With the rising popularity of spinels, this sale is much anticipated
November 19, 2021: Bonhams London Jewels sales is set to take place on December 2 at New Bond Street with show-stopping sapphire and spinels.
Two pieces featuring exceptional spinels from the same mine as the Hope Spinel — sold in 2015 at famous auctioneer for a record price — is also amidst the anticipated sale. The first being the spinel and diamond pendant (estimate: £40,000 - 60,0000) followed by a spinel and diamond ring (estimate: £35,000 - 45,000).
Until 1783, red and pink spinels were mistaken for rubies. Even after fine pink gems were known to be spinels, they were still referred to as balas or balais rubies. The term is derived from an ancient word for Badakhshan, a province north of Afghanistan, where the spinels were mined. These Kuh-i-Lal (red mountain) mines become the main global source of large spinels since the 1st century AD. Marco Polo (c.1254–1324) described how, “fine and valuable balas rubies” were dug only for the highest rungs of royalty, namely the King, who owned the entire supply who sent these precious resources to other heads of state tributes or “friendly presents”.
The Bonhams sale will include other historic spinels like the “Black Prince's Ruby” bestowed to the Black Prince by Pedro the Cruel in 1367. Other types of jewels featured will include the Kashmir sapphires, first discovered in the late 1870s in the Great Himalayas of north-western India. The sapphires were found in a landslide which revealed unknown deposits in a rock valley 4500m above sea level. By 1882, the Maharaja of Kashmir had taken control of the mine, that could only be worked from July-September each year due to the high altitude and near perpetual heavy snowfall. By 1887 the ‘Old Mine’ was nearly exhausted and a ‘New Mine’, on the valley floor 250m below, gave up some fine sapphires but generally of lesser quality, size and quantity. The area was worked sporadically until the early 1930s, but the glory years of the 1880s were never repeated. Legend tells that the finest stones from this 40-year period were all acquired by the Maharaja, and jealously guarded in the chambers of the Kashmir State Treasury.
British geologist, Charles Stewart Middlemiss, Superintendent of the Mineral Survey of Jammu and Kashmir State from 1917 until 1930, recorded seeing some of this fabled hoard, describing the sacks of rough and cut gems as a "king's ransom", with some sapphires the size of polo balls.
Today, Kashmir sapphires set the standard against which all other sapphires are measured and are avidly sought after by collectors who are prepared to pay princely sums for top-quality specimens from this extraordinary period in the history of gemmology.
- By Sarah Micho