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Bonhams Gemstones High Jewellery

Sapphires and Spinels at Bonhams London

Coveted Kashmir sapphires and important spinels from Tajikistan to lead Bonhams London jewellery sale.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Show-stopping sapphires and spinels set to bring sparkles to Bonhams London Jewels sale on Thursday 2 December at New Bond Street

These exquisite sapphires and spinels will lead the sale with some exceptional jewels to please the most expert connoisseurs.

The Sapphires

A sapphire and diamond ring, dating from circa 1920, leads the sale with an estimate of £150,000 – 200,000, followed closely by a sapphire, diamond and natural pearl pendant from the late 19th century, which has an estimate of £65,000 – 85,000

From a gemological point of view, the sapphire ring is accompanied by a report by AGL (American Gemological Laboratories) stating that the gem is of Classic (TM) Kashmir origin, with no evidence of heat treatment.

AGL Classic (TM) Kashmir, as reported by Bonhams, “is the highest origin determination issued by AGL. To receive such a designation, the gem must be of superior quality and possess several geological characteristics allowing for a very high level of confidence in the country-of-origin determination. It is the most prestigious rating that AGL bestow upon a sapphire.”

Sapphire and diamond ring, circa 1920
Sapphire and diamond ring, circa 1920.
The cushion-shaped sapphire, weighing 3.52 carats, between old demi-lune-shaped diamonds and single-cut diamond shoulders, demi-lune shaped diamonds approximately 1.60 carats total.

Additionally, two reports from Gübelin and SSEF state that the sapphire is of Kashmir origin, with no indication of heating.

The second highlight featuring sapphires is an antique sapphire, diamond and natural pearl pendant, dating late 19th century.

Sapphire, diamond and natural pearl pendant, late 19th century.
Sapphire, diamond and natural pearl pendant, late 19th century.
Oval, with central quatrefoil motif composed of four cushion-shaped sapphires, set throughout with cushion-shaped and old brilliant-cut diamonds, suspending an 11.9mm x 10.1mm natural pearl drop, with rose-cut diamond cap, mounted in silver and gold, one sapphire stated to weigh 7.52 carats, cushion-shaped and old brilliant-cut diamonds approximately 5.70 carats total, length 7.5cm.

This lovely pendant is accompanied by a report from The Gem & Pearl Laboratory stating that the sapphires are of natural Sri Lankan origin, with no indication of heat treatment. Two further reports from AnchorCert state that the sapphires are of Burmese origin with no evidence of treatment and that the pearl is natural saltwater.

Sapphires – a bit of history

Kashmir sapphires were first discovered in the late 1870s high in the snow-clad Great Himalayas of northwestern India. A landslide revealed hitherto unknown deposits in a rock valley 4500m above sea level.

By 1882, the Maharaja of Kashmir had taken control of the mine. However, this mine could only be worked from July to September each year due to the high altitude and near-perpetual heavy snowfall.

By 1887 the ‘Old Mine’ was nearly exhausted. On the valley floor 250m below, a ‘New Mine’ gave up some fine sapphires but generally of lesser quality, size, and quantity. Miners worked sporadically until the early 1930s, but the glory years of the 1880s never repeated.

Legend has it that the finest stones from these 40 years were all acquired by the Maharaja and jealously guarded in the chambers of the Kashmir State Treasury. British geologist Charles Stewart Middlemiss, Superintendent of the Mineral Survey of Jammu and Kashmir State from 1917 until 1930, recorded seeing some of this fabled hoard.

He described the sacks of rough and cut gems as a “king’s ransom”, with some sapphires the size of polo balls.

The Spinels

Two pieces featuring exceptional spinels from the same mine as the Hope Spinel – which Bonhams sold for a record price in 2015 – are also among the sale highlights. They are a spinel and diamond pendant (estimate: £40,000 – 60,0000) and a spinel and diamond ring (estimate: £35,000 – 45,000).

Spinel and diamond pendant
Spinel and diamond pendant.
The cushion-shaped spinel, weighing 28.78 carats, between marquise-cut diamonds, length 2.8cm

This gem is accompanied by a series of certificates that state its origin and quality.

Both spinels are accompanied by reports from SSEF and GCS stating Tajikistan origin with no indications of treatment. In addition, an Appendix letter from SSEF states that each spinel “possesses extraordinary characteristics and merits special mention and appreciation” as “a natural spinel from Tajikistan of this size and quality can be considered rare and exceptional”.

The spinel and diamond ring follows the pendant’s same design and they are offered as two separate lots.

Spinel and diamond ring.
The cushion-shaped spinel, weighing 26.12 carats, between marquise-cut diamonds.

As for the spinel pendant, the ring is also certified by SSEF and GCS as of natural Tajikistan origin with no indications of treatment.

Spinels – a bit of history

There is also… an other kynde of Rubies which wee caule Spinelle.

Richard Eden, 16th century alchemist, in 1555

Until 1783, red and pink spinels were mistaken for rubies. Even after spinels were known as fine pink gems, people still referred to them as “balas” or “balais” rubies. This term derives from an ancient word for Badakhshan, a province north of Afghanistan, where they were mined. These Kuh-i-Lal (‘red mountain’) mines were the world’s primary source of large spinels from the 1st century AD. Marco Polo (c.1254–1324) described how “fine and valuable balas rubies” were dug only for the King. The King himself owned the entire supply, and he would send it to other kings as tributes or as “friendly presents”.

Mughal emperors and their ancestors, the Timurids, valued large Kuh-i-Lal spinels for their beauty and as protective talismans. The gems were polished rather than cut and were often inscribed with the names of rulers and monarchs as a way of commemoration.

In the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Carew Spinel is inscribed with the names of Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.

The Carew Spinel - Victoria & Albert Museum
The Carew Spinel – Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Spinel with engraved inscriptions to the Mughal emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and ‘Alamgir; drilled vertically; gold pin with diamonds at both ends; silk cords. Height 4 cm, width 2.3 cm and weight 133.5 carats.
Bequeathed by the Rt. Hon. Julia Mary, Lady Carew.

One of the most spectacular Mughal spinels which ever entered a European royal treasury is the “Black Prince’s Ruby”. The gem is a large uncut red spinel given to the Black Prince by Pedro the Cruel in 1367. The Black Prince’s Ruby adorned Henry V’s helmet at the Battle of Agincourt. It now belongs to the Imperial State Crown in the British crown jewels.

The Imperial State Crown and The Black Prince's Ruby
The Imperial State Crown and The Black Prince’s Ruby. British Crown Jewels, London.
Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The 361-carat “Timur Ruby”, also in the British crown jewels, was owned by Sultan Sahib Qiran and Ranjit Singh, the “Lion of the Punjab”. Believed to be a ruby until 1851, the Timur Ruby is inscribed with the names of its five previous owners. In 1851 the Timur Ruby was presented at the Great Exhibition in London and reclassified as a spinel. After the Great Exhibition closed, the Court of Directors of the East India Company offered the gem to Queen Victoria as a gift. It became her private possession, set in a necklace by R. & S. Garrard & Co, London, in 1853.

The Timor Ruby
The Timor Ruby.
The ‘Timur Ruby’ (in fact a spinel) at the necklace’s centre belonged to several Mughal emperors, including Shah Jahan, and like nos 224–5 came from Lahore in 1849. The necklace was designed to take the Koh-i-nûr as an alternative centrepiece. Made for Queen Victoria.
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

An important polished spinel decorates the Imperial Crown of Russia, made for the coronation of Catherine the Great in 1762.

Imperial Crown of Russia – this is an exact copy, using natural gems and white gold instead of silver.

During the 19th century, spinels were cut according to European ideals to exploit their delicate rose hue and transparency best. Important spinels mounted during the 19th century include The Hope Spinel, weighing 50.13 carats and sold at Bonhams, New Bond Street in September 2015, the “ruby” jewels of Queen Therese in the Munich Treasury and the “Bagration” jewels, now in the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

Crown belonging to the Bavarian Ruby and Spinel Parure.
Crown belonging to the Bavarian Ruby and Spinel Parure. Wikimedia Commons.
Tiara belonging to the Bagration Jewellery Parure
Tiara belonging to the Bagration Jewellery Parure. Image from orderofsplendor.blogspot.com

Sapphires hailing from Kashmir, as in this sublime sapphire and diamond ring, display a vivid velvety blue hue that is unique to the region and are among the most highly prized gems due to their rarity and their scarcity. The spinel pendant and ring are equally remarkable, both hailing from the same geographical location as the very best historical specimens, including the Hope Spinel, and at this size and quality are considered rare and exceptional.

Emily Barber, Head of Jewellery UK, Bonhams

Today, Kashmir sapphires set the standard against which all other sapphires are measured and are heavily sought after. Consequently, collectors are prepared to pay princely sums for top-quality exemplars from this extraordinary period in the history of gemmology.

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1 comment on “Sapphires and Spinels at Bonhams London

  1. Amazing pieces of jewellery. I love Sapphire Jewellery.
    sapphire earrings uk

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