Star of India/Star of Sri Lanka
Origin of Name
The 563-carat “Star of India” is the world’s second largest and most famous blue star sapphire, and is presently owned by the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, where it is exhibited in the J. P. Morgan Hall of Gems. The rough stone was discovered in the alluvial gem deposits of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), probably in the gem-bearing district of “Ratnapura” (City of Gems), about two to three centuries ago, perhaps when the coastal areas of the country was under Dutch rule (1640-1795), or after Sri Lanka became a colony of the British Empire (1795-1948). The gem trade at that time was mainly in the hands of the Moors of Sri Lanka (descendants of Arab settlers of the 7th to 8th century A.D. It is indeed puzzling how a gemstone discovered in Sri Lanka eventually came to be erroneously referred to as the “Star of India” instead of “Star of Ceylon” or “Star of Sri Lanka.” One possible explanation for this is that at the time the rough star sapphire was discovered, Sri Lanka would have been under British rule, and was administered by the British East India Company initially from Madras in India, after they conquered the Island nation from the Dutch, in the immediate aftermath of the Netherlands coming under French control, during the wars of the French revolution. During this period any product that came out of Sri Lanka, was perceived by the outside world to have originated from the much larger British Colony of India, which was better known in the outside world, than Sri Lanka. Moreover the British East India Company considered India, Sri Lanka and Burma as one administrative unit, and the King (or Queen) of the United Kingdom was referred to in full as the King (Queen) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Emperor (Empress) of India. (which included Ceylon and Burma).
However the Moor traders who had acquired the rough star sapphire did not sell it to the British East India Company, which would have led the world’s largest blue star sapphire ending up as part of the British Crown Jewels, in the Tower of London, like the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond of India. Instead the diamond was probably sold to other private dealers of European origin, through whom it eventually came into the possession of the American industrialist and Financier J. P. Morgan in the 19th century.
Another possible explanation for the name “Star of India” is that the stone after being discovered in Sri Lanka, during the Dutch or British periods, and acquired by the Moor traders, was carried by them to India, where it was sold to an European dealer, and whoever who named it the “Star of India” did so under the mistaken belief that the stone must have originated in India, since it was purchased in India.
Arthur C. Clarke the internationally renowned British-born science fiction and non-fiction writer, who adopted Sri Lanka as his home country in the 1950s, has said that there is no doubt about the actual origins of the “Star of India” sapphire, and as such the sapphire should be more appropriately named the “Star of Sri Lanka.” The eminent futurist, Sir Arthur comments, “and by some distressing impertinence, the splendid star sapphire which is one of the glories of the American Museum of Natural History gem collection, is called the Star of India, not as it should be the Star of Ceylon.”
Characteristics of the gemstone
The “Star of India” is a 563.35 carat (112.67 g), grayish-blue, almost flawless star sapphire. The stone is opaque and milky and cut as a cabochon with a dome-shaped front, like all other star sapphires, but is unique in that the play of light as a sharp six-rayed star, unlike other star sapphires, appears on both sides of the stone.
All sapphires belong to the class of minerals known as corundum, which is a crystalline form of Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3).The blue color in sapphires is caused due to the incorporation of Iron (Fe) and Titanium (Ti) ions in the crystal structure. The blue star sapphire is an asteriated blue corundum. The milkiness of the stone is caused by the presence of trace quantities of the mineral rutile, a natural form of Titanium oxide (TiO2), which is also the cause for the play of light known as the “star effect” or asterism. The extremely minute fibers of rutile are aligned in a three fold pattern inside the stone, reflecting the light entering the stone from its dome-shaped face into the six-rayed star pattern.
The stone has been expertly cut as can be seen from photographs of it, with the star exactly at the center of the dome-shaped face, and moving with changing angles of illumination and observation. The moving effect of the star in any star sapphire can be easily observed by holding the stone delicately by its edges using the ends of the thumb and middle finger and slightly rotating the stone from side to side.
The cutting of a rough star-sapphire presents enormous difficulties not normally encountered in the cutting of other gemstones. The main difficulty lies in correctly identifying the area on the surface of the rough stone that would give the maximum asterism centrally placed, when cut in the form of a dome and polished. A slight error might displace the star-effect to a side, or reduce the clarity of the star, decreasing the value of the stone. A well trained eye backed by long years of experience in cutting star sapphires is needed to get the best results.
The “Star of India” sapphire without any doubt would have been cut in Sri Lanka before it was taken out of the country 2 to 3 centuries ago. The Moor dealers who exported gemstones at that time, never exported rough stones out of the country. They had experienced gem cutters who used traditional hand operated gem cutting and polishing machines and were able to cut any type of gemstone. The technology had been passed down from generation to generation from the time the Arab gem traders settled in the country in the 7th to 8th century A.D. They were also quite efficient in the finer techniques of cutting star sapphires to bring out the maximum asterism. But, during this long period of 200-300 years since the sapphire left Sri Lanka, the stone undoubtedly would have been re-polished on several occasions to increase its brilliance from time to time.
Sri Lanka famous for its gemstones from time immemorial
The origin of the “Star of India” as dealt with above was undoubtedly the Island nation of Sri Lanka, reputed for its precious and semi-precious stones from time immemorial. Sri Lanka had been famous for its gemstones from the time of King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century BC, who is said to have sent his ships to the Island nation, to obtain supplies of gemstones, ivory, apes and peacocks. The name given by the Arab travelers to Sri Lanka was “Serendib” meaning the “land of the rubies,” and it was the jewels of Serendib, that provided the inspiration for the Arabian Nights fables, and Sindbad’s voyages. The Sri Lankan gemstones have adorned many a crown, scepter and throne of the royalty around the world, and had become the prized possessions of the royalty, the rich and the famous through the ages, and right up to this day.
The birth of the “Star of India” 2 billion years ago
Out of around 200 minerals classified as gemstones, about 75 varieties are found in Sri Lanka, making the country one of the most important gemstone producing countries in the world. Sri Lanka has the highest density of gem deposits compared to its landmass, than any other country in the world. The main reason for such a large concentration of gemstones in a relatively small area, is said to be due to the geologically ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks of the Archaen or pre-Cambrian era, varying in age from 560 million to 2,400 million years, that cover almost 9/10ths of the area of the island. Sapphires (corundum) and other gemstones were formed deep inside the earth, below its crust, in the magma, under the action of high temperature and pressure. Subsequently when the magma cooled down it formed igneous rock deposits, inside which the sapphires (corundum) and other gemstones were incorporated. Further action of high temperature and pressure, transformed the igneous rocks to metamorphic rocks and the gemstones got lodged in these deposits. The metamorphic rocks were then subjected to continuous erosion and were washed down the mountains and hills and deposited in the flood plains of rivers and streams, as alluvial deposits, where the gemstones got lodged. The whole process from the time of formation of the gemstones in the magma until their appearance in the alluvial secondary deposits took at least 2 billion years, and hence the statement that the “Star of India” was formed 2 billion years ago.
Common varieties of gemstones found in Sri Lanka
The most common varieties of gemstones found in Sri Lanka are sapphires, rubies, padparadscha, cat’s eye, alexandrite, star sapphires and star rubies, tourmaline, zircon, garnet, spinel, aquamarine, topaz, moonstone, and quartz. Ptolemy’s observation in the 2nd century AD that sapphire and beryl were the mainstay of the Sri Lanka’s gem industry was in a sense an accurate observation, as the commonly found gemstones in the island are all different varieties of sapphires belonging to the corundum family such a blue sapphires, fancy colored sapphires, rubies (red sapphires), padparadscha (pinkish-orange sapphire), star sapphires, star rubies etc.
The alluvial deposits where the “Star of India” was discovered
At the time of the discovery of the “Star of India” sapphire 300 years ago in Sri Lanka, the main gem-producing area in the island was the district of Ratnapura. The enormous rough diamond would have been discovered in the alluvial deposits of the flood plains of the Kalu Ganga River, that originates in the central highlands from the Adam’s Peak mountain range and flows through the outskirts of the city of Ratnapura (the city of gems). Ratnapura district, in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka, was the main gem-producing area in the Island for over two millennia. Other new gem producing areas that have been discovered over the last 50 years are Pelmadulla, Rakwana, and Eheliyagoda still in the Sabaragamuwa Province, Deniyaya, Morawaka, and Ridiyagama of Southern Province, Elahera of the Central Province and Okkanpitiya and Moneragala of the Uva Province.
Discovery and sale of the “Star of India”
About 200-300 years ago when Sri Lanka was under Dutch or British rule, the gem trade except for the mining aspect was entirely in the hands of the Moors. The Dutch or the British did not care to interfere in this trade as the business was of a precarious and speculative nature and perhaps because they had no adequate knowledge of the properties of gemstones in order to engage in this lucrative trade. Robert Knox a sailor of the British East India Company who was captured and taken prisoner by the King of the Kandyan Kingdom in Central Sri Lanka, in 1660, confirms this when he wrote, “I have seen several pretty colored stones, some as big as cherry stones and some as buttons, and transparent, but understood not what they were.”
Thus the Moor traders had a free hand in the trade, and the gemstones discovered eventually found their way to the Indian or European markets. The “Star of India” sapphire after cutting and polishing by the Moor cutters and polishers using the traditional techniques, might have possibly been taken to the Indian market, where it was sod to an European dealer. The sapphire was eventually purchased by the American financier and industrial organizer John Pierpont Morgan.
John Pierpont Morgan
J. P. Morgan, one of the most successful financiers and industrial organizers in the history of America, was a dominant figure in the world financial circles, during the two decades preceding World War I. His father Junius Spencer Morgan was also a successful financier, but the success achieved by John Pierpont within a short period after embarking on his career in 1857, completely overshadows the achievements of his father.
Morgan started his career in 1857, joining the New York banking firm of Duncan Sherman & Co. as an accountant. This company was the American agents for the London firm of George Peabody & Co. Subsequently he became the agent for his father’s banking company in New York City, in 1861. Then in 1864 he became a member of the firm Dabney Morgan & Co, and later in 1871 he went into partnership to form the New York City firm of Drexel Morgan & Co, who soon became the main financiers to the U. S. Government. In 1895, he became the sole owner of the company, which was re-organized as J. P. Morgan & Co. that eventually became one of the leading banking houses in the world.
In the 1870s Morgan through his connections with the London financial world, was able to infuse much-needed capital to the rapidly growing industrial corporations of the United States. His greatest success was in the re-organization of rail roads in the United States, which he began in 1885, by helping to forge an agreement between the New York Central Railroad and and the Pennsylvania Railroad that reduced unhealthy competition between two of the largest railroads in the country, and made both companies financially viable. More and more re-organization of railroads followed, that helped to discourage destructive competition, and stabilize railroad rates. In the course of these re-structurings Morgan became a member of the board of directors of these railroads, and also gained control of much of the stocks of railroads he reorganized, and thus in 1902 he became one of the biggest railroad magnates in the world, controlling over 8,000 km of American railroads.
The successes he achieved in the re-organization of the U.S. railroads, he began extending to the industrial sector in 1891, when he successfully negotiated the merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric to form General Electric, that became the dominant electrical equipment manufacturing firm in the U.S. Likewise he engineered the merger of companies in the steel manufacturing and agricultural equipment manufacturing sectors, to create the industrial giants, United States Steel Corporation and the International Harvester Company. Morgan later extended his expertise to the banking and insurance sectors and gained control of some of the leading financial institutions in the country. Thus Morgan became the most dominant figure in American Capitalism for several decades starting from the 1970s, and remained so until his death in 1913.
J.P. Morgan presents the “Star of India” to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City.
Besides his business interests Morgan was also a connoisseur and collector of works of art and books. He donated most of his works of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and his personal library, with the enormous collection of books became a public reference library in 1924. J.P. Morgan was also a co-founder of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and in 1900 he presented the “Star of India” sapphire which he owned to this museum, which is exhibited today in the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems, and has become the most renowned object out of all the museum’s collections.
Another important exhibit in the Hall of Gems is the 632-carat Patricia Emerald, an extraordinarily large gem-quality emerald that has been preserved uncut. The rough emerald is also unique because of its natural di-hexagonal or do-decahedral (12-sided) shape.
The biggest jewel heist in the history of America – theft of the “Star of India” sapphire.
The 563-carat “Star of India” sapphire, the world’s second largest star sapphire became the object of an infamous burglary on October 29th, 1964, when the priceless gem together with three other famous gemstones the Eagle diamond, the DeLong Star Ruby and the Midnight Sapphire, and 18 other priceless gems, were stolen from the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems of the American Museum of Natural History. The theft became famous as the biggest jewel heist in the history of America.
The thieves had planned the robbery in advance and had come to know that security was lax or virtually non-existent. They visited the museum during usual open hours and entered a second floor bathroom and left the window open. Later that night they climbed in through this window and entered the Hall of Gems. They discovered that the “Star of India” sapphire was the only gemstone that was protected by an alarm, but the battery for the alarm was dead. Their task was made easy. They collected up to 22 gemstones that were on display, including the renowned “Star of India” and left through the same window through which they gained access. The total value of the gems stolen was estimated to be $ 400,000.
Four of the gemstones stolen were so famous that disposing of them in America would have been a very difficult task. The 16.25-carat Eagle diamond was discovered accidentally in Eagle, Wisconsin in 1876 by Charles Wood when he was a digging a well. Charles believed the rough stone to be a cheap topaz and just put it aside, but preserved it instead of throwing it away. After some years when the Wood family was in financial difficulties Charles’ wife Clarissa sold the stone for $ 1.00 to Samuel B. Boynton of Milwaukee. Boynton took the stone to Chicago for testing and appraisal, when it was revealed that the stone was actually a diamond worth about $ 700. Later Boynton sold the diamond to Tiffany’s of New York City, for $ 850, where it remained until J. P. Morgan purchased it at the beginning of the 20th century, and presented it to the American Museum of Natural History.
The 100.32-carat DeLong Star Ruby is an oval cabochon-cut stone, that was discovered in Burma, in the early 20th century and purchased by Edith Haggin DeLong for $ 21,400, who subsequently donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in the year 1937. The fourth famous gemstone that was stolen was the Midnight Sapphire reputed to be the largest violet sapphire in the world.
Within 48 hours of the crime police aided by information from confidential sources arrested two men in New York and two in Miami. Among those arrested was Jack Murphy a legendary surfer and beach boy, and Allan Kuhn, the notorious and wealthy gangster who introduced Jack Murphy to a life of crime, and had his own yacht, a 50-knot speed boat and a cadillac convertible. The Star of India and most of the other gems were recovered from a locker in a Miami bus station. The DeLong Star Ruby was recovered after the payment of $ 25,000 as ransom, when it was dropped at a designated site, a phone booth in Florida. However, the Eagle diamond was never recovered.
Jack Murphy and his accomplices were given a three-year prison sentence for their part in the sensational crime, which subsequently became the theme of a thrilling Hollywood movie “Murph the Surph”, starring Robert Conrad, released in 1975.
Jack Murphy – “Murph the Surph”
Jack Murphy was born in Los Angeles, California, but his parents later moved to Pennsylvania. The young Murphy was an all-round brilliant student who not only excelled in his studies but also in sporting and other extra-curricular activities. He was the perfect model among children, whom parents usually dream of being blessed with. Surfing became his passion and in 1963 he bragged the title of the State’s top surfer, winning the National Hurricane Surfing Championship on two occasions. But his greatest and most amazing achievement was being selected to play for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the age of 15 years. His other achievements in his long and colorful carrier included concert violinist, tennis pro, movie stunt man, and high-tower circus diver.
From an early life Murphy showed a tendency and a satisfaction in taking part in daring acts, which subsequently helps to explain the daring life style which he chose to live. Unfortunately, his talents in executing the daring was not harnessed in a constructive direction for his own benefit and the benefit of the society in which he lived. Instead he came under the dominating influence of the wealthy and notorious gangster Allan Kuhn, who was also a swimming instructor. Kuhn introduced him to a life of crime, with all the thrills and dangers associated with it, which was most appropriate to his temperament. Murphy took to a criminal life as a duck would take to water.
His first breakthrough in his chosen carrier came when he was co-opted by Allan Kuhn for the infamous robbery at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, which became the biggest jewel heist in American History. The 21-months he spent in jail after this robbery had hardened him as a professional criminal, and he was now prepared for more daring criminal acts. Next came the robbery in 1968, when Murphy and two of his partners broke into the Miami beach mansion of Mrs. Olive Wofford. They held a pistol to her head and threatened to pour boiling water over her eight year old niece, if she refused to co-operate in opening the safe. However Murphy and his gang was tracked down by the police, which also involved a high powered car chase in which Murphy was the getaway driver. From daring robberies to murder was a simple step, and Murphy was then found to be involved in a double murder known infamously as the Whiskey Creek Murders, in which two Californian women secretaries were shot, bludgeoned to death and dumped in the creek, near Hollywood, in Florida, in 1967. The apparent motivation for the murder was said to be a dispute over half a million dollars worth of securities stolen from a Los Angeles brokerage firm. Murphy was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1969, after being found guilty of first degree murder. In 1970, Murphy received a second life sentence for his role in the Olive Wofford assault and robbery case.
After spending nearly 19 years in prison, Murphy was finally paroled in 1986, for exemplary behavior and showing remorse for his previous crimes. While in prison he was converted to a born-again Christian, and assisted the prison’s chaplain, and was also involved in counseling young offenders. Murphy has today totally dedicated his life to the service of God, and serves as an evangelist style preacher visiting prisons, and helping to re-habilitate other offenders through religion.
1) Website of American Museum of Natural History,New York City.
2)Encyclopedia Britanica 2006
3) Muslims of Sri Lanka-Avenues to Antiquity-Dr M.A.M Shukri (1986)
4) Ceylon,Vol 1-Sir James Emerson Tennent, London (1859)
5)An Historical Relation of Ceylon- Robert Knox