Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality & Prices • Part 1

1 January 1997
By Richard Hughes
Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality & Prices • Part 1

Article Index

Part 1 of Chapter 10  from Richard Hughes' 1997 book, Ruby & Sapphire. It covers general principles of judging quality.

Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality & Prices • Part 1

"That which is beautiful is never too costly, nor can anyone pay too much for that which gives pleasure to all," said Abu Inan Farés, Sultan of Morocco, on completion of a beautiful building at Fez. To emphasize his delight, he refused to look at the architect's bill, but tore it up and threw the fragments into the River Fez. Sydney H. Ball, 1935, Economic Geology

The Web version of Chapter 10 is divided into 2 sections:
Part 1 deals with quality analysis
Part 2 concludes with a Summary of important rubies & sapphires

I gotta love for Angela, I love Carlotta, too.
I no can marry both o' dem, so w'at I gona do? Thomas –1948]
Between Two Loves

MUCH of human activity concerns discretionary ability. The world is not composed of black and white, but of infinite shades of gray. Not fixed in space and time, these shades undergo continuous change. We are constantly called upon to make qualitative judgements. Such decisions are made daily – they are part of life – and our success in navigating life is closely tied to how we deal with these challenges.

For assistance, society has developed guidelines. While such rules of thumb cannot predict the future of an individual event, if they are based upon the experiences of a large sampling of people, they have utility to the individual over the long haul. But when they are based merely upon "faith," rather than empirical methods, such beliefs constitute dogma.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that many religious and cultural dogmas were at one time based on empiricism. For example, the prohibition against eating pork, widespread in Judaic and Islamic cultures, is believed to have grown out of the fact that, in desert societies, the keeping of pigs wasted precious water, and so was a selfish activity that harmed the group. But when such religions spread to wetter climes, where there was plenty of water to go around, the ban remained. Thus the problem. When empirical discovery solidifies into immobile dogma, as with the above example, the possibility of future discovery or change is ruled out, to the detriment of all.

Similarly, according to the European thought extant during the time of Columbus, the earth was flat, and it was heresy to think otherwise. This is the difference between empirical beliefs, and those based upon faith alone, i.e., those based on observation and first-hand experience, rather than assumption.

Ruby & sapphire grading • A heretic's guide

Having now committed one heresy, the discussion of religion, I shall proceed to commit another, discussion of colored stone grading.

Comparable to those who opposed the mere thought of Columbus sailing into unknown waters, today many traders and gemologists oppose even a discussion of systematic quality analysis of colored stones. Akin to the priests of the Middle Ages, who fought against translation of the Latin Bible into vernacular languages, these high priests of the gem trade apparently feel that only those properly initiated into the "Great Order of Gemmarum et Lapidum" should be allowed to dine at the quality-analysis table. Others less fortunate must be content to scramble for the crumbs of knowledge those on high deem suitable to toss their way.

Three dimensions of colorFigure 10.1  The three dimensions of color 10.1a: Three-dimensional view of a color solid. (This illustration courtesy of Minolta USA)

Grading systems are as old as the gem trade itself. Witness ancient India's Garuda Purana, dating back as far as 400 AD (Shastri, 1978), which classified the then-known gems into categories on the basis of their characteristics. Over the succeeding centuries, these systems have been steadily refined. Diamond grading systems made their appearance in the 20th century, but modern attempts at colored stone grading date only from the late 1970s. Problems with some of these early attempts have led many to condemn the very idea of systematic grading. In the author's opinion, this is a mistake.

Early forays into colored stone grading were primitive, and today many problems remain. This is to be found in the development of anything new. Look at the first airplanes. Clumsy and dangerous, they often killed their occupants. Today few would argue against their use, but in the beginning many did: "If humans were meant to fly, they would have been born with wings" was the typical refrain. I suppose if humans were meant to drive, we would have been born with horns and bumpers.

Color slice10.1b: Vertical slice through the color solid along the yellow-violet axis. Saturation increases horizontally from the center, while lightness/darkness varies along the vertical axis. Note that the highest saturation of yellow is naturally much lighter than that for violet. A slice along the green/magenta axis would show the highest saturations to have a similar lightness.

In his excellent article on the methods and benefits of colored stone grading, Nelson (1986) cataloged a large variety of trade objections. In this author's (RWH) opinion, the key criticisms are threefold:

  • Like the priests who opposed translation of the Latin Bible into common languages, dealers are afraid that colored stone grading will remove their trade advantages, thus cutting the traditional gem dealer out of the picture. [1]
  • In a business where the most complicated and expensive piece of equipment is often an electronic balance, traders dislike the thought of having to send their stones out for lab grading.
  • Many colored stone dealers abhor the thought that their trade might become like the diamond trade, where stones with certificates are traded in an indiscriminate manner, in some cases without ever viewing the gem. As a Geneva dealer once told me: "My five-year old son can trade certificate diamonds. It requires no knowledge, no training." This is a real problem, one which gemologists must answer before they can gain trade support for colored stone grading.

Color wheel10.1c: Hue position is illustrated by the color wheel, representing a vertical slice through the color solid (the center is not shown). Mixing equal amounts of the three additive primaries (red-orange, violet, green) produces white, while equal mixtures of subtractive primaries (cyan, magenta, yellow) results in black.

Unfortunately, the advantages to such a system are too often overlooked amidst the bluster and rhetoric. These benefits are the increased consumer confidence and thus, increased sales, which would follow adoption of such standards. Much time would also be saved by adoption of a standardized language for describing the appearance of colored gems.

The key to developing a successful colored stone grading system will be in creating a language useful for communicating the overall appearance of a gemstone. Once a gem is adequately described, it is then up to the marketplace to determine relative value. Attempts to assign relative values to each grade will succeed only if the considerations of the real marketplace are taken into account. To make these decisions, gemologists must work closely with traders.

An unfortunate paradox in the gem world (and one which is also present in many other fields) is that traders, who, by virtue of experience, are generally most qualified to judge quality, must be disqualified from doing so because of their bias. But traders must have input into the system for it to succeed.

The elements of quality

Quality is determined by reference to the so-called 3 c's: color, clarity and cut. While these factors are well defined for diamond, no universally-accepted system exists for colored gems. The following is based on the author's own extensive experience.

Tone and saturation in sapphireFour blue sapphires showing a variation in saturation and tone. Stone 1 possesses a light tone and low saturation. Stone 2 is close to ideal in both tone and saturation. Stone 3 has greater saturation than Stone 2 in some areas, but its overall tone is too dark and it shows too much extinction. Stone 4 is so dark in tone that its saturation is reduced. Note that inclusions are far more visible in stones of light tone than those of dark tones. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul

Color and appearance in colored gemstones

To the color scientist, given an opaque, matt-finished object, there are three dimensions to color:

  • Hue position: The position of a color on a color wheel, i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Purple is intermediate between red and violet. White and black are totally lacking in hue, and thus achromatic ('without color'). Brown is not a hue in itself, but covers a range of hues of low saturation (and often high darkness). Classic browns fall in the yellow to orange hues.
  • Saturation (intensity): The richness of a color, or the degree to which a color varies from achromaticity (white and black are the two achromatic colors, each totally lacking in hue). When dealing with gems of the same basic hue position (i.e., rubies, which are all basically red in hue), differences in color quality are mainly related to differences in saturation. The strong red fluorescence of most rubies (the exception being those from the Thai/Cambodian border region) is an added boost to saturation, supercharging it past other gems that lack the effect.
  • Darkness (tone or value): The degree of lightness or darkness of a color, as a function of the amount of light absorbed. White would have 0% darkness and black 100%. At their maximum saturation, some colors are naturally darker than others. For example, a rich violet is darker than even the most highly saturated yellow, while the highest saturations of red and green tend to be of similar darkness.

Figure 10.1 is a simplified illustration of the three dimensions of color.

With gems, we are not dealing with opaque, matt-finish object of uniform color. Thus it is not enough to simply describe hue position, saturation and darkness. We must also describe the color coverage, scintillation and dispersion.

Color coverage Color coverage can be influenced by a variety of factors, including proportions, fluorescence and inclusions. The round Burmese red spinel at left is strongly fluorescent and the red emission adds extra power to the red body color, covering up extinction. With the fine emerald-cut Kashmir sapphire pictured at right, color coverage is improved by the presence of tiny needlelike inclusions, which scatter light across the stone, thus reducing extinction. This is what gives Kashmir sapphires their incomparable velvety color. Note that both of these gems have colors which are highly saturate, making them highly desirable. Photos: Wimon Manorotkul, John McLean

  • Color coverage: Differences in inclusions, transparency, fluorescence, cutting, zoning and pleochroism can produce vast differences in the color coverage of a gem, particularly faceted stones. A gem with a high degree of color coverage is one in which color of high saturation is seen across a large portion of its face in normal viewing positions. Tiny light-scattering inclusions, such as rutile silk, can actually improve coverage, and thus appearance, by scattering light into areas it would not otherwise strike. The end effect is to give the gem a warm, velvety appearance (Kashmir sapphires are famous for this). Red fluorescence in ruby boosts this still further.

Color zoning in blue sapphire

Color zoning can also be influenced by color zoning, an unevenness of color. The oval sapphire above shows moderate color zoning. Moderate to severe color zoning does impact quality, and thus price. Color zoning is always judged in the face-up position, in an 180° arc from girdle to girdle, with the gem rotated through 360°. Color irregularities visible only through the pavilion generally do not impact value. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul

Proper cutting is vital to maximize color coverage. Gems cut too shallow permit only short light paths, thus reducing saturation in many areas. Such areas are termed windows. Those cut too deep allow light to exit the sides, creating dark or black areas termed extinction. Areas which allow total internal reflection will display the most highly saturated colors. These areas are termed brilliance. Color zoning can also reduce color coverage. Ideally, no zoning or unevenness should be present. Pleochroism is sometimes noticeable in ruby and sapphire. It typically appears as two areas of lower intensity and/or slightly different hue on opposite sides of the stone. This is most notable when the table facet lies parallel to the c axis. In summary, a top-quality gem would display the hue of maximum saturation across a large percentage of its surface in all viewing positions. The closer a gem approaches this ideal, the better its color coverage.

  • Scintillation ('sparkle'): This is an important factor in faceted stones. A gem cut with a smooth, cone-shaped pavilion could display full brilliance, but would lack scintillation. Thus the use of small facets to create sparkle as the gem, light or eye is moved. In general, large gems require more facets; small gems should have less, for tiny reflections cannot be individually distinguished by the eye (resulting in a blurred appearance).
  • Dispersion ('fire'): This involves splitting of white light into its spectral colors as it passes through two non-parallel surfaces (such as a prism). The dispersion of corundum is so low (0.028) and the masking effect of the rich body color so high, that it is generally not a factor in ruby and sapphire evaluation.


Clarity is judged by reference to inclusions. Magnification can be used to locate inclusions, but with the exception of inclusions which might affect durability, only those visible to the naked eye should influence the final grade.

Background checks

When you are examining a colored gemstone, act like a cop – always do a background check.

The color of the background against which a gem is examined can have a major effect on color. Which is why wily Burmese and Thai miners traditionally offer up rubies to buyers on brass plates or yellow table tops. The yellow background color counters the bluish tint commonly present in ruby, making the gems appear more red. Yellow cellophane-lined stone papers or brass tweezers serve the same purpose. Don't be a sucker. For judging color, a plain white background is best.

Ruby on brass plateFigure 10.2  Rough rubies at the mining areas in Burma and Thailand are often displayed on brass plates. The yellow color of the background makes the ruby appear more red than it actually is. (Photo: Olivier Galibert)

There are two key factors in judging clarity. These are:


  • Size: Smaller inclusions are less distracting, and thus, better.
  • Number: Generally, the fewer the inclusions, the better.
  • Contrast: Inclusions of low contrast (compared with the gem's RI and color) are less visible, and thus, better.
  • Location: Inclusions in inconspicuous locations (i.e., near the girdle rather than directly under the table facet) affect value less. Similarly, a feather perpendicular to the table is less likely to be seen than one lying parallel to the table.

Affect on durability

  • Type: Unhealed cracks may not only be unsightly, but also lower a gem's resistance to damage. They are thus less desirable than a well-healed fracture. As already mentioned, tiny quantities of exsolved silk may actually improve a gem's appearance, and thus, value.
  • Location: A crack near the culet or corner would obviously increase the chances of breakage more than one well into the gem. Similarly, an open fracture on the crown is more likely to chip than one on the pavilion.

Among the problems of existing colored stone grading systems is that the model chosen is based on diamond. While diamond does share a number of quality factors with ruby and sapphire, others are partly or wholly inappropriate. For example, beauty in diamond is largely a function of the material's brilliance and dispersion ('fire'). Any inclusions which alter the path of light could be detrimental to a diamond's appearance. [2] Perfect clarity is thus the ideal. As described above, perfect clarity is not necessarily the ideal for ruby and sapphire. While fractures and most other inclusions do have a detrimental effect on appearance and durability, small quantities of finely dispersed inclusions (such as exsolved rutile silk) can actually improve a richly colored gem's appearance. The watchword here is small; too much silk decreases transparency by scattering, reducing color saturation, and thus producing a more grayish color. [3]

Cut ('make')

The function of the cut is to display the gem's inherent beauty to the greatest extent possible. Since this involves aesthetic preferences upon which there is little agreement, such as shape and faceting styles, this is the most subjective of all aspect of quality analysis.

Evaluation of cut involves five major factors:


This describes the girdle outline of the gem, i.e. round, oval, cushion, emerald, etc. While preferences in this area are largely a personal choice, due to market demand and cutting yields, certain shapes fetch a premium. For ruby and sapphire, ovals and cushions are the norm. Rounds and emerald shapes are more rare, and so receive a premium from about 10–20% above the oval price. Pears and marquises are less desirable, and so trade about 10–20% less than ovals of the same quality. The shape of a cut gem almost always relates to the original shape of the rough. Thus the prevalence of certain shapes, such as ovals, which allow greatest weight retention.

Cutting style

 The cutting style (facet pattern) is also a rather subjective choice. Again, because of market demand, manufacturing speed and cutting yields, certain styles of cut may fetch premiums. The mixed cut (brilliant crown/step pavilion) is the market standard for ruby and sapphire.

Windows illustratedIf a gem is cut too shallow, light will pass straight through, rather than returning to the eye as brilliance. This is termed a "window" (right). In well-cut gems, most light returns as brilliance (left). Brilliant areas are those showing bright reflections. Extinction is used to describe dark areas where little or no light returns to the eye. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul


The faceted cut for ruby and sapphire is to create maximum brilliance and scintillation in the most symmetrically pleasing manner. Faceted gems feature two parts, crown and pavilion. The crown's job is to catch light and create scintillation (and dispersion, in the case of diamond), while the pavilion is responsible for both brilliance and scintillation. Generally, when the crown height is too low, the gem lacks sparkle. Shallow pavilions create windows, while overly deep pavilions create extinction. Again, proportions often are dictated by the shape of the rough material. Thus to conserve weight, Sri Lankan material (which typically occurs in spindle-shaped hexagonal bipyramids) is generally cut with overly deep pavilions, while Thai/Cambodian rubies (which occur as thin, tabular crystals) are often far too shallow.

  • Depth percentage: In attempting to quantify a gem's proportions, reference is often made to depth percentage. This is calculated by taking the depth and dividing it by the girdle diameter (or average diameter, in the case of non-round stones). The acceptable range is generally 60–80%.
  • Length-to-width ratio: Another measurement that is used for non-round stones is the length-to-width ratio. Overly narrow or wide gems of certain shapes are generally not desirable.


Like any finely-crafted product, well-cut gems display an obvious attention to detail. A failure to take proper care evidences itself in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Asymmetrical girdle outline
  • Off-center culet or keel line
  • Off-center table facet
  • Overly narrow/wide shoulders (pears and heart shapes)
  • Overly narrow/deep cleft (heart shapes)
  • Overly thick/thin girdle
  • Poor crown/pavilion alignment
  • Table not parallel to girdle plane
  • Wavy girdle


Lack of care in the finish department is less of a problem than the major symmetry defects above, because it can usually be corrected by simple repolishing. Finish defects include:

  • Facets do not meet at a point
  • Misshapen facets
  • Rounded facet junctions
  • Poor polish (obvious polishing marks or scratches)

While these guidelines may be useful, one must not become a slave to them. In essence, the cut should display the gem's beauty to best advantage, while not presenting mounting or durability problems. If the gem is beautifully cut, things such as depth percentage or length-to-width ratio matter not one bit. What works, works.

Influence of lighting on color

With any colored gemstone, the color seen depends on the light source used to illuminate it. Over time, gem dealers have come to rely on skylight for their gem buying. Its major advantage is its strength, which ruthlessly reveals flaws. The quantity of light coming through even a modest-sized window is far greater than even the strongest, color-balanced fluorescent tube (or tubes). Another factor appears to be the large radiating area, when compared with the most artificial lights.

Apple Lighting

Figure 10.3  Lighting can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of any colored gem. Incandescent lighting (left) is rich in red, orange and yellow wavelengths and thus pushes an object's color in that direction. In contrast, skylight (right) is more balanced, pushing the color in the opposite direction. (Illustration: Minolta)

Latitude may also affect a stone's color, simply because skylight is stronger in the tropics. As a result, gems bought in the tropics will appear slightly darker when taken to more temperate climes. It is a slight, but nevertheless, noticeable difference. Surprisingly, north skylight (or south skylight in the southern hemisphere) is actually stronger on cloudy days.

Another factor is the Purkinje shift. [4] In bright light, the eye is more sensitive to red; conversely, in dim light the eye is more sensitive to blue-violet light. Thus the color of blue sapphires would be slightly enhanced in dim lighting.

The question of north skylight

North daylight (skylight, as opposed to direct sunlight) has become the standard, because it produces the least glare, but blind adherence to such gemological dogma is just as bad as blind adherence to religious dogma. If you live north of the Tropic of Cancer (Europe, North America, Japan, China, etc.), north skylight will provide the least glare year round, because the sun always passes through the southern portion of the sky. This is especially true the farther north one goes. The opposite holds true for those who reside south of the Tropic of Capricorn (in the southern hemisphere), where the least glare is found using south skylight.

What about those who live in the tropics? If they are north of the equator, north skylight is best, except May-July, when south skylight is preferred. For the tropics south of the equator, south skylight is best, except from Nov.-Jan., when north skylight is preferred. And if you live right on the equator, use north skylight from Oct.-Feb., and south skylight from April-August. During March and Sept., either north or south skylight can be used.

Time of day

Even skylight changes throughout the day. Generally speaking, rubies (and other red stones) look best during the midday hours. Sapphires, in contrast, look best in the early morning or late afternoon. If you are buying, this means that rubies should be purchased early or late in the day, while sapphires are best bought near midday, thereby preventing a surprise when the stone is examined under another lighting condition.

The above is in contrast to what is often reported (Newman, 1994, p. 38). While direct sunlight is far more red at sunrise and sunset, the skylight is actually more blue. Since we use skylight, not direct sunlight, to illuminate gems, blue color will be enhanced early and late in the day. Similarly, the skylight at noon is less blue, thus enhancing the color of rubies in the middle of the day.

Weather and pollution

How might clouds or pollution affect color? Heavily-polluted or cloudy skies will result in more grayish (less blue) skylight, thus improving the appearance of rubies (as opposed to sapphires).

Blue sky in Kathmandu

The Buddhist temple at Swayambunath, Nepal, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. It is obvious that such skylight would enhance the appearance of blue stones.

Fog in Sri Lanka

Fog in Sri Lanka's central highlands. The high moisture content gives the light a grayish cast.

Sunset in Sri Lanka

Sunset on Sri Lanka's western coast. While such sunlight could easily enhance the color of red and yellow stones, it should be noted that direct sunlight is rarely used for examining gems. (Photos © R.W. Hughes)

Artificial lighting

Some type of artificial light is obviously the answer to neutralize the above factors. Many dealers today do their buying under special daylight lamps designed to simulate true north daylight, with a color temperature of approximately 5000–6100°Kelvin. Generally speaking, while their color balance is similar to north daylight, the fluorescent tubes used suffer from low light output. A 20-watt fluorescent daylight tube at a distance of 30 cm produces about 1000 lux of illumination, while a north-facing window in Bangkok averages 6000 lux.

The answer appears to be short-arc xenon lamps. While rather expensive (compared to fluorescent lamps), they have a continuous output (like daylight), 6000°K color temperature, and produce illumination levels comparable to north daylight.

For an excellent summary of the entire lighting question, see Sersen & Hopkins (1989) and Sersen (1990), from which the above is derived.

Grading rough in Australia Figure 10.5  When grading gems, viewing geometry, background and controlled lighting are crucial. The woman above is sorting sapphire rough from Australia. (Photo: Great Northern)

Viewing geometry & background

Gems are designed to be mounted in jewelry and viewed from predetermined angles. This is generally face-up, with the gem viewed in a 180° arc from girdle to girdle. Thus it is only logical that all quality determinations be made with the naked eye under the same viewing geometry. It is important that the gem be rotated through 360° in the girdle plane, so that its appearance is seen from all angles, just as it would be when mounted in jewelry.

To ensure reproducibility and repeatability, a standardized light source against a standardized, neutral background (white is best) at a standardized distance should be used. The practice in diamond grading of judging body color through the pavilion facets is madness, and has no place in colored stone grading. [5]

Summary of quality

The appearance of a colored gem is a combination of many separate factors, each of which is related to, and affect, the others. It is precisely the complexity of these intertwined relationships that has bedeviled previous attempts to quantify quality. And yet, every time a dealer buys a gem, a quick mental analysis is made, usually within seconds. In grading any gem, one must be cognizant of, but not become lost in, the details. When all the minutiae has been pored over ad infinitum, ad nauseam, take a step back and simply look at the gem. In the age of high-powered microscopes this may constitute a radical concept, but one which is necessary.

Fine precious stones are comparable to great works of art. Like a painting, to appreciate it, one must view the whole, not just the parts.

Pricing factors

Prices of Genuine Jewels
The prices of jewels are not stable. There is no law governing their prices, and there is no reason why these prices should not fluctuate with time and place. Each country, each nation carries its own temper. Furthermore, at one time nobles begin to sell them off and at others, to stock them. Stones are plentiful at one time and scarce at another. God grants honour to some and disgrace to others.

al-Biruni, 11th century AD
Kitab al-Jamahir fi Ma'rifat al-Jawahir

One of the great mysteries for novices is the relationship between price and quality. In a perfect world, price would directly relate to quality/weight/rarity. Unfortunately, Planet Gem is far from symmetrical. Market factors can have as much, or even greater, impact on prices as does quality. Prices are influenced by the following factors:

  • Quality: Better qualities are more rare than lower qualities of the same size (see previous section).
  • Weight: Bigger stones are more rare, and so more expensive per carat than the same quality of a smaller size.
  • Market factors: This is the great intangible. Market factors can dramatically affect price.


Generally, as a gem's weight increases, so does the per carat price. This is shown in Figure 1.6.

Size versus price graph

Figure 10.6  Graph representing the relationship between price and quality/weight/rarity. Note that this is not a linear relationship. Price increases more quickly as quality/weight/rarity increases.

Such a relationship has long been known, and was first quantified by Villafane in 1572, for diamonds. Today it is most commonly referred to as the 'Indian Law' or 'Tavernier's Law', and works as follows (Lenzen, 1970):

Wt2 x C = price per stone
Weight of gem  = 5 ct (Wt)
Cost of a 1-ct gem of equal quality  = $1000 (C)
Calculation: 5 x 5 x 1000  = $25,000 total stone price

The following shows how the price of a gem might increase with this formula applied using a $1000/ct base price.

Weight Total stone price
1 ct $1000
2 ct $4000
3 ct $9000
4 ct $16,000
5 ct $25,000
10 ct $100,000

Unfortunately, things were not so simple, even for diamonds in the time of Tavernier. The law could not accurately predict the price of diamond below 1 ct, and there were also problems with exceptionally large stones. But it does give a general idea of how prices increase with size.

Carat psychology

In the case of many gems, including ruby and sapphire, psychological (but all too real) price jumps occur at certain weights. For example, a 0.99-ct ruby might be worth significantly less than one which weighs 1.05 ct. The 1.05 ruby would be worth more than one which weighed exactly 1.00 ct, as repolishing a 1.00-ct stone (or weighing it on someone else's scale) might send it below the important 1-ct barrier. Similar psychological weight hurdles are found at the 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100-ct levels.


Market factors

Just a few of the market factors that influence price include:

  • Market supply vs. demand: Items which are plentiful and/or in low demand will be cheaper than those which are rare and/or in high demand.
  • Financial situation of the seller: Sellers who need money will obviously be more flexible on price. Similarly, those who are not in need are less willing to reduce their price.
  • Seller's business overhead: Prices can vary dramatically depending on the seller's overhead. A cup of coffee purchased by a street vendor may cost only a few cents; the same cup of coffee at a 5-star hotel in the same city may cost 10–20 times more, due to the hotel's higher overhead.
  • Buyer's financial situation: Buyers whose businesses are prospering are often willing to pay higher prices.
  • Buyer's sales prospect: Buyers who have a customer waiting for an item are often willing to pay higher prices.
  • Buyer/seller personal relationship: No one likes to do business with unhappy or abusive people. When the buyer and seller enjoy each other's company, they often make special provisions for one another.
  • Personal situation surrounding the sale: The author has seen buyers pay above-average prices for goods for a variety of reasons. These have ranged from trying to impress one's girlfriend, [6] to buying something simply to prevent a competitor from purchasing the same goods.

For a generalized list of ruby and sapphire prices, see "Ruby & sapphire prices", p. 491.

R S end dingbat



  1. The idea of the traditional dealer is one sorely in need of definition, considering that the tradition of many so-called "traditional" gem dealers dates back less than 30 years. return to text ]
  2. Unfortunately, the current diamond-grading system, largely based on the GIA model, has applied this idea in an overly zealous manner. Thus even a single microscopic inclusion, which in no way affect a diamond's appearance, removes it from the top clarity category. Many of the upper clarity grades have absolutely no visible difference in naked-eye appearance (see Hughes, 1987b, 1991). return to text ]
  3. Stones which look good from a distance, but upon closer examination exhibit clarity problems are termed bluff stones. return to text ]
  4. Johannes von Purkinje, a Czech physiologist, observed while walking in the fields in 1825 that blue flowers appeared brighter at dawn than at midday (Varley, 1983). return to text ]
  5. Nor in diamond grading, but that is another subject. return to text ]
  6. Apparently the lady was suitably impressed, for she is now his wife. return to text ]

Connoisseurship in ruby

Ruby is among the rarest of all the major precious stones, with only a handful of sources producing facet qualities in any commercial quantity. An approximate ranking of important ruby origins is given below. This applies only for the finest untreated qualities from each source and is but a general approximation. In other words, a top-quality Thai/Cambodian ruby can be worth far more than a poor Burma stone.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading
Figure 10.7  Thai/Cambodian vs. Burma-type rubies. Due to their lack of both fluorescence and light-scattering inclusions, Thai/Cambodian rubies (left) tend to appear darker and more garnet-like. At right, the Mogok ruby displays far greater color coverage. (Photos: Adisorn Studio, Bangkok)
  1. Burma: While Mogok is the traditional source of the world's finest rubies, good stones are rare even from this fabled area. Pigeon's blood was the term used to describe the finest Mogok stones (see page 331), but has little meaning today, as so few people have seen this bird's blood. Mogok-type rubies possess not just red body color, but, by a freak of nature, red fluorescence, too. In addition, the best stones contain tiny amounts of light-scattering rutile silk. It is this combination of features which gives these rubies their incomparable crimson glow. In Mogok rubies, the color often occurs in rich patches and swirls, and color zoning can be a problem. Star stones are common. The shape of Mogok ruby rough generally yields well-proportioned stones.In 1992, the Mong Hsu mine began producing good material, but most cut stones are under 2 ct. With the exception of the material from the Thai/Cambodian border, virtually any of the sources below can produce material of similar color. The problem is that material clean enough to facet is rare.Quality ranking of rubies by country
  2. Vietnam: In the late 1980s, this material literally exploded on the world gem market. Although Vietnam's ruby originates from two different mines (Luc Yen and Quy Chau), both sources display similar characteristics. The best Vietnamese ruby is equal to anything ever produced in Mogok, and if it had some history behind it, would probably fetch similar prices.
  3. Sri Lanka: The classic case of giving a dog a bad name. Some of the world's finest rubies have come from Sri Lanka's gem gravels, but, because of the erroneous 'pink sapphire' moniker (see page 402), they have been largely overlooked. Top-grade Sri Lankan reds are virtually indistinguishable from their Mogok brethren, but many stones tend towards purple or pink. As with Sri Lanka sapphires, color accumulates in large stones and so they can be quite magnificent in sizes of five ct or more. Due to the bipyramidal shape of the rough, many stones are cut with overly deep pavilions. This material is strongly fluorescent and stars are common.
  4. Kenya, Tanzania: Stones from these sources are magnificent when clean, but facet-grade material is relatively rare. Like Burma, much of this material is strongly fluorescent.
  5. Afghanistan: Jagdalek has produced rubies which rank with the best of Mogok, but facetable material is in short supply. Similar to Vietnamese rubies, many of these stones contain small areas of blue color. Strongly fluorescent.
  6. Thailand/Cambodia: This material's main attribute is its high clarity, but the flat crystal shapes generally yield overly shallow stones. Due to the high iron content, which quenches fluorescence, most stones tend to have a garnet-red color. An additional problem is the total lack of light-scattering silk inclusions (star stones are not found). Although heat treatment does make improvements, it is not enough. In Thai rubies, only those facets where light is totally internally reflected will be a rich red; the others appear blackish, as with red garnets. Thai stones are actually less purple than most Burmese rubies. However, Mogok-type rubies appear red all over the stone. Not only is a rich red seen in the areas where total internal reflection occurs, but, due to the red fluorescence and light-scattering silk, other facets are also red. This glowing red color is what makes Mogok-type rubies so special. With the decline in Burma production during the 1962–1990 period, the market became conditioned to Thai/Cambodian rubies, with some people actually tending to prefer them (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king). Thai/Cambodian rubies are acceptable only when good material from the above sources is not available (see box, page 434).
  7. India: The classic Karnataka (Mysore) Indian locales produce mainly opaque, low-grade star rubies; recently better material has been reported from Orissa, but as of 1994, India remains a fringe source.

Connoisseurship in sapphire

Unlike rubies, for which perfection is unknown, even at the 5-ct level, large fine sapphires of 100 ct or more do exist. An approximate ranking of blue sapphires in terms of origin is given below. As with the ruby origin rankings, this applies only for the finest untreated qualities from each source and is but a crude measure. In other words, a top-quality Australian sapphire can easily be worth more than a poor Kashmir stone.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem gradingFigure 10.8  21.09 carats of Burmese midnight-blue mystery. This stone, an example of Mogok's finest product, was offered in the late 1980s in Bangkok for $10,000/ct. (Photo: Adisorn Studio, Bangkok)

  1. Kashmir (India): In the world of blue sapphire, Kashmir is the peak, the quality against which all others are measured. Kashmir sapphires are noted for their rich blue hue and distinctive "velvety" luster, caused by the presence of minute exsolved inclusions. The Kashmir mine, however, produced in quantity only during the years 1881–1890, and has produced little since. For this reason, Kashmir sapphires are generally available only through the estate/auction market. Star stones have been reported, but are rare. Much Kashmir material is strongly color zoned and the bipyramidal habit results in overly deep stones. Thus it can bear a strong resemblance to that from Sri Lanka. Many old Kashmir stones were cut as sugarloaf cabochons.
  2. Burma: Next to Kashmir, Mogok sapphires are unsurpassed. Although certain Sri Lankan sapphires may rival them in beauty, the Burmese stones are of a deeper, richer color, there being simply more color inside those from Mogok. Moreover, the Mogok stones do not require heat treatment for their beauty, but come out of the ground in living color, a blaze of smoldering, imperial blue. Many fine star sapphires have been found in the Mogok area, some of large size. Crystal habit in Mogok sapphires tends to be more tabular than either Sri Lanka or Kashmir. Thus faceted stones are not so bottom heavy.
  3. Sri Lanka: For those who prefer slightly lighter, livelier colors, Sri Lanka is the locality of choice. Blue sapphires from Sri Lanka have a unique beauty all their own, the best being a sharp, electric blue. Rakwana stones are of particular note, with their color compared to that found on the tip of a peacock's feather, or that on a peacock's neck, but fine stones are found in many places. Until the spread of heat treatments in the late 1970s, Sri Lankan sapphires commonly reached the richer blues only in stones of ten carats or more. Today deep blues of all sizes are common. Sri Lanka is the world's most prolific producer of giant sapphires (>100 ct). While Mogok stones tend towards a more intense, royal blue, the Sri Lankan sapphire is typically a brighter, cornflower blue, due to less color in the stone. Sri Lanka also produces fine star sapphires, some weighing hundreds of carats, and is the greatest producer of star corundums of all colors. As with all Sri Lankan gems, cutting can be a problem. The typical bipyramidal habit and over-emphasis on weight retention often result in bottom-heavy stones.
  4. All other sources (alphabetically)
    Australia is one of the biggest producers of faceted sapphire, but most are dark and inky in color and require heat treatment. The mines of New South Wales produce the better stones, while the Queensland production consists mostly of darker blues. Australian sapphires suffer from bad press. While good quality stones, which can compete with the better Thai and Cambodian material, are occasionally found, they are inevitably sold as anything but Australian.
    Cambodia (Pailin): The Pailin mine in Cambodia has produced a number of fine stones over the past 100 years, although today production is limited, due to political problems. Pailin stones, however, tend to be on the dark side and faceted stones larger than five carats are rare. This is in contrast to Kashmir and Mogok, which have produced a number of sapphire giants. The material is good for cutting stones below two carats, but even the best Cambodian material cannot compete with the best from Kashmir, Mogok, or Sri Lanka. This source has a particular "romance" aspect to it that is not supported by actual quality.
    China: Material comes from a variety of different locales, but all is iron-rich and tends to be overly dark.
    Nigeria: Nigerian material is also iron-rich and tends to be overly dark.
    Thailand: In Thailand, the occasional fine stone is produced, particularly from the mines of Bo Ploi, in Kanchanaburi Province. Bo Ploi stones may be of fine color and sometimes reach sizes of 50 ct or more, but most are marred by a certain cloudiness. Many Bo Ploi stones are sold as Sri Lankan, due to their strong color zoning. Sapphires from Chanthaburi and Phrae tend to be overly dark, although some are nice.
    USA (Montana): Yogo Gulch in Montana produces sapphires of fine color when found in sizes of greater than one carat, but such stones are extremely rare. The lack of larger stones (one carat or more) and the flat crystal habit (which results in low cutting yields), has kept Yogo from being a source of major importance. Material displays extremely uniform coloration. Most is cut as round brilliants. Other Montana localities produce mainly fancy colors, although heat treatment has changed this somewhat.

Compared to Kashmir, Burma and Sri Lanka, all other sapphires sources are of relatively minor importance for high-end stones.

Fancy sapphires

The term fancy sapphire is used to describe corundums other than red or blue. Sri Lanka is king of the hill. Within this small island are found sapphires of virtually every color, including some for which the island is the definitive source, such as the lovely pink-orange padparadscha. Tanzania's Umba Valley is also noted for fancy sapphires, as are Montana's mines (non-Yogo).

Yellow & orange sapphire

Yellow sapphires from Sri Lanka are generally of a light to medium hue, without any brownish overtones. Deeper hues are, like the Sri Lankan blues, reached only in larger sizes, or via heat treatment. Heat treatment produces deeper yellows, golds and oranges that are virtually unknown, or rare in nature. The very rare pinkish orange padparadscha sapphire is found mainly in Sri Lanka and at Vietnam's Quy Chau mines. While similar gems are sometimes found at Tanzania's Umba mines, most from this locality tend towards the brownish orange. Padparadschas from Sri Lanka sometimes fetch prices that rival even ruby.

The color purple

It is a common, but erroneous, belief among many traders and gemologists that Thai/Cambodian rubies are more "purple" than those from Mogok. Using the proper definition of the term purple (i.e., a hue or hues lying between red and violet), we actually find that Mogok rubies are more purple than those from the Thai/Cambodian border. Gem dealers know what they are seeing, but do not describe it in terms consistent with the use of those same words in other industries. To the color scientist, purple is merely a hue position. In order to properly describe the color, saturation and darkness must also be defined.

The problem with most dealer descriptions of gem colors is that they try to describe all colors and color differences in terms of changes in hue position and darkness. In fact, when judging the color of gems, saturation of hue is of paramount importance, not tiny nuances in hue position. When a gem dealer says that a Thai/Cambodian ruby is too purple compared to those from Mogok, he is confusing the low-saturation red (grayish red) of the Thai ruby with the higher saturation (but more purplish) red of the Mogok ruby.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading

Figure 10.9  Which of the above colors is more purple? The answer is neither. Both colors have identical hue positions. However there are differences in darkness and saturation. The color at left has a darkness of 50% and saturation of 100%, while the darkness and saturation values of the color at right are 68% and 63% respectively.

Thailand and Australia both produce fine yellow sapphires, with the stones from Chanthaburi in Thailand grading into the highly desirable Mekong Whisky golden yellow to orange colors. These bring high prices locally in Thailand and are quite beautiful. Australian yellow sapphires tend to be overly greenish, although fine golden yellows are found in the Queensland mines. Sri Lanka, Thailand and Australia are the only sources which produce deep yellow sapphires in any quantity, although the Mogok area produces the occasional stone.

Insert quote here Buddhist Mantra

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading

Figure 10.10  One of the delights of the corundum family is the lovely pink-orange padparadscha. The example at right weighs 30 ct and is a particularly fine specimen. Traditionally such stones were the color of the lotus flower and came only from Sri Lanka, but today padparadschas have also been found in other localities. (Photo: © Tino Hammid)

 The finest green sapphires come from Sri Lanka, but are extremely rare. These stones tend to be of a lighter and more lively green than those from Thailand and Australia. The latter two countries do produce good green sapphires, but most tend towards an impure blue-green or yellow-green which is not very attractive. Green sapphires of good color and clarity over 10 ct in size are relatively scarce, but demand is slow.Green sapphire

Violet and purple sapphire

Violet and purple sapphires are found mostly in places which produce both ruby and blue sapphire. The finest stones come from Mogok, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Purple stones bordering on ruby color are most valuable and may reach prices approaching those of ruby. Star stones are possible, but relatively rare.

Color-changing sapphire

Among the most unusual sapphires are those which display a change of color. These are judged by the quality of color change, the best going from the green side of blue in daylight to a reddish purple in incandescent light. A number of sources produce such stones, but fine examples are rare. The best are colored by vanadium (just like the Verneuil synthetic corundums) and come from Mogok and Umba, Tanzania. These are extremely rare. More common are Sri Lankan gems which contain a mixture of chromium (red) and iron-titanium (blue). Such stones appear bluish violet in daylight and purple under incandescent light. In the author's opinion, these are marginal as color-change sapphires. Most tanzanite shows a similar color shift.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading Figure 10.11R
Figure 10.11  Yellow into orange…
Left: Unheated yellow sapphires from Sri Lanka tend to be lighter, brighter and less greenish than those from Thailand or Australia, as this 7.41-ct specimen shows. (Photo: © Tino Hammid; specimen: Intercolor, New York)
Right: Thailand's Chanthaburi mines produce sapphires of the prized "Mekong Whisky" yellow-to-orange color. The stone above is a fine example. (Photo: Adisorn Studio, Bangkok)

Fine star rubies come mainly from Mogok and Sri Lanka. While Mogok has the reputation for producing the best pieces, the world's finest large example, the Rosser Reeves Star Ruby, was mined in Sri Lanka. [7] As for the finest star sapphires, they also come from Mogok and Sri Lanka, particularly the latter. Deeper colors in Sri Lankan stones are mainly (but not always) found in the larger sizes, where the color builds due to the longer light paths.

Judging stars & cabochons

The best stones will have just enough silk to create the star effect, but not so much as to harm the transparency and color (see Figure 10.12). Such stones are extremely rare and valuable. As for black star sapphires, the most valuable are the golden-star black stars from Chanthaburi, Thailand.

Important factors in evaluating star rubies and sapphires include the following:

  • Color: This is paramount. One can have an expensive stone with a poor star, but valuable stars of poor color do not exist. Top-dollar colored gems have top-dollar color – it's that simple.
  • Transparency: If the proper amount of colorant exists in the stone, only good transparency will bring it out. The so-called 'glass body' is the ideal. Too much silk means short light paths, which translates into poor, grayish color.
  • Star: The star should be complete and sharp, with no missing or broken legs, and each ray should extend to the girdle.
  • Clarity: Silk should not be concentrated so thick as to harm transparency. Stones containing too much silk will have rather poor color, as silk diffuses the light. Longer needles generally produce a better star than the tiny particles which are sometimes found, but as with all grading, it's the end product that counts, not the conditions which produce it. Like all gems, the ideal is totally fracture-free.
  • Cut: Only proper cutting releases a gem's beauty. Cabochons need to be cut with medium to high domes (overly flat domes allow the star to be seen only from directly above). The base should be smooth (polished or unpolished), flat (or gently rounded) and the star should be properly centered when the gem rests on its base. Domes should be symmetrical, with no flat spots (which distort the star). Like middle-aged humans, a common problem is excess weight below the girdle. Ideally, less than 10% of the gem's depth should lie below the girdle, but this is rarely found. Due to the bipyramidal shape of many Sri Lankan crystals, local lapidaries often cut them with 50%, or even 80%, of the total depth below the girdle. This is unacceptable, for such stones are extremely difficult to mount in jewelry, and have the face-up size of pieces of much smaller weight.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, sapphire prices, gems, corundum, gem grading
Figure 10.12  Judging stars: It's all in the color
Low-quality stars contain an over-abundance of silk (left photo). While this makes for a sharp star, transparency, and thus color, suffers. Good transparency allows longer light paths, and thus, richer color (right photo). The result is a far more valuable stone.
Left: Stars in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum. The stone at left weighs 174.75 ct, while the 193.39-ct Star of Lanka is shown at right. (Photo: Royal Ontario Museum)
Right: At 101.01 ct, the Star of Ceylon is representative of a high-quality star sapphire. Despite the weak star, this gem's high transparency and fine color make it far more valuable than the larger, sharper stars pictured at left. (Photo: Richard Allen/Alan Chappron)


ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, Kashmir sapphire, Mogok sapphire, padparadscha, corundum, gem grading

Figure 10.13  PDCTP – Pretty Damned Close To Perfect – is how this star sapphire would be described. This stone is over 20 ct and hails from Sri Lanka. (Photo: Rattana Angkuanpanit/World Jewels Trade Center)

Anatomy of the perfect ruby & sapphire

Ordinary cabochons are evaluated in an identical manner to star stones, except they have no star. While it is a general truth that they are cheaper than faceted goods (because of their typically poorer clarity), cabochons have a special beauty all their own. What they lack in scintillation, they make up in color. In fact, the highest total price ever paid for a single ruby was $5,860,000 for a 38.12-ct Mogok ruby cabochon (Anonymous, 1994).

What makes the perfect ruby or sapphire? The following is the author's somewhat metaphorical take on perfection as applied to ruby and sapphire:

  • Color: Overall, a priority. The best rubies look like someone painted a swath of fluorescent red across their face. It is a glowing red, diffused throughout the stone, and derives from the unique property of fine rubies, a rich red fluorescence to daylight. For blue sapphire, the color should be a rich blue, verging on the violet, not too light or dark.
  • Clarity: Generally eye clean, but with the following caveat: it should have a velvet-like softness, as opposed to diamond-like transparency.
  • Cut: It should show the raw material off to best advantage, without presenting mounting or durability problems. Look for simplicity of design and execution. As the one element of the gem influenced by humans, it should bear the visual signature of its maker. [8] Like a Miles Davis horn line, the cut should be an exquisite balance of economy and intensity.
  • Overall: The best walk the walk and talk the talk. They wink at you from across the room, call your name, beckon you closer. When you see them, you are driven to possess them and will sell your soul, to Devils or Lords, to call them your own.



7. This reflects more than just a little on the worth of origin stereotypes. [ return to text ]

8. For those puzzled by this statement, check out the quartz sphere of Bernd Munsteiner. In the area of fine arts, see Dali, Da Vinci, Goya, El Greco, etc. [ return to text ]

Market tastes for ruby & sapphire

While there is general agreement among experienced wholesale buyers about what constitutes the best quality, tastes for commercial goods can vary dramatically from country to country, often related to the purchasing power of their customers. It is impossible to generalize about individual buyers, but is possible to generalize about the tastes of certain consumer markets. In some places, color is paramount; thus buyers are willing to sacrifice on cut and clarity to obtain stones with good color. For other markets, the preference is for high clarity, and so on. Table 10.1 gives some guidelines on these tastes for the major consuming markets.

Table 10.1: Major ruby & sapphire market tastesa

Market Preferencesb
Australia The Australian ruby taste resembles that of the UK, with preference for darker colors of good cut and clarity. In sapphire, dark Australia-type blues find a ready market, so long as they are clean and well cut. Other sapphire types are also salable.
Far East (China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan) These newly-emerging markets have become an important force of late. Typical of many young markets, one finds a range of qualities salable. Cash-rich Taiwan and South Korea are increasingly important for high-end goods. Hong Kong services much of the Far East market.
France In France, color is paramount. For rubies, it should be a rich, intense red, characteristic of the best Burma-type stones. With sapphire, the preference is a rich blue, similar to Ceylon and Burma-type material. French buyers are often willing to sacrifice clarity and cut for good color. Thus shallow and/or slightly included stones may find a ready market – so long as the color is there.
Germany Typically, German buyers place great emphasis on perfection in make (cut) and clarity. Color is less important than brilliance, clarity and finish. The preference is generally for lighter, brighter stones, In ruby, this means slightly pinkish red stones, as opposed to dark, garnet reds, while for sapphire it is for bright, Ceylon-type blues.
Italy Italian taste is similar to the French, with the emphasis on color, as opposed to clarity and cut. Shallow stones ('big face') often find a ready market.
Japan The rise of Japanese economic power in the 1970s and '80s brought with it a similar rise in demand for luxury goods. This peaked about the time of the Gulf War, and has since flattened somewhat, with the Tokyo stock market failure, Gulf War, and Kobé earthquake. Japanese taste bears a strong resemblance to Germany, with preference for lighter, brighter colors and stones of high clarity and excellent cut. In rubies, this means bright, pinkish reds, while for sapphire it is for bright, Ceylon-type blues. Overly-dark stones find little interest in Japan.
Middle East While the traditional center of the Middle East gem business is Beirut, the war virtually shut it down. Still, throughout the Middle East the gem trade is largely in the hands of Lebanese traders. Market preferences tend to be schizophrenic, with quantities of both high and low-grade jewels being purchased. The emphasis is often on flash, i.e. big stones and gaudy jewelry. That said, the purchasing power of this region is huge, almost on a par with the US or Japan. Middle-eastern retail buyers are a major presence in the world's retail capitals, such as Geneva, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Beverly Hills.
Switzerland Switzerland itself is not so much a final consuming market as a supermarket for the world's rich. Most purchases are made by foreigners, with the gems later exported. Buyers come from around the world, but have one thing in common – lots of money. Thus Swiss buyers tend to buy the very best, which means high-saturation Burma-type rubies and Kashmir or Burma-type sapphires. The market is centered in Geneva.
United Kingdom While certain London jewelers and buyers handle material on a par with the best in the world, the UK market's taste is generally more in line with the country's overall economic decline since the fall of the British empire after World War II. Thus cheaper, darker goods are the norm. This is consistent with dark, garnet-red Thai/Cambodian rubies and dark, Australia-type sapphires.
United States The US is the world's largest consuming market for all gems, including ruby & sapphire. Because of its melting-pot ethnic and economic composition, virtually all qualities are salable in some segment of the market. That said, preferences are generally for stones with balanced quality – i.e., proportions and clarity are of equal importance to color. In the Northwest (OR, WA, ID, MT), Yogo sapphires are a hot item, and may fetch prices far above those elsewhere. Major urban areas, such as New York and Los Angeles, may cater to many foreign customers.

a. Information in this table is based upon the author's own trade experience and research, along with published reports from Ho (1981) and Sersen (1988b).
b. Note: In each of the world's major luxury retail centers, such as Geneva, Paris, London, New York, Beverly Hills, Hong Kong and Tokyo, buyers from around the world come to buy. Thus the tastes of these centers often may diverge dramatically from the country as a whole.

Buying ruby & sapphire

In every business, there are tricks of the trade, little things that often add up to the difference between profit and loss. Collectively they might be termed experience, for that is how they are acquired. Unfortunately these lessons are rarely found in books. Instead, they reside in a small box at the back of every dealer's safe or in some dusty drawer, and are acquired by doing business with someone whose box is bigger still. The lessons in this box consist of mistakes – all the stones and jewelry that can't be sold – things that should never have been purchased in the first place. A description of some of the lessons from the author's box is found in the box on page 226.

Buying parcels

The purchase of lots is more difficult than single pieces, largely because people fail to take the time to properly analyze the parcel. In large lots, although it is impossible to evaluate each piece, one can perform a sample analysis. What one does is to cut a random sampling from the lot and evaluate it, dividing the sample into logical quality grades. The sample size must be large enough to accurately reflect overall lot quality, but too large a sample simply wastes time. Such a procedure works as shown in Table 10.2.

Table 10.2: Analysis of 1 kg mine-run lot of Australian sapphire

Analyis Quality grade of each sample portion (sample = 10% of lot) Sample Total Lot
(sample x 10)
1 2 3 4
Weight of grade (500 ct total) 75 ct (15%) 125 ct (25%) 175 ct (35%) 125 ct (25%) 500 ct 5000 ct
Estimated weight after cutting
(20% average yield from rough to cut)
15 ct (3%) 25 ct (5%) 35 ct (7%) Uncuttable
- -
Estimated selling price after cutting $50/ct $25/ct $10/ct - - -
Gross income $750 $625 $350 - $1,725 $17,250
Cutting charges (@$2/finished ct) $30 $50 $70 - $150 $1,500
Net income $720 $575 $270 - $1,575 $15,750
Profit (net income – lot price) Sample price = $1000 total; Lot price = $10,000 total $575 $5,750

The trick to the above is accurately estimating the cutting yield and selling price after cutting. How is this done? Experience, pure and simple. Novices should begin by buying only cheap lots, where a mistake in judgment is less costly. By grading the lot, having it cut, checking one's estimates against reality, and repeating the process over and over, one eventually reaches the enlightened, sapient state of eternal profit and bliss. Ideally before the bankroll is finished.

The same method would also be used for parcels of cut stones (minus the cutting charges).

Drawing color. When buying parcels, make sure that stones are examined individually, rather than as a whole. Large parcels will always appear to be of a deeper color than individual stones. This is termed drawing color, and results from increased absorption as light travels through several stones, rather than a single piece. Thus to get a true idea of color, stones should be removed from the lot for examination.

Color memory: 'Washing the eyes'

In a word, the color memory of humans is poor. While we can distinguish between millions of colors in side-by-side comparisons, this ability is dramatically reduced if no comparison sample is available. To take advantage of this poor color memory, a typical seller's stratagem is to begin the buying session by showing only low quality goods. As time goes on, the qualities get better and better, until, finally, the pièce de résistance is brought forth. Since everything seen up to that time has been of lower quality, it makes the final piece appear even better. This sales technique is termed 'washing the eyes' and is most effective (Halford-Watkins, 1934; W.K. Ho, pers. comm., ca. 1981).

Business tactics

War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull. Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Every gem trader has his or her own preferred bargaining tactics. Skillful application of such stratagems often translates into business success.

Studied indifference is one common ploy, but difficult to maintain when one's eyes are afire with the sight of a great jewel. In such cases, it helps to use an intermediary. Because intermediaries do not have emotional attachment to the purchase (or sale), they typically achieve better results, which is why brokers are a common feature of the gem business.

Try to camouflage your intentions. When selecting from lots, an effective tactic is the "bait-and-switch." Rather than drooling over the object of your desire, disguise your true objective by asking the prices of other items first. Put the gem you want in with a group of others, ask the price of the group, remove a couple pieces you don't want, again inquire about the price, remove others, add additional pieces, and finally "settle" for the piece you wanted all along.

One of the keys to any negotiation is to get the other party to make the first offer. This is particularly important when haggling over something for which you are unsure of the true market price (there is nothing more deflating than making an offer and hearing a lightning-quick 'yes' issue from the seller's lips). Similarly, if you are selling and the buyer makes an offer you will accept, ponder it a bit before replying.

Among the most unusual bits of advice I've ever been offered was that provided by an old Japanese dealer (Mr. Fujita, r.i.p.) who had spent most of his life buying gems in Asia. After negotiating several flasks of saké in Bangkok's Soi Ginza, he leaned over to me and slurred in heavily-accented English: "Deeek, ze secrets of ze beeziness eez to buy a leettle high, and sell a leettle low." Only the next morning, after my mind had cleared, did I grasp the logic of this statement. By purchasing a little higher than the competition, sellers will approach you first. Thus you obtain the all-important first look. By selling a little lower than the competition, customers will also come to you first.

There is a common tendency when bargaining over a stone to denigrate it, thinking that telling the seller you don't like it will produce a lower price. While it does no harm to gently point out a gem's defects, this should be done in a graceful and subtle manner. Telling someone that their stone resembles "the slime on a lizard's back" not only anger's the seller, making any price reduction less likely, but it begs the question of why you want to buy something that bad.

In the end, as Bangkok dealer Gerry Rogers has repeatedly lectured me, buying is like selling. When selling, the last thing you want is to upset your customer. And so it is with buying. Complimenting the seller on his good taste in gems is far more likely to produce the desired price than the reverse. If you have to complain about something to the seller, complain that, while you recognize the high quality of the seller's gems, your customers lack the ability to understand subtle differences in quality. Thus you have to be careful how you spend your money.

 To avoid falling prey to such a ruse, some standard means of comparison is needed. This could be a printed color atlas, a colorimeter (such as GIA's ColorMaster), a set of master stones, or some other medium (like AGL's ColorScan or GIA's GemSet). Many dealers simply carry around two or three comparison stones. Any of the above methods will prove useful.

Auction records

The record-keepers of record-breakers,
The lackers and onlookers of greatness,
Eunuch students of love and peeping Toms.
'W.R. Rodgers, 1941, 'End of a World'

Next to colored diamonds, rubies are the most precious of gems. Throughout the 1970s, it's highest per-carat price rose steadily. April, 1976 saw a ring containing a ruby of approximately 7.25 ct sell for $230,000 and in October, 1975, a suite of nine rubies from the estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge sold for $690,000 at Sotheby's. On November 24, 1979, in Geneva, a 4.12-ct Mogok ruby sold for $412,000, a fantastic $100,639/ct. During this auction, three separate records were set: the above mentioned ruby; a Colombian emerald ring of 12.46 ct ($48,240/ct), and a Kashmir sapphire of 11.81 ct ($25,815/ct), then a world record per-carat price for blue sapphire.

Not until 1988 were these prices topped. At Sotheby's New York's October 18, 1988 sale, Alan Caplan's 15.97 ct Burmese ruby sold for $3,630,000, a whopping $227,301/ct. As of 1995, this record still stands. The record for blue sapphire was set at the Feb. 18–20, 1988 sale at Sotheby's St. Moritz, where a 62.02-ct rectangular Mogok sapphire sold for $2,828,546 ($45,607/ct). (Hughes & Sersen, 1988b; Matthews, 1993)

Rubies and sapphires of note

Despite the fact that the corundum gems are the most important, next to diamond, relatively few titled specimens exist. In the case of sapphires, certainly, this is not for want of magnificent specimens of large size. Rubies of large size and fine quality, however, are singularly lacking. While perfect diamonds of many carats abound in history, perfect rubies of even five carats are almost unknown. The simple fact is that when the Gods were dispensing rubies, they did just as we mortals would have – they kept the best for themselves.

A complete listing of famous rubies and sapphires is tabulated at the end of this chapter. What follows here is a smattering of descriptions and accounts of notable examples.

Rubies described by Tavernier

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the famous seventeenth century gem trader and traveler mentions a number of large rubies in his Travels (Ball, 1925). Of course Tavernier was writing at a time when almost any red stone was considered as a ruby, so it is likely that the larger stones were actually red spinels ('balas' rubies).

A handful of historic rubies

Burma has been, and continues to be, the source of rubies par excellence. Unfortunately, during the many centuries in which the Mogok mines were ruled by the Burmese kings, all stones of large value [9] were considered crown property. This resulted in large stones being broken up into smaller pieces.

Maung Lin Ruby

Among the great Burmese rubies was a stone found by a man or men working on the road to Momeit, during Mindon Min's rule (1853–78). The gem weighed 400 ct in the rough and was secretly disposed of to a trader named Maung Lin for Rs3000 (about £200). It was cut into three pieces: a stone of 70 ct (sold to England); a stone of 45 ct (sold in Mandalay); and a third portion of unknown weight, sold in Calcutta for Rs70,000 (~£4666). (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934)

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, star ruby, Kashmir sapphire, Mogok sapphire, padparadscha, corundumFigure 10.14  And the judges' verdict? 10, 10, 10, 10, 10… It is impossible to say what is the finest ruby in the world. But this stone is certainly one of the finest, and until 12 April 2005 held the record for the highest per-carat price ever realized for a ruby at auction. Known variously as Alan Caplan's Ruby or the Mogok Ruby, this 15.97-ct untreated Burma stone was sold by Sotheby's in 1986 for $3,630,000, a whopping $227,301 per carat. It was purchased by Graff of London, who reportedly sold it to the Sultan of Brunei. (Photo: © Tino Hammid)
J.N. Forster Rubies

According to Tagore (1879, 1881) and Streeter (1892), the two most important rubies ever known in Europe were brought into England in 1875. One, a rich red cushion shape, weighed 37 ct; the other was a blunt, drop-shaped piece of 47 ct. Both stones were later recut by James N. Forster of London, resulting in pieces of 32-5/16 and 39-9/16 ct (38-9/16 ct according to Streeter) respectively. The smaller stone eventually fetched £10,000 and the larger £20,000. Streeter, undoubtedly one of the most competent European judges of rubies of his day, apparently did not examine the stones himself; however he states that experts pronounced them to be unrivaled for rubies of such large size. Perhaps even more authoritative proof of their quality was the fact that their sale in Burma created intense excitement and a military guard escorted the persons taking the stones to the ship. The Burmese King (Mindon Min) was only persuaded to let the stones go because he desperately needed cash. No matter what the king's financial position, however, we can be quite sure that he would not part with the best of his collection, for, as with many monarchs, such a collection has value far beyond money. The royal regalia and associated stones form a vital part of their rule, the foundation of kingly status. Without these trappings a monarch would truly be left without clothes.

Other Burmese rubies

Soon after Thebaw (1878–1885) ascended the throne, a fine stone weighing 100 ct in the rough was found on Pingtoung Hill (Pingu Taung) near Mogok, an area where several "royal rubies" have originated. The stone was presented to Thebaw by Oo-dwa-gee, at the time Woon (governor) of the ruby mining district (Streeter, 1892).

King Thebaw, the last Burmese monarch, was reported to have a collection of Burmese rubies unsurpassed in all the world. Of this, there can be no doubt, due to the aforementioned policy that all large stones were the property of the state. John Crawfurd (1829), an Englishman sent on a diplomatic mission to Ava (the then capital of Burma) in 1827, had this to say:

The King lays claim to every ruby or sapphire which exceeds the value of one hundred ticals; and there is, from all accounts, a large collection of both in the royal treasury; but as they are never sold, and not often disposed of in any way, they can hardly be said to form an effectual portion of the revenue.

What happened to this magnificent collection after the British annexed Upper Burma? The treasury from the Royal Palace at Mandalay now rests at the Indian Museum, South Kensington, in London, but to look at it, the Burmese king seems to have been a mere pauper. Although there are a number of rubies in the British Regalia, they are of small size or imperfect quality. On 29 Nov., 1885, the British took Mandalay. Guards were posted with orders not to permit anyone to enter or leave the palace. But that night the chivalrous British permitted female servants to come and go freely (see page 316). Throughout the night that is exactly what they did, smuggling the treasure out right under the British soldiers' noses (Stewart, 1972). No doubt, the stones eventually found their way onto the open market in Lower Burma and India, and then into the private collections of the world's wealthy. Thus was lost forever an unrivaled opportunity – public display of the most fabulous jewels of the Burmese monarchs, a collection put together over centuries of rule.

From carob seed to carat

THE value of gemstones is generally determined by reference to weight vs. quality, with the best qualities always more rare in larger sizes than small. While there is no uniform system for quality analysis, gem dealers have long had a standard weight reference – sort of. Since April 1, 1914, the metric carat has equaled 200 milligrams. Prior to that, things were not so simple. The international carat of 1877 equalled 205.0 milligrams. Like religion, however, not everyone believed. Before the establishment of the standard metric carat, the carat varied anywhere from 188.6 milligrams (in Bologna) to as much as 213.5 milligrams (in Turin). And this is between two cities in the same country. Such variations (as much as 13%) make it extremely difficult to estimate the precise weight of gems described before 1914.

The English word carat comes to us from the Greek keration ('little horn') and refers to the shape of the seed pods of Ceratonia silique, the carob tree (St. John's Bread). Such seeds were used to weigh precious substances because of their relatively consistent weight. Our carat comes through the Arabic qîrât, which became in Old Portuguese quirate, appearing in modern Portuguese and Spanish as quilate (Kunz, 1914).

In 1899, the Burma Ruby Mines Ltd. uncovered a giant ruby of 77 ct (rough) which was valued at £26,666 (Brown, 1933). Another stone weighing 36 ct was sold by King Mindon Min, the father of Thebaw, for £30,000 (Brown, 1933). Numerous additional examples of large rubies such as the above exist in the literature, but because we do not know where the stones are today it is difficult to assess their quality, nor know definitely if they were, in fact, rubies. From what we do know today about rubies it can be guessed that most or even all of the large stones (100 ct or more) reported in the possession of the pre-twentieth century monarchs were either flawed or were actually red spinels.

The following are some famous rubies of Burmese origin.

Nga Boh ('Dragon Lord') Ruby

The name given to a ruby found at Bawbadan, weighing 44 ct in the rough, and, when cut, 20 ct. It was said to be the finest of its size ever reported and was given by the finder to King Tharawadi (1837–1846). The stone was among the booty missing from King Thebaw's palace during the British conquest of Mandalay (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934).

Nga Mauk (Gna Monk) & Kallahpyan Rubies

During the reign of Mindon Min (1853–1878), a man found a rough ruby weighing 7 ticals (560 ct). This was one of the finest Mogok rubies ever found (Streeter, 1892; Halford-Watkins, 1934; Keely, 1982; Clark, 1991). But there is a discrepancy in the accounts. According to Streeter and Halford-Watkins, the man's wife traded the stone for a rupee's worth of fish condiments to a man named Nga Mauk, but Keely does not mention such a trade. [10] In any case, the owner of the stone broke it in two, giving one half to the king and secretly sending the other for sale in Calcutta. Discovering the fraud and after learning where the other half had been sent, Mindon Min ordered its return. In the meantime, he ordered the village and its inhabitants burned alive as a lesson to others (this was apparently a traditional punishment under the Burmese monarchy). Eventually, the second half was purchased in Calcutta for an enormous sum and returned to Burma, where it formed a perfect fit with the first. The two stones were cut in Mandalay, one forming a grand stone weighing 98 ct, and named Nga Mauk; the other weighed 74 ct and became known as Kallahpyan, signifying that it had returned from India. These two pieces disappeared when Upper Burma was annexed by the British in 1885. [11]

Iran's Crown Jewels

NO jewelry collection in the world can compare with Iran's Crown Jewels, located in Teheran's Bank Markazi Iran (Central Bank of Iran). Some of the jewels date from the 16th century, when the Spanish began selling new-world emeralds to Asia's great potentates, but the bulk came into Persian hands in 1739, when Nadir Shah sacked Delhi and returned home with sacks and chests of treasure. Included amongst the booty was the most unbelievable jewel ever seen – the fabled Peacock Throne. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal that built the Taj Mahal, the cost of the Peacock Throne was actually twice that of the Taj (Swamy & Ravi, 1993). Unfortunately the original throne was later broken up, but many of its gems are today found in the collection. This collection has been magnificently described by Meen & Tushingham (1968).

After the 1978–9 revolution that toppled Iran's monarchy, the collection was put away, and some of Ayatollah Khomeini's most zealous followers even proposed selling it off. Thankfully this did not happen, and in February of 1992, the collection was quietly reopened to public viewing (Sciolino, 1992).


Rubies of great size and quality are quite rare, and Iran's collection is probably the world's finest. Mogok rubies of ten carats or more are extremely scarce in fine qualities, but the Persian collection possesses a number of fine examples. Of particular note is the plaque of 13 magnificent stones described by Meen & Tushingham (1968, p. 118), and matched by another plaque nearby. Each is set in a simple gold ring and all are cabochons, ranging in size from 8 to 16 ct. All are believed to be of Burmese origin. [a]

Red spinels

The world's greatest collection of large red spinels is that of the Crown Jewels of Iran. One piece, a blood-red lump of some 500 ct, is probably the largest fine red spinel extant. A companion piece weighing 270 ct is the more important of the two from an historical perspective, in that the Indian Mughal Jahangir's name is engraved upon it.

The larger of the two spinels in Iran is pierced, but the openings are now plugged. According to one legend, this is the Samarian Spinel, which adorned the neck of the Golden Calf. Both stones are believed to originate from the famous balas ruby mines of Badakshan. Numerous other red spinels exist in the Crown Jewels of Iran, many of which exceed 100, and some, even 200 ct in weight.

a. Although they are stated to be of Burmese origin, no evidence is given to back up this belief. It is possible some may come from other sources.

Peace Ruby

Few rubies ever generated the excitement that this 42-ct piece of rough produced upon its discovery. Accounts on this stone differ. [12] The author has chosen to use that of Halford-Watkins (1934), who had first-hand experience with the gem. He said:

This magnificent stone, by far the finest ruby the world has ever seen, was mined in the Mogok Valley on the 30th June, 1919 (the day that Peace was signed). In shape it had the form of an irregular hexagonal prism with a flattened apex, the weight being exactly 42 old carats. The colour was a perfect pigeons-blood, and when in the writer's possession he likened it to a piece of red currant jelly, and used to exhibit it on a small plain white china plate to heighten the illusion. With the exception of a tiny crack near the base, which was removed in the cutting, the stone was entirely without a blemish of any kind. It was purchased in the rough by Chhotalal Nanalal, an Indian gem merchant of Mogok, for £27,500, or £654/15/- per carat, which [was] the highest price per carat ever realised for a rough ruby of any size. It was cut in Bombay into a round brilliant weighing 25 carats, of perfect colour, and absolutely flawless. This brought the actual cost of the material in the finished stone up to £1,100 a carat. The cut stone was disposed of in Paris, and afterwards went to America, the prices realised at the resales being very considerable, but the actual figures are not available for publication.

J.F. Halford-Watkins, 1934, The Book of Ruby and Sapphire

The present location of this stone is unknown.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, star ruby, Kashmir sapphire, Mogok sapphire, padparadscha, corundumFigure 10.15  A representation of the gem alleged to be the Chhatrapati Manik Ruby, as seen in London in 1934. At left is a close-up view of the gem mounted in a diamond tiara. (Based on Clarke, 1934).

Chhatrapati Manik Ruby

Among rubies, that with the oldest legendary history is the Chhatrapati Manik. [13] Legends date back some 2000 years, to the time of Sri Raja Bir Vikramaditya, King of Ujjain (located in present-day Madhya Pradesh, India). Upon his ascension, he proclaimed himself Chhatrapati ('Supreme King') and commissioned a new crown befitting his position. Scholars advised him that the crown should consist of nine principal gems (representing the nine planets). However, ruby, gem of the sun, should have the foremost place, for the sun lords over all other planets. A search of the treasury brought forth the finest gems of each type, but a suitable ruby could not be found. Eventually, a ruby without peer was located in a banker's collection and purchased. As the Maharaja had declared himself Chhatrapati, so he called the ruby.

Clarke (1933) gives a further detailed history of this stone, which passed from Vikramaditya's descendants through a variety of merchant's and ruler's hands. These included Sultan Abdul Hossein Qutub Shah, King of Golconda (1672–1687), also known as Tana Shah. He seized the crown and, after unmounting the gems, destroyed it. Tana Shah loved the ruby so much he had his name engraved upon it, and commissioned a book of poetry to extol its virtues. Later, the Great Mughal, Aurangzeb, defeated Tana Shah in battle, taking him prisoner. Leading the troops was Aurangzeb's son, who brought the ruby and book of verses to his father. Aurangzeb ordered Tana Shah's name removed, and his own put in its place.

At Murshidabad, in Bengal, lived a family of bankers, said to be the richest in the world. They often bestowed lavish gifts upon the Mughal. Upon receiving one of these presents, Aurangzeb returned the favor by presenting them with the Chhatrapati Manik, along with the book of verses. Later, one Lala Kalkadas of Lucknow traded a number of gems for the ruby and book. Aurangzeb's seal was ground off the gem at this point. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857–8, the book was lost, but Lala Budreedas, son of Lala Kalkadas, managed to keep the ruby. He later moved to Calcutta, where he had it mounted into a new tiara, befitting the ruby that had once graced the head of Vikramaditya, Chhatrapati of India.

The stone is said to be a Burmese oval cabochon of good deep color. Its weight is listed variously as about 24 rati (~20.68 ct), (Clarke, 1933), or about 40 ct (Clarke, 1934). In 1934, the stone was reported to be in London and was mounted on the front of a diamond tiara.

Star rubies of note
Among star rubies of renown, two immediately come to mind – the DeLong Star, an oval stone of over 100 ct, and the Rosser Reeves Star, an oval of 138.7 ct. Both are on public display in the United States.

DeLong Star Ruby

This 100.32-ct star ruby is displayed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Discovered in Burma during the early part of the twentieth century, it was sold by Martin Ehrmann to Edith Haggin DeLong, who donated it to the museum (Smith, 1994).

Rosser Reeves Star Ruby

At 138.7 ct, this is probably the finest large star ruby in existence. Now at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, it was named in honor of the donor, Mr. Rosser Reeves. Not only is the stone clearer and more translucent than the DeLong star, but it also possesses a magnificent, sharp six-rayed star. The Rosser Reeves Star is also unusual in that it does not originate from Mogok, as with most fine rubies, but from the gem gravels of Sri Lanka.

Rough rubies of note

Famous rough ruby specimens exist in several museums around the world. Extremely large but impure examples have been found in a number of localities. The British Museum possesses a rough hexagonal prism of 10 x 7 inches (25.4 x 17.8 cm) which weighs 34 lb (15.42 kg) and comes from North Carolina. Fine specimens, however, come mainly from Burma. In 1933, the British Museum acquired a remarkable Mogok ruby specimen measuring 12 x 9 x 4 cm and weighing 1.5 lb (3450 ct). Although consisting of a single crystal, it shows the terraced appearance (due to oscillation between the rhombohedron and basal pinacoid) typical of Burmese ruby crystals (Spencer, 1933). Also displayed at the British Museum is the 167-ct Edwardes Ruby crystal, which was donated in 1887 by John Ruskin (Keller, 1983).

The slippery SLORC ruby

I guess the government that robs its own people earns the future it is preparing for itself.
Mark Twain, 1912, 'Mark Twain: A Biography'

THE Rangoon gem auction had a big star in 1991, a 496-ct golf-ball sized piece of rough. It was dubbed the SLORC Ruby by SLORC (Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Committee, the ruling military junta). That's a real pretty name. Kinda catchy, too. SLORC said it was the world's largest ruby, bigger than even the Star of India. Although the Star of India is a sapphire, and weighs 563 ct, who am I to argue?

SLORC (the ruby) had an interesting birth. Seems she was dug up in February of 1990, at Dattaw, in the Mogok area. Just that year SLORC started allowing ordinary citizens to do legal mining at Mogok. These were joint ventures of the government/private-party type, with the privates doing all the work and giving up a serious piece of the action, on the condition that the government give their blessing to the party. Everything above a certain quality had to be sold at the annual auction in Rangoon. Problem was that some of those private operators didn't like to tell SLORC when they found a nice piece. My daddy always accuses me of the same thing – bad attitude.

Four jailed for life for ruby smuggling
A Burmese martial law court sentenced four people to life in prison for smuggling the world's largest ruby into a neighboring country, state-run radio Rangoon reported….The 496.5-carat ruby was seized by military intelligence from an unspecified "neighboring country" on August 18, the radio said….[It] was originally discovered in February by local gem miners near Moegoat township in Burma's northern Mandalay division.

AFP, 1991, Bangkok Post

Apparently the miners that found the SLORC thought it better to ship it east to Thailand, instead of south to SLORC. So SLORC slipped a team of stealthy SLORCs into Thailand and seized the slippery SLORC, whereupon it was named the "SLORC" and declared a national treasure. SLORC then proceeded to lecture the masses on the fact that all SLORCs belong to SLORC. Thus those with a SLORC to ship had best not try to slip by SLORC.

SLORC Chairman Senior General Saw Maung inspects world's largest sapphire
YANGON, 4 FEB. – State Law and Order Restoration Council Chairman Defence Services Commander-in-Chief Senior General Saw Maung this morning inspected the raw sapphire, weighing 4,230 ct, mined from Mogok Kyatpyin, west of Pyangbya village. It is the largest sapphire which has commercial value in the world…

Gem poachers mined the raw sapphire in September 1990 and the Defense Services Intelligence personnel seized it on 1 February, 1991 from them while they were making arrangements to sell it off. Six gem poachers and one person involved in the case have been arrested and further investigation is being carried out. Action will be taken against them in accordance with law…

Working People's Daily, 5 Feb., 1991, Rangoon, Burma

Law and justice. My, my, what would the world do without them.

Another fine Mogok ruby crystal is on display in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (Keller, 1983). Weighing 196.1 ct, it too displays the typical etched and terraced appearance, and is known as the Hixon Ruby.

The largest ruby ever found in Thailand was unearthed in 1985. This giant piece of rough weighed approximately 150 ct and was put on public display during a gem fair held in Chanthaburi in 1986.

Famous rubies are summarized in Table 10.3.


9. Above approx. Rs2000 (Halford-Watkins, 1934). [ return to text ]

10. It seems unlikely that anyone living in the Mogok area could fail to recognize such a fine rough ruby, so, in this regard, Streeter may be wrong. [ return to text ]

11. For a slightly different version of this story, see page 316.return to text ]

12. See Times of London (Aug. 25, 1919); Brown (1927); Keely (1982). [ return to text ]

13. The primary meaning of Chhatra is umbrella, but secondary meanings include lord, supreme, shelter, and helper. Pati means master, husband or king. Manik means ruby, or red precious stone. Thus Chhatrapati Manik means 'Supreme Lord of Rubies' (Clarke, 1933). [ return to text ]


Ruby & Sapphire • Judging Quality, Prices, Part 4

Notable red spinels

Among the most famous titled rubies, most are not rubies at all, but red spinels. Two important examples are found in the United Kingdom: the Timur Ruby, and the most famous of all, the Black Prince's Ruby. Despite the fact that these are actually red spinels, their colorful tales are worth telling.

Black Prince's Ruby

Few precious stones have such a long and storied history as this large, semi-polished, crimson orb. The following is based largely on Orpen (1890), Younghusband & Davenport (1919) and Sitwell (1953).

Although the gem was probably mined at Badakshan's famous balas ruby mines along the Afghanistan border, the gem's first documented appearance is in fourteenth-century Spain. At that time, Spain was ruled by a number of petty kings, one of whom was a Moorish prince, Mohammad, of Granada. Don Pedro the Cruel ruled nearby Seville, and it was to him that Mohammed fled after being deposed by his brother-in-law, Abu Said. Don Pedro's army eventually brought Abu Said to heel. When they arrived to negotiate, Abu Said and his attendants were killed, and their jewels seized. The date was 1366. Among the jewels was a large red spinel octahedron, the size of an egg. It is today known as the Black Prince's Ruby.

Don Pedro soon found it his turn to flee, his adversary being none other than his own brother, Henry. In 1366, he fled to Bordeaux, where the Black Prince [14] kept court. Don Pedro beseeched the Black Prince to help, promising untold treasures in return. Henry was duly defeated and the large red stone passed as payment to the Black Prince, in 1367.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, padparadscha, Kashmir sapphire, corundum

Figure 10.17a: Britain's Imperial State Crown contains more famous gems than virtually any other ornament in the world. These include the Black Prince's Ruby (see Fig. 10.18)…

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, padparadscha, Kashmir sapphire, corundum

10.17b: …the Stuart Sapphire…

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, padparadscha, Kashmir sapphire, corundum

10.17c: …and St. Edward's Sapphire. (Photos: HMSO, London)

The gem reappeared in the hands of the English king, Henry V, at Agincourt, on Oct. 25, 1415. The gallant king, with his army reduced to 15,000 men, was falling back upon Calais when at Agincourt he encountered Duc d'Alençon, the French prince, and his army of 50,000 men. The morning of the climactic battle Henry appeared dressed in most splendid attire, with gilt armor. Upon his helmet was a crown garnished with rubies, sapphires and pearls, including the Black Prince's Ruby.

Henry's helmet was more than mere decoration, for on that day he was set upon by the French prince, Duc d'Alençon. The Frenchman struck his helmet a mighty blow with his battle axe, nearly killing Henry. Others also attacked him, even managing to break away a portion of the crown. Miraculously, though, both the stone and Henry survived. After the battle, a French prisoner retrieved the broken fragment and brought it back to England, an act for which he was duly reimprisoned. The identical helmet worn by Henry at Avincourt is said to reside in Westminster Abbey, shorn of its jewels. Two deep gashes are readily visible, bearing mute testimony to the gallantry of Henry V on that fateful day. [15]

From here the precious gem passed through the hands of numerous British kings, including Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I, who kept it in her private collection. She did show it to a Scottish envoy, Sir James Melville, however. One evening the Queen took him into her bedchamber, where "she shewed me a fair ruby, great like a racket-ball. I desired she would either send it to my queen [Mary, Queen of Scots] or the Earl of Leicester's picture. She replied 'If Queen Mary would follow her counsels she would get them both in time and all she had, but she would send a diamond as a token by me.'" It was for the Black Prince's Ruby that the envoy begged, but Mary was destined to get neither.

King James I had the stone set in his state-crown, for the Earl of Dorset describes the stone in an inventory of the crown jewels. His description of the imperial crown concludes: "and uppon the topp a very greate ballace [balas ruby, or spinel] perced." We know this to be our stone for at some point in time it had been drilled ('perced') at the top with a small hole, so as to be worn suspended from the neck, a common occurrence with oriental gems. Today this hole is capped with a small ruby.

After the coronation of Charles I, by a fortunate occurrence, the great gem was not placed in the jewel house along with the other royal treasures. If it had it would have been lost, for when Cromwell took power and Charles I was executed, all the treasures found there were either melted down or sold by order of the Commonwealth. Among the priceless pieces thus lost was the gold filigree crown of Edward the Confessor, which was broken up and sold for its weight of bullion. Orpen (1890) remarked… "Such vandalism is almost enough to make one a Jacobite."

But the Black Prince's Ruby was not among them. According to the Parliamentary sales list of Charles I's Crown Jewels, there is an entry recording the sale, for £4, of a 'perced balas ruby wrapt in paper by itself,' which several authors have identified as the Black Prince's Ruby. Sitwell (1953) believes that this is incorrect, and that the Black Prince's Ruby is more likely to have been that identified as the Rock Ruby, which sold for £15.

In any event, in 1660 it was bought by an unknown party, who resold it to Charles II after the restoration of the Stuarts (Michael, 1983). During the reign of Charles II, the stone, by now set in Charles II's State Crown, had another narrow escape. It was nearly stolen by the notorious Colonel Blood, who, unbelievably, was later pardoned by the King.

Once again, in 1841, the crown was almost lost, this time by fire. Only the quick actions of police inspector Pierse saved the day. As the Tower burned, Pierse broke through the iron bars with a crowbar to rescue these irreplaceable objects. Again, during World War II, the royal regalia was once more in danger, this time from Hitler's bombers. However, they survived undamaged and today the giant Black Prince's Ruby can be viewed in all its glory in the Tower of London, along with the rest of the English Crown Jewels.

ruby, sapphire, Burma ruby, star sapphire, padparadscha, Kashmir sapphire, corundum

Figure 10.18  Perhaps the world's most famous ruby, the Black Prince's Ruby, is actually a large red spinel. Its history is documented back to 1366 AD. Today it is mounted on the front of England's Imperial State Crown, which is located in the Tower of London. (Photo: HMSO, London)

The Black Prince's Ruby is now mounted in the front of the Imperial State Crown, just above the famous Cullinan II Diamond. It is a huge, semi-polished octahedron. [16] Sitwell (1953) states that the stone is backed by a gold foil, as were many ancient gems, to improve its brilliance. This has not been removed for fear of damaging the gem. The stone measures some two inches (5.08 cm) in length and is of proportionate width (Younghusband, 1919). Its exact weight is unknown, but estimates put it at ~170 ct. As earlier stated, it is drilled at one end and a small ruby is set atop the opening.

According to Younghusband (1919), "the question is often asked: 'What is the value of this stone?' And the answer may safely be given that it is priceless, for no amount of money can buy it." It is indeed the most famous gemstone in the world's most famous gem collection.

Timur Ruby (Khiraj-i-alam, or 'Tribute to the World')

The Timur Ruby is a large red spinel and rests today in the private collection of the British monarch, mounted on a gold chain along with three other "Indian rubies." It is a large, tabular, semi-polished stone of 361 ct which carries Persian inscriptions in Arabic script. Inscriptions give the names of previous owners, as follows (Twining, 1960):

Ruler Hirja year Christian year (AD) Reigned
Akbar Shah 1021 1612 1556–1605
Jehangir Shah - - 1605–1627
Sahib Qiran Sani (Shah Jahan) 1038 1628 1628–1658
Alamgir Shah 1070 1659 1658–1707
Badshah Ghazi Mahamad Farukh Siyar 1125 1713 1713–1718
Ahmed Shah Duri-i-Duran 1168 1754 1748–1772

The Timur Ruby is said to have passed into Timur's hands when he sacked Delhi in 1398. The great Tartar conqueror stayed in India for little over a year, returning to Samarkand with all his booty. Upon his death, the ruby went to his son, Mir Shah Rukh, and in due time to his son and successor, Mirza Ulugli Beg. By this time the Tartar empire was on the wane and during one of the wars between the Tartars and Persians, the ruby came into the hands of Shah Abbas I of Persia. Shah Abbas presented the ruby to his close friend, Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor of India, in 1612. At that time, the gem had the names of Timur's son and grandson, and Shah Abbas himself, engraved upon it, but these inscriptions no longer exist. It is unknown whether they were obliterated over the course of time, or at the behest of Jahangir. In any event, after taking possession of the ruby, Jahangir had his own name engraved upon it, as well as that of his father, Akbar. When his favorite wife, Nur Jahan, chided him for defacing such a magnificent gem, he replied: "This jewel will more certainly hand down my name to posterity than any written history. The House of Timur may fall, but as long as there is a King, this jewel will be his."

Upon Jahangir's death, the Timur Ruby passed to his son, Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame), who also had his name inscribed on it, and placed it in the famed Peacock Throne. Shah Jahan's son, Aurangzeb (Alamgir Shah), seized control of both the throne and ruby, and added his own name to the inscriptions. The last of the Delhi emperors to inscribe his name upon the gem was Mahomed Farukh Siyar. His successor, Nadir Shah, invaded India and sacked Delhi in 1739. The royal loot carried away to Isfahan included both the Koh-i-Nur Diamond and the Timur Ruby, as evidenced by the following inscription on the Timur Ruby:

This (is) the ruby from among the 25,000 genuine jewels of the King of Kings, the Sultan Sahib Qiran [Timur], which in the year 1153 [1740 AD] from the (collection of) jewels of Hindustan reached this place [Isfahan].

The jewel's last inscription is that of Ahmad Shah, commonly known as Abdali or Durani, who at the time of Nadir Shah's assassination in 1747 held an important command in his army. Upon hearing of the murder, he attempted to seize the throne, but succeeded in securing only a large amount of booty. This he took with him when he marched south at the head of his Usbeg troops and founded the kingdom of Afghanistan. On his death in 1772, his son, Timur Shah, ascended the Kabul throne, and the ruby eventually passed to the latter's youngest son, Shah Suja. When expelled by Dost Mahomed, he took refuge in the Punjab, where Ranjit Singh, 'Lion of the Punjab,' forced him to surrender both the Koh-i-Nur and the Timur Ruby.

A study in primitive life forms

What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector?
The taxidermist only takes your skin.

Mark Twain, Mark Twain's Notebook, Chapter XXXIII

THERE is a particular type of single-cell organism which goes by the name of the government bureaucrat [bureaucratius simplicius]. To scientists, it is most easily characterized by its lack of even elementary reasoning, along with a strong desire to possess what is yours. They bear a certain resemblance to other primitive parasites, such as the politician and lawyer. Indeed, they may be related.

What with the rapid pace of change today, it is easy to conclude that such vermin are a modern phenomenon. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the following tale of a fifteenth-century ruby trader who had occasion to visit Sumatra shortly after his companion had died:

As soon as our merchandize was landed this chief raised a quibble, asserting that, as my companion was dead, all the said merchandize came to him [the chief], and that he would have it… He thereupon ordered all my property to be seized, and caused all my person to be searched. There were found upon me rubies of the value of three hundred ducats, which I had bought [in Pegu]. These they took, and the chief appropriated them to himself.

Journey of Hieronimo di Santo Stefano, ca. 1496 (from Major, 1857)

While extermination has proven impossible, businesspeople have developed certain evasion techniques. One was related to me by a European trader. He told of having to swallow a parcel of particularly valuable emeralds when forced to transit a land where one variety, the customs agentus, was known to be endemic. The ruse succeeded, but this created an additional conundrum. Upon arriving at his final destination, his customer was eager to view the gems. Sadly, he had to be told that there would be a delay, for the gems were still being… er… cleared.

In the end, Jahangir's prediction was born out. When the British East India Company annexed the Punjab in 1849, they also annexed the Koh-i-Nur Diamond and Timur Ruby. Both were later presented to Queen Victoria. Despite the occasional protests from India, it is in the British Monarch's hands that they remain (Times of London, 1912; Twining, 1960).

Catherine the Great's Ruby

This is the second-largest red spinel of quality on record, at 414.30 ct (or 398.72 ct according to the USSR Diamond Fund, 1972) and is housed in Russia's Kremlin (see box, page 282 for a full description).

A case of mistaken identity

Red spinel is not the only ruby look-alike found in Burma's Mogok Stone Tract. Red tourmaline (rubellite) is also common. This may be the origin of the famous red gem found in Russia's Diamond Fund. The 255 ct "great ruby" was once among the jewels in the imperial treasure in Prague, and was removed by troops under H.C. von Königsmarck in 1648, during the sack of that city in the Thirty Years War. It was later sent to Sweden and, in 1777, presented to Catherine II of Russia by Gustaf III. When examined by A.E. Fersman during his inventory of the Czarist treasure in 1925, he found it to be a pink tourmaline of no particular value or merit. In appearance, it resembles a bunch of grapes (Zenzén, 1930; Fersman, 1947; USSR Diamond Fund, 1972).

Famous titled red spinels are summarized in Table 10.4.

Rubies, spinels & sapphires in the Mughal treasury

No one collected gems like India's Mughals, who lorded over many parts of that land from 1526–1707. A detailed analysis of their treasury has been given by the great Mughal specialist, Abdul Aziz (1942), summarized in Table 10.5.

Famous blue sapphires


Although large rubies of quality are extremely rare, fine examples of large sapphires are relatively less so. Over the centuries, Sri Lanka has produced more giant sapphires of gem quality than any other source. Several fine examples are found in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Bismarck Sapphire. The Bismarck Sapphire, weighing in at 98.6 ct, is a faceted gem of Sri Lankan origin donated by Countess Mona Bismarck (Dunn, 1975).

Logan Sapphire. This is the largest sapphire in the Smithsonian collection, a giant of 423 ct, set with 20 diamonds. The stone has a rich blue color but unfortunately is faceted with a large window. It was donated by Mrs. John A. Logan and is considered to be one of the finest large sapphires in existence.

Star of Artaban. Also in the Smithsonian collection is the Star of Artaban, a blue six-rayed star sapphire of 316 ct. It is said to be of Sri Lankan origin (Punchiappuhamy, 1984).

Star of Asia. This, too, is in the Smithsonian collection. An extraordinary 330 ct of the richest blue-violet color, it is one of the finest star sapphires in existence.

Star of Bombay. The Star of Bombay was bequeathed to the Smithsonian by the famous silent movie actress, Mary Pickford. It weighs 182 ct and is a beautiful blue-violet star (White, 1991).

American Museum of Natural History

Star of India. In New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, is found a fine collection of Sri Lankan sapphires, particularly stars. Largest of these is the Star of India, weighing a massive 563.35 ct. This stone is actually of Sri Lankan origin and shows a fine star, although the color is a rather grayish blue. According to Sofianides & Harlow (1990):

The huge 563-carat Star of India sapphire is one of the [J.P.] Morgan gifts. Its name suggests a story – one might speculate that, after being mined in Sri Lanka in the sixteenth century, it circulated among the treasures of Indian potentates…. George F. Kunz [1913a] recorded only this enigmatic statement: "[It] has a more or less indefinite historic record of some three centuries…." How the gem came into Kunz's hands is unrecorded, but rumor has it that a royal owner needed cash without publicity. An alternate, but doubtful, story is that Kunz had the stone fashioned in New York City in 1900 – so much for romance! No matter, the Star of India is magnificent.

A.S. Sofianides and G.E. Harlow, 1990

Midnight Star. Another large star in this collection is the Midnight Star, a deep violet Ceylon stone of 116.75 ct. (Sofianides & Harlow, 1990).

Figure 10.19

Figure 10.19  The Midnight Star, weighing 116.75 ct. (Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt/American Museum of Natural History)

British Crown Jewels

Stuart Sapphire. The early history of the Stuart Sapphire is somewhat obscure, although it most probably belonged to Charles II, and was certainly among the jewels which James II took with him when he fled to France. From him it passed to his son, Charles Edward, the Old Pretender, who gave it to his son Henry Bentinck, later known as Cardinal York. As the Stuart cause was then dead, he left the sapphire with other Stuart relics to George III.

In Queen Victoria's State Crown this sapphire occupied a prominent position just below the Black Prince's Ruby. It was later replaced by the Second Star of Africa (Cullinan II) diamond, and today is set in a similar position on the opposite side of the same crown.

The Stuart Sapphire is more of historical than real value. Although of a fine blue color, it contains one or two blemishes and is drilled at one end, probably so that it could be worn as a pendant, as was common in earlier times. It is oval in shape, about one and a half inches in length by one inch in width, and is set in a gold brooch (Younghusband & Davenport, 1919).

St. Edward's Sapphire. St. Edward's Sapphire is now set in the center of the cross-patee on top of the same crown as the Stuart Sapphire. It is a stone with a history stretching back farther perhaps than even the Black Prince's Ruby. According to tradition, the St. Edward's Sapphire was originally set in the coronation ring of Edward the Confessor, who was crowned in 1042 AD. Special powers were ascribed to this sapphire, including those of curing cramps.

St. Edward's Sapphire is today a rose-cut gem, but this was probably not the original style, and it is thought that recutting was performed during the reign of Charles II. It is a stone not only of exceptional color and brilliance, but also with a marvelous legend behind it. The legend states that Edward the Confessor greatly admired St. John the Evangelist. One morning he happened to meet a beggar near Westminster. Having previously given away all his money, he presented his ring to the beggar. Some time later two Englishmen on pilgrimage to the holy land ran into a storm in Syria. Suddenly the path ahead lit up and an old man approached, preceded by two youths bearing candles. On hearing that the pilgrims were English and that Edward was their King, the old man guided them to an inn, where he found them food and lodging. The next morning as they were leaving, he told them he was John the Evangelist and gave them the ring to return to Edward. Bidding them goodbye, John said that he would see Edward in paradise in six months time. The pilgrims eventually returned to England, where they gave the ring and message to Edward. Edward recognized the ring, and thus began preparations for his death. Dying six months later, he was buried at Westminster with the ring on his finger. According to legend, the tomb was later opened in the twelfth century and the ring given to the reigning King (Sitwell, 1953).

Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle

Ruspoli's Sapphire ('Wooden Spoon-Seller's Sapphire' or 'Great Sapphire of Louis XIV'). E.W. Streeter, in his book Precious Stones and Gems (1892), describes a number of fine sapphires. One of these was in the collection of the Musée au Jardin des Plantes, in Paris, and weighed 133.06 ct. The same stone was also described by Sourindro Mohun Tagore in his classic, Mani-Málá (1879, 1881), referring to it as the Wooden Spoon-Seller's Sapphire, in reference to the poor man who is said to have found it in Bengal, India. Streeter said it was without flaw. This is undoubtedly the same stone that resides today in Paris's Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle, for it is of a distinctive lozenge shape and possesses only six facets, appearing like a huge sapphire rhomb. It is indeed nearly "without flaw," containing only one small feather and crystal inclusion, and is possibly of Burmese or Sri Lankan origin.

Figure 10.20

Figure 10.20  The 135.8-ct Ruspoli Sapphire (Wooden Spoon Seller's Sapphire), in Paris' Musée au Jardin des Plantes. (Photo: H.-J. Schubnel, Galeria de Minéralogie, Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle)

According to the Museum's H-J. Schubnel (pers. comm., 16 Dec.–5 Jan., 1994–5), its true weight is 135.8 ct. In the museum it is known as Ruspoli's Sapphire. During the 17th century, a Roman prince named Ruspoli sold this sapphire to a salesman, who, in turn, sold it to King Louis XIV sometime before 1691. At that time it was the third most prominent gem in the French Crown Jewels.

During the French Revolution, the royal gems were confiscated by the revolutionary government and then stolen by Cadet Guyot. Only a few escaped, including the Ruspoli jewel, probably saved by its peculiar form. In 1796, the revolutionary government allowed the Museum to choose a few gems for educational purposes. Daubenton, the Museum's director, chose the Ruspoli Sapphire, cleverly labelling it as a sapphire crystal. Obviously he was lying, but it was for a noble cause. Today the Ruspoli Sapphire can be viewed in the Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle (see Figure 10.20). [17]

State Gem Corporation of Sri Lanka

Probably the finest large star sapphire in existence is the 393-ct piece owned by the State Gem Corporation of Sri Lanka. It is an incredibly rich blue color, much finer than the Star of Asia, and also exhibits a beautiful star. In 1981, this gem went on exhibition at the Festival of Sri Lanka in the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington, England, guarded by a 4.5-foot (137 cm) cobra sentry (Daily Telegraph, 1981).

Other notable sapphires

Catherine the Great's Sapphire. This colossus weighs in at a massive 337 ct. Of unknown origin, it was presented to Catherine II ('the Great') of Russia [b. 1729; d. 1796] in the latter part of the 18th century, by an unidentified admirer. The stone remained part of the Romanoff jewels for more than a century and a half, until sold by Nicholas II to finance a hospital train for the Russian army during World War I. It finally ended up in the US, where it was purchased by Harry Winston for an undisclosed sum. Winston placed the gem in his "Court of Jewels" collection, which toured the US from 1949 to 1953. It was later sold to an unknown buyer (Anonymous, 1951b; Krashes, 1986).

Gem of the Jungle. Next to the velvet-blue sapphires of Kashmir, those from Mogok are the finest. One fabulous 598-ct piece of Mogok rough was purchased by the English dealer and lapidary, Albert Ramsay, in 1928. This fine stone was found near Gwebin, by a miner named U Kyauk Lon (U Hla Win, pers. comm., May 2, 1994). $13,000 was paid for the rough, which came to be known as the Gem of the Jungle. Nine different stones were cut from it, ranging from 66.53 to 4.39 ct, and including stones of 20.11, 19.19, 13.15, 12.29, 11.39, 11.18, and 5.57 ct. All were personally cut by Ramsay and were said to be of exceptional color. A marvelous account of the purchase and cutting of this gem is given by Ramsay & Sparkes (1934).

Parure of Queen Marie Antoinette. This is a seven-piece jewelry set containing approximately 29 sapphires, of which 18 are stones of perhaps 20 ct or more. During the French Revolution they vanished, but later reappeared, to be bought by Napoleon, who gave it to his wife, the future Empress Josephine. Upon her death, it went to her daughter, Queen Hortense, who, after the fall of the Bonapartes, sold it to Louis- Philipe, then Duke of Orleans. Since then it has been worn by wives of the successive heads of the House of France, and now belongs to the Count of Paris. Three separate dynasties that have ruled France have owned it: the Bourbons, the Bonapartes, and the Orleans. A fine illustration of the parure is given in Michael (1983). Although most possess large windows due to overly shallow pavilions, together they are magnificent.

World's largest?

Among the most difficult tasks facing the gemologist is that of testing the world's largest. 'Tis not a task for the meek; those called upon to test the world's largest somesuch are rarely showered with trust. All specimens are "priceless" and all are "absolutely genuine," having been either family heirlooms dating from Timur's sacking of Delhi in 1398 AD, or recently unearthed from someone's backyard or rice paddy. Thus the owner often demands to watch the proceedings, fearing that, if their back is turned for even an instant, the vulpine tester will slide an identical specimen out from under his cloak for the switch.

During the author's many years practicing gemology, people constantly turned up with the "world's largest" this or that. I've been privileged to examine the "world's largest ruby" (a large chunk of battered red glass), the "world's largest imperial green jade" (a large chunk of translucent green glass) and the "world's largest sapphire" (a large chunk of battered blue glass). But perhaps most impressive of all was the "world's largest pearl." So large was this that a fruit scale had to be used to determine its weight. Indeed, it was a pearl of sorts, but, to be frank, that may be an abuse of the term. It actually resembled something extruded from the rear of an enormous oyster, perhaps shortly after a meal of tainted shellfish. No doubt this extraordinary specimen now rests, yoke-like, between the pendulous breasts of a society maiden on the wrong side of 40.

While owners of such gems may genuinely believe them to be priceless, they surface most often from the bowels of unscrupulous dealers' collections, always with an inflated appraisal claiming them to be more valuable than the British Crown Jewels.

This was the case with the infamous Life and Pride of America Star Sapphire, which featured in many news reports of 1985 and 1986 (Hughes, 1987b). In a story that would warm the heart of even the most jaded observer, one Roy Whetstine claimed to have bought the 1905-ct stone for $10 at the Tucson gem show. But things turned dour when a reporter discovered that one L.A. Ward of San Diego, who appraised it at the whopping price of $1200/ct, had appraised another stone of the exact same weight several years before Whetstine said he found it. Photographs of the "gem" revealed an opaque corundum lump that would be put to better use dressing grinding wheels than windows at Tiffany.

Another fine sapphire necklace is pictured in Michael's book; it is the 108-sapphire and diamond necklace of Queen Maria Christina of Spain. Originally from Sicily, she was the wife of Ferdinand VII, her mother's brother. After a terrible civil war, she fell in love with a bodyguard. The scandal of their marriage forced her to leave Spain. She had her portrait painted wearing this beautiful necklace. The jewel was sold by Christie's in 1982 for $297,000 (Michael, 1983).

During the London Exhibition of 1862, two magnificent sapphires were on display (Streeter, 1892). The larger, an oval of somewhat inky color and free from defect, weighed about 252 ct, and was cut in 1840. Although smaller at 165 ct, the second stone was of finer color. According to Streeter, it was by far the finest sapphire of its time to appear in Europe.

Streeter also mentions a fine sapphire in the famous Hope Collection, but no weight was given. It was noted because the gem retained its beauty as well by candle as by daylight. Another, in the Orleans Collection, was called in Madame de Genlis' tale Le Saphir Merveilleux (Streeter, 1892). It was violet by candlelight, but blue by daylight.

S.M. Tagore, in his classic work, Mani-Málá (1879), describes several celebrated sapphires. One of these was a fabulous stone of 951 ct, and was seen by an English ambassador to the Court of Ava (Burma). Tagore also mentions a curious custom among the Hindus of India. They were said to have a prejudice against sapphires, believing the blue gem to be the bringer of misfortune.

In consequence of this notion, some of them would invariably keep a stone on trial for several days before they would make final settlement with the sellers. Hence, perhaps, the paucity in the numbers of Sapphires in their possession.

S.M. Tagore, 1879, Mani-Málá

Famous blue sapphires are summarized in Table 10.6.

Famous fancy sapphires

Few fancy sapphires are described in the literature although there exist many fine examples, particularly from Sri Lanka. Australia, being an English-speaking country, has several well-documented examples.

Anderson's (Willows) Yellow. This was a 21-gram golden yellow stone found on the Willows field in Queensland in 1949. It produced a cut stone of 70 ct, later cut into several smaller gems, the largest weighing 35.75 ct.

Golden Willow (Golden Queen). In 1951, the Willows field again turned up a large yellow. This was named the Golden Willow, renamed the Golden Queen, and weighed 322 ct in the rough. It produced a 91.35-ct cut stone. The Willows field is noted for large yellow sapphires and a number of yellow-green gems in the 50–100 ct range have been found there.

Queensland. Queensland is famous for producing large black star sapphires. The best known is the Queensland, a 1156-ct cabochon giant. Although the inexperienced may believe such a stone to be extremely valuable, this is not the case, for these huge stones are typically heavily included. Their value is chiefly as curiosity items, rather than as true gems.

Although a number of large yellow sapphires have come from Australia, this is not the only source. The author has had the pleasure of examining one of the largest yellow sapphires from Thailand. It was a large emerald cut stone of approximately 75 ct, and owned by a Thai dealer. The stone was too shallow, possessing a rather large window, but in all other ways was magnificent. It was of the preferred Mekong Whisky yellow-orange color and without flaw.

In the American Museum of Natural History is what many consider to be the world's largest fine padparadscha. It is an oval stone of 100 ct (Sofianides & Harlow, 1990).

Notable examples of fancy sapphires are summarized in Table 10.7.

Figure 10.21

Figure 10.21  Engraved rubies of quality are extremely rare. The above is from France, ca. 1700 AD. (Photo: British Museum)

Engraved & carved rubies and sapphires

Due to its great hardness, only a few examples of carved/engraved corundums have come down to us from ancient times. Engraved gems were formerly of much greater importance than at present. Numerous books devoted to these magnificent works of art have been written, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Undoubtedly the most prolific of the authors on this subject was C.W. King.

Writing in the late nineteenth century, King authored a number of books on the glyptic arts. In his Natural History, Ancient and Modern, of Precious Stones and Gems, and of the Precious Metals (1865), he describes several examples of both ruby and sapphire which have been engraved, mostly in Roman times:

…the experienced Lessing (A. Br. lxxix.), and later the Count de Clarac (Cat. des Artistes Gr. et Rom.), altogether deny the existence of any really antique intagli in these harder gems; …Nevertheless, a few works in Ruby of apparently indisputable antiquity have been observed by me amongst the thousands of other gems examined. First, on account of the quality – a large oval slightly convex stone, of the true "pigeon's blood" tint, and weighing apparently about 3 carats – is one in the Devonshire Parure (No. 17 in the Bandeau), engraved with a Venus Victrix – a but poor intaglio in the latest Roman manner.

C.W. King, 1865

Figure 10.22

Figure 10.22  This Burmese sapphire Buddha carving, housed in the British Museum, is a rare example of a quality carved sapphire. Due to the lack of royal patrons, modern artisans seldom have an opportunity to sculpt with such fine material. (Photo: © Fred Ward)

King goes on to mention several other engravings done in spinel, but the general impression is that truly ancient intagli done in ruby were decidedly scarce.

Ancient sapphire (hyacinthus) engravings were only slightly less scarce. Like ruby, on account of the extreme hardness the ancients mostly employed sapphire as a mere ornamental stone for setting in their jewelry, drilled and semi-polished, but otherwise unengraved and unshaped.

Amongst the Rutupine antiquities preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, a portion of a necklace of small rough Sapphires drilled at each end and linked together with gold wire, the exact ornament referred to by the poet Naumachius.

Previous to the Imperial [Roman] epoch, engravings in Sapphire are of the rarest possible occurrence. A small Etruscan scarab, however, on an inferior variety has recently come under my notice, and also a magnificent head of jupiter inscribed IIY, executed in the purest Greek style. This latter had been discovered as ornamenting the pommel of a Turkish dagger, the intaglio turned downwards, and the back of the stone rudely facetted by the Oriental lapidary into whose hands this precious monument had fallen, an additional proof of its genuine antiquity. This stone was one inch in diameter.

C.W. King, 1865

Superior to this as a work of art, and belonging to the same school, was the nearly full face of the Medusa's Head, described by King as one of the chief glories of the famous Marlborough Collection. The carving was said to have been enhanced by the material's fine quality. Most famous, though, was the Signet of Constantius II (then in the Rinuccini Collection), on a perfect stone weighing fifty-three carats. The Emperor is represented as spearing a monstrous wild boar, designated thereon [the Greek characters xi-iota-phi-iota-alpha-omicron] (from his sword-like tusks), before a reclining female figure personifying "Cæsarea of Cappadocia," the scene of the exploit. The inscription CONSTANTIVS AVG in the field suggests that this costly stone had been engraved for the actual signet of the imperial hunter. Also mentioned by King was a fine sapphire engraving of Hebe feeding the Eagle. The stone, heartshaped and of fine color, measured 1.5 x 1.25 in (3.81 x 3.175 cm), and apparently belonged to the time of Hadrian.

Modern engraved sapphires were also described by King:

Of modern works, the finest ever done is the portrait of Pope Paul III., ascribed, no doubt with justice, to the famous Alessandro Cesati, in the Pulsky Collection. It is a beautiful Sapphire 0.75 inch [1.9 cm] square, a truly inestimable gem, both for its fine quality and the spirit and life of the engraving, and was certainly the signet of the Pontiff himself. Inferior to this in point of art was the bust of Henri IV. by Caldoré (with his initials) on a large octagonal stone of pale colour, but possessing great historical interest. A large number of pale Sapphires may be seen in cabinets, engraved with heads of figures, usually but poorly done, in the style of the Cinque-cento. The reason is explained by De Laet (i. 7): – "The sort which is pale, or watery, is painted on the back with indigo, so as to imitate the sky-blue and superior kind, although this method is forbidden to jewellers to employ unless there be something engraved upon the stone, in order that its quality may distinguished.

C.W. King, 1865

Famous engraved rubies and sapphires are summarized in Table 10.8.

Figure 10.24L Figure 10.24R

Figure 10.23  This 12.6-kg sapphire giant from Burma is owned by Myanma Gems Enterprise, the Rangoon government gem monopoly. In order to see if something of gem quality might be lurking within, MGE staff disemboweled it with drill and saw. Alas, the interior was just as opaque as the skin. (Photos: U Khin Mg Win/U Hla Win)

Rough corundum giants

Among the largest pieces of rough sapphire ever reported was that found in approximately 1967, at Mogok, Burma (Anonymous, 1967). It was bluish gray in color, measured 27 inches (68.58 cm) across and weighed a massive 63,000 ct (12.6 kg). The Myanma Gems Enterprise., a state-owned concern is the owner of this giant sapphire crystal. But even this is dwarfed by some of the giant crystals unearthed in Sri Lanka. One doubly-terminated specimen tipped the scales at 40.3 kg. Such large crystals are generally not of gem quality. They are summarized in Table 10.9.

R S end dingbat

Chapter 10 continues with…

Of related interest, see also Burmese Sapphire Giants, adapted from Ruby & Sapphire.



14. The Black Prince was Edward, Prince of Wales [1330–1376]. His epithet "Black Prince" may reflect the terror he inspired in the French, but it probably referred to the color of his armor. return to text ]

15. As well as the lack of properly sharpened battle axes among the French at Avincourt. return to text ]

16. Prior to the end of the eighteenth century, eastern lapidaries rarely faceted the precious stones on which they worked (Meen & Tushingham, 1968) return to text ]

17. Bank (1973, p. 125) gives a slightly different version. He puts the sapphire at 135.20 ct (or 132-1/16 ct). It was supposedly acquired by the Rome's House of Rospoli [sic?], and sold to a German Prince, who, in turn sold it to the French jeweler, Perrer, for 170,000 francs. Morel (1988) states that it was valued at 100,000 livres during the inventory of 1791. return to text ]

Please note: This section of Chapter 10 omits the sidebar "Maharajahs: India's fantastic fetish princes" not to keep the Information Superhighway safe for children in the provinces but rather because it may already be found in the web version of the India section of Chapter 12, World Sources.

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