of ancient Greece, Hyderabad became the only place in the world with free clinics and a hospital devoted to unani medicine, which involved good health through ingesting powdered jewels. No maharajah followed this course better than an early prince of Mysore. Informed by a Chinese sage that the finest aphrodisiacs contained crushed diamonds, he succeeded in quickly depleting the state treasuries in his princely quest for potence.

The Nizam of Hyderabad was a Muslim reigning over a largely-Hindu population, but no one could accuse him of lack of faith. Hyderabad law forbade the destruction of any legal records or newspapers in which the name Mohammed had been published. Since many of his Muslim subjects carried this name, the edict created a prodigious amount of paperwork, with wire baskets placed in the streets so the public could properly dispose of papers bearing the prophet's name.

Let us not forget the Maharajah of Patiala. He possessed a breastplate containing 1,001 diamonds. Until the 20th century, it was the custom for him to appear once a year before his subjects, wearing nothing but the diamond-encrusted breastplate, complemented by his sexual scepter, in regal erection.

The seventh Maharajah of Patiala's harem numbered 350. So obsessed was Bhupinder Singh with desires of the flesh, that he devoted an entire wing of his harem to a laboratory, where exotic cosmetics, perfumes and love potions were mixed. A team of British, French and Indian plastic surgeons stood on call, ever ready to alter the proportions of a favorite member of the harem according to the Maharajah's whim. Alas, it was not enough. In the end, Bhupinder Singh died of a most trite ailment--boredom.

But India's maharajahs had more on their minds than just jewels and sex. Witness the Maharajah of Gwalior, whose passion was electric trains. His palace was rigged up in a style that would surpass even a schoolboy's most fantastic Christmas-eve fantasies. Guests at his banquets were served by crystal trains running on silver rails, controlled by the Maharajah at an enormous control panel. And if you displeased him during dinner, the dessert train might well pass you by. During one fête in honor of the British Viceroy, the control panel short-circuited, causing food trains to careen wildly, sloshing gravy and other condiments all over the guests. It was, as Collins and Lapierre remarked, "a catastrophe without parallel in the annals of railroading."

Are the maharajahs simply relics of a bygone era? Not really, for they've been reincarnated in the oil sheikdoms of the Middle East. While visiting the European chalet of one of the Middle East's most important jewelers, my host was interrupted by a call from the secretary of an Arab monarch: "Do you remember the blue diamond you sold the King last year? He would like another one just like it, with exactly the same color, to make matched cuff links. The weight is 8.13 ct and its measurements are…" After telling the secretary that such a request was impossible to fill, my host hung up. Alas, the phone soon rang again, with the secretary imploring that the King "really wants it." Turning to me, the jeweler remarked that the monarch wanted to be "more than king." Then he quickly made plans to leave the next morning for Antwerp.

Kashmir sapphire, gems, ruby, sapphire, India, gemology, corundum

Figure 13  H.H. the Maharajah of Patiala, ca. 1924, in regal splendor. Sikh Sir Bhupinder Singh, the Magnificent, was the seventh Maharajah of Patiala and father of the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. His pearl necklace was insured by Lloyd's of London for over $1 million, and he possessed a breastplate made up of 1,001 diamonds. According to Collins & Lapierre (1975): "From his earliest adolescence, Bhupinder Singh demonstrated a remarkably refined aptitude for an equally worthy princely pastime, sex. As he came into maturity his devotion to his harem eventually surpassed even his passions for jewels, polo and hunting. He personally supervised the steady accumulation of its inmates, selecting new recruits with a connoisseur's appreciation of variety in appearance and accomplishment in action. By the time the institution reached its fullest fruition, it contained 350 ladies.

"During the torrid Punjab summers, the harem moved outdoors in the evening to Bhupinder's pool. The prince stationed a score of barebreasted girls like nymphs at intervals around its rim. Chunks of ice bobbing in the pool's water gave the hot air a delicious chill while the Maharaja floated idly about, coming to port from time to time to caress a breast or have a sip of whiskey…." (Photo: from Johnston & Guest, 1937)


a. This account of the maharajahs is based largely on Lord (1971), Collins & Lapierre (1975) and Allen & Dwivedi (1984). [return to "Maharajahs"]

 

 

Notes

  1. No doubt this is Alexander M. Jacob, for whom the 162-ct Jacob ('Imperial') diamond is named. Variously supposed to be a Persian, Jew, Armenian, Russian and/or a British agent, he was then the most important trader of jewels and antiquities in India. Said to be a master of white magic, he operated out of a small, incense-filled shop in Simla, summer capital of the British Raj. Jacob was the inspiration for Lurgan Sahib in Kipling's Kim, as well as F. Marion Crawford's Mr. Isaacs (Crawford, 1882; Lord, 1971). [ return to chapter text ]
  2. An illustration of this is in 8. Contrast it with Figures 1 and 3, which shows the classic Kashmir color and velvety luster. See also Figure 3 in Schwieger (1990), which shows 22 faceted Kashmir sapphires, nearly all of which display this blackish color. [ return to chapter text ]
  3. See page 110 for cautions on the use of this acid. [ return to chapter text ]
  4. Termed "coal" by local miners (La Touche, 1890). [ return to chapter text ]

Bibliography

 

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