Origin of name
The Rockefeller Sapphire gets its name from the one time owner of this extraordinarily beautiful blue sapphire, John D. Rockefeller Jr. the only son of John D. Rockefeller Sr. the renowned American industrialist and philanthropist, who purchased the stone in 1934, from an Indian Maharajah believed to have been the seventh and the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Usman Ali Khan, whose period of rule extended from 1911 to 1948.
Characteristics of the gemstone
The Rockefeller Sapphire is a 62.02-carat, rectangular step-cut, internally flawless, cornflower blue sapphire of Burmese origin, with a rich highly saturated intense blue color, so characteristic of Burmese sapphires. The fine brilliant deep-blue color combined with the good clarity and transparency of the stone had made this unique sapphire the most expensive sapphire in the world both carat-wise and in terms of total price, fetching a record price of over $ 3 million at Christie’s, New York City, auction on April 11, 2001.
Some distinguishing properties of blue sapphires
The gemstone being a blue sapphire is a corundum, which is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, that crystallizes in the hexagonal system forming elongate prisms. The blue color is caused by a few titanium and iron atoms displacing aluminum atoms in the crystal lattice of aluminum oxide. The hardness of corundum is 9 on the Mohs scale, which imparts good durability and toughness to sapphires. Natural blue sapphires from Burma do not normally show fluorescence under ultra-violet light, but synthetic blue sapphires show a bluish white or greenish glow under short wave length ultra-violet light. This property can be used to distinguish between natural Burmese sapphires from synthetic ones. Likewise heat-treated blue sapphires show a dull chalky green fluorescence in short ultra-violet light, whereas natural blue sapphires do not show any fluorescence at all, except Kashmir and Sri Lankan sapphires which might show an orange or red fluorescence.
Ancient geological origins of corundum
Corundum minerals are of very ancient origin, having originated somewhere between half a billion to two billion years ago on a geological time scale, about 60 km to 400 km deep inside the earth in its upper mantle, under conditions of extremely high temperatures and pressures. Corundum was incorporated in the basaltic magmas, which rose to the surface forming igneous (volcanic) rocks. Some of the igneous rocks were converted to metamorphic rocks. The erosion of the igneous and metamorphic rocks separated the corundum crystals that were carried downhill and deposited on the plains, at the foot of mountains and in the river basins as alluvial deposits, from where sapphires and rubies are mined in different parts of the world.
Sources of blue sapphires
The most ancient source of sapphires in the world is Sri Lanka (Ceylon), where the history of mining seems to go back to at least the 10th century B.C. to the period of King Solomon, who is believed to have obtained supplies of rubies, sapphires, ivory, elephants and peacocks from this ancient Island nation. The next most important source was Myanmar (Burma) where rubies and sapphires had been mined in the Mogok region since the 15th century, after an accidental discovery made by bandits and outlaws who were forcefully settled in the region, after being banished by the king from Mandalay. But the recent discovery of stone-age and bronze-age mining tools in the Mogok mining region, might be an indication that mining activities in Myanmar, is more ancient than recorded history. The third most important source of blue sapphires in the world was the disputed region of Kashmir in India, where sapphires were discovered accidentally after a landslide in 1880, at an altitude of about 16,000 feet, and was mined intensively for about a decade before being finally abandoned. Sri Lanka and Myanmar however still continue to produce significant quantities of blue sapphires.
The three most ancient sources of sapphires in the world, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Kashmir, had set the standards for good quality sapphires. The Kashmir Sapphire is considered as the benchmark for top quality sapphires in the world, with a pure intense blue color known as cornflower blue, with a very subtle violet undertone, intensified by a fine silky shine. This is followed by the Burmese sapphire which is considered as the next best in quality which varies from a rich full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue. The Sri Lankan blue sapphires are lighter and brighter in color, than the Kashmir and Burma sapphires, but color tones can vary from light blue to medium blue colors, and sometimes the intense cornflower blue like the Kashmir and Burma sapphires. In fact blue sapphires from the region of Elahera, in the central province of Sri Lanka, were of such fine quality, that some foreign laboratories issued certificates, certifying them as Kashmir sapphires.
Other sources of blue sapphires in the world are Montana in the United States, Thailand, Cambodia and Australia. Recently discovered sources include the countries of Africa, such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the south American countries of Brazil and Colombia.
Source of the Rockefeller Sapphire
The source of the Rockefeller Blue Sapphire is undoubtedly the Mogok Stone Tract of Burma, which is situated 4,000 feet above sea level in the upper Shan plateau. About 80-90 % of the total output of the Mogok mines consisted of the world renowned Mogok Rubies, and the remaining 10 % formed an assortment of other gemstones such as sapphires, spinels, peridot, aquamarine, amethyst, zircon, tourmaline, topaz and moonstone. The sapphires of Burma, were always found in close association with rubies, which is not surprising given their common geological origins. Some areas that have yielded significant quantities of sapphires include Kyaungdwin near Kathe, Ingaung, Gwebin, Bernardmyo, Chaungyi, Kyauk Pyat That and Painpyit.
Burmese sapphires are are significantly larger in size than the rubies, and several high quality sapphires greater than 100 carats in weight have been produced. Besides this large fine star sapphires and rubies have also been produced from the Mogok mines. Some extraordinarily large giant sapphire specimens have also been discovered, in the Mogok region, but these are not of gem quality. eg. The 12.6 kg sapphire crystal which on display at the Myanmar Gems Enterprise office.
Generally Burmese sapphires have a rich intense slightly violet-blue color, but not all sapphires are deep blue in color. The lighter shades of blue similar to the Sri Lankan sapphires are also found. The main difference between the Burma and Ceylon stones is color saturation. While the Burma sapphires are more color saturated, the Sri Lankan sapphires are less so, and may have color banding which is absent in the Burma stones. Conversely, not all Sri Lankan stones are light blue in color. Color saturated medium to intense blue color sapphires that can rival the Burma or Kashmir blue sapphires are also found. The Rakwana and Elahera blue sapphires are indeed of superior quality and have been misidentified by renowned laboratories as Kashmir sapphires.
History of the Rockefeller Sapphire
Mir Usman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad
The first recorded appearance of the Rockefeller Sapphire was in 1934, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the sapphire on the advice of his family jeweler Raymond Yard, reportedly from an Indian Maharajah, believed to be the seventh and the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Usman Ali Khan who reigned between 1911 and 1948, until he was forced to abdicate when his domain was annexed by the new Indian Republic. Mir Usman Ali Khan had inherited a fabulous collection of jewels and jewelry from his predecessors, which was estimated to be worth around £ 15,000,000 in the year 1948. The entire collection was placed in two different trusts created by the Nizam and kept in the vaults of the HSBC Flora Fountain Branch of Mumbai. Subsequently, after a long process of litigation the Government of India purchased the entire collection from the heirs and dependants of the Nizam, for a sum of $ 71 million in the year 1995. According to current estimates the entire collection is worth around $ 2 billion.
The Rockefeller Sapphire set in a brooch
Raymond Yard also got the advice of his friend Raphael Esmerian one of the world’s leading gem dealers who appraised the sapphire before its actual purchase. In the early 1940s John D. Rockefeller instructed the jewelry firm Cartier to remount the sapphire as a brooch for his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948). Pierre Cartier consulted with Raphael Esmerian on ways of improving the appearance of the stone, before it was set on the brooch, and accordingly the stone was re-cut by Cartier to around 66 carats, and set in a magnificent brooch together with other smaller sapphires and diamonds. However in the 1950s Rockefeller’s second wife, Martha Baird Rockefeller (1895-1971), got the brooch re-designed by Raymond Yard. John D. Rockefeller Junior died in 1960 and his second wife Martha, eleven years later in 1971.
The Rockefeller Sapphire sold by auction at Zurich by the Rockefeller family, and resold three times until 1986
In the winter of 1971, the Rockefeller family sold the jewelry from the estate of John D. Rockefeller, in Zurich, Switzerland, and the Rockefeller sapphire was purchased by Raphael Esmerian, for a sum of $ 170,000. Raphael Esmerian sold the Rockefeller Sapphire to a private client from Italy in 1972. Then again in 1980, the sapphire came up for auction, after the death of its anonymous owner from Italy, and this time the sapphire was purchased by Raphael Esmerian’s son, Ralph for $ 1.5 million. Ralph Esmerian continued with his father’s business of dealing in rare gems, and after purchasing the sapphire got it re-cut by Reginald Miller, to its present weight of 62.02 carats, and got the stone mounted on a platinum ring, with cut-cornered triangular-cut diamonds. In 1986, Ralph Esmerian sold the sapphire mounted ring to an anonymous American collector, who usually invested on diamonds and gemstones of the highest quality. His unique collection included such famous diamonds such as the 41.37-carat, D-color, internally flawless Ashoka diamond, a 20-carat square-cut pink diamond, and a 3.02-carat natural green diamond.
The Rockefeller sapphire sold for the fifth time at a Sotheby’s auction in St. Moritz
In February 1988, the collection of jewels of the anonymous American collector came under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction in St. Moritz, and the Rockefeller Sapphire was purchased again by Ralph Esmerian for a record price of $ 2,850,000, which represented the highest price paid for a blue sapphire cart-wise as well as for a single stone.
The Rockefeller Sapphire sold for the sixth time at a Christie’s auction, and sets a world record price for a blue sapphires
In April 2001, the Rockefeller Sapphire was again put up for sale for the sixth time by its owner Ralph Esmerian, at a Christie’s auction, held in the Christie’s sales room at Rockefeller center in New York City. The sale was conducted by the International Head of Jewelry of Christie’s, Francois Curiel, who after seeing the rare gemstone commented, “This is the most marvelous sapphire I’ve ever seen in my career as a jewelry specialist.” After a keenly contested bidding process the hammer was finally brought down in favor of an anonymous private collector from Asia, for a record breaking sum of $ 3,031,000, which was again a new record for the highest price per carat as well as single stone, paid for a blue sapphire.
John D. Rockefeller Junior
John D. Rockefeller Jr, who was born on January 29, 1874, was the only son of John D. Rockefeller Sr. the American industrialist and philanthropist who founded the Standard Oil Company, which eventually dominated the American oil industry. John D. Rockefeller Sr. built his first oil refinery near Ohio, in Cleveland, in the early 1860s to take advantage of the expanding oil production in western Pennsylvania, and within a short period it became the largest oil refinery in Cleveland. Their business expanded and Standard Oil purchased refineries of their competitors and by 1872, the company was in control of almost all refineries in Cleveland. After a vigorous policy of expansion, the activities of the company expanded into other states and abroad and within a period of 10 years, the company had a near monopoly of the oil business in the United States.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. joined his father’s business in 1897, after graduation from Brown University. During the 1890s both Rockefeller Sr. and Jr. diverted their attention towards philanthropic activities and contributed generously towards charities and other benevolent activities. Their funding help found the University of Chicago in 1892, and other major philanthropic institutions such as the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in New York City in 1901, the General Education Board in 1902, the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913. Two of their greatest achievements was the construction of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York, in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, that created 75,000 jobs, at a time of widespread unemployment, and the establishment during World War II of the United Service Organization (USO), that provided aid for U.S. military personnel and their dependants. By the time John D. Rockefeller Sr. died in 1937, he had already given out more than $ 500 million as charities. John D. Rockefeller Jr. continued the philanthropic activities started by his father. His greatest achievement was the donation of land for the construction of the United Nations Headquarters, a move that led to the decision to locate the organization in the United States. Other important philanthropic gestures include the donation of $ 5 million for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in New York City, the construction of low-rent housing for the poor of New York City, and the founding of the Museum of Modern Art.
Page Last Updated: March/18/2008
1) The Encyclopaedia Britannica – 2006
2) Ruby and Sapphire – Richard Hughes
3) Christie’s website.
4) Siemens.com – forum for science, industry and business – understanding the origin of rubies and sapphires to improve prospecting strategies – published 4-12-2007.
5) An Introduction to Metamorphic Geology – 1989 – B. W. D. Yardly.
6) The Interior of the Earth : Its Structure, Constitution, and Evolution (1982) – Martin H. P Bott.
External Link :-
Introduction to Burma Sapphires -Richard W Hughes