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Burmese Sapphire: Blue Fire : Sapphire Buying Guide

The name “sapphire” is said to have been derived from the Greek sappheiros, a word for blue. According to Oriental beliefs, sapphire is the gem of Saturn. It is also the birthstone for September. Although Kashmir sapphires have gained much popularity the Burmese color is also regarded as particularly valuable. Burmese sapphires range from a rich, full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue.

History

Burmese sapphire belongs to the gem family corundum that has been found in a number of different areas of Burma. These include Sagyin (near Mandalay), Thabeitkyin, Naniazeik (near Myitkyina), Mogok and, most recently, Möng Hsu (central Shan state). Most famous is the Mogok Stone Tract, which has remained the world’s premier source of corundum (but is most famous for rubies, although sapphire too is mined there) for more than 800 years.

Origin

Sapphire from Myanmar (ie; Burmese sapphire) is formed in a syenite and in pegmatites, and is mined from secondary deposits. Gem corundums are found in the alluvial deposits derived from the weathering of the parent rocks called byon in the local dialect. Burmese sapphires are mined some 13 km away from Mogok, near a village named Kathe that is 30m above Mogok.

Mining

The most famous locality for ruby and sapphire mining is the Mogok Stone Tract. Exactly when mining began here remains unknown. A number of Bronze Age and Stone Age implements have been discovered at these sites. King Bodawgi is said to have been the first to send miners to work these mines and later in the 1860s King Mindon Min. The Burma Ruby Mines Company was formed after the annexation of Burma by the British in 1886. In 1962 Ne Win staged a military co and the Mogok mines were nationalized in 1968. The Government operates several mines in the Mogok area and smuggling is rife, what is not smuggled is sold at a yearly emporium in Rangoon.

Physical characteristics: Cuts, shapes, sizes

The composition of sapphire is Al2O3 and it rates 9 on the Moh’s Scale of Hardness. Its specific gravity is 4.00 and its refractive index is 1.762–1.770 (0.008).

Burmese sapphires can be found in a variety of shapes and cuts. Oval and cushion cuts are the most common, but faceted round stones are also seen. So are other shapes, such as heart shape or emerald (also known as step cut) cut. In the trade slight premiums can be expected to be paid for round stones. Burmese sapphires are laso cut en cabochon—that is a smooth rounded dome with a flat unpolished base, usually for star stones, or those not clean enough to facet. The best cabochons are reasonably transparent, with nice smooth domes of good symmetry. Blue sapphires occur in far larger sizes than ruby.

Unique features

The color of fine Burmese sapphires is described as something beyond vivid, beyond intense, at a color intensity where blue and black intermingle. An expert has described the hue as the color of a desert sky about 15 minutes after the sun has set, with stars rising in the distance— an intense azure hue matched in the world of gems only by the finest tanzanites (ten carats plus).

Of course not all Burmese sapphires display this color, there are stones that resemble the lightest blue of Ceylon sapphires and when one says Burmese sapphire, it is understood that the stone in question is an ideal – a representative of the area’s color. Unlike fine sapphire from Ceylon or Kashmir, Burmese sapphires are more likely to have cracks that are often destabilizing. Sometimes, stones may have so much color saturation that the stones suffocate.

Value

Burmese sapphire is one of the world’s most expensive gems, second in reputation to only the Kashmir sapphire. Burmese sapphire can fetch prices similar to those of fine ruby or emerald. But like all gem materials, low-quality (i.e., non-gem quality) pieces may be available for a few dollars per carat. Such stones are generally not clean enough to facet. The highest price ever paid for a blue sapphire was the 22.66-ct. unnamed Kashmir sapphire once owned by James J. Hill (the “Empire Builder”), which sold in 2007 for $135,216/ct. This sale barely topped the previous record: the 62.02-ct. Rockefeller sapphire, which sold in 2001 for $48,871/ct.

Treatment

Like all sapphires Burmese sapphires too are frequently heated and occasionally oiling, dying, and/or surface diffusion takes place as treatment methods, depending on the quality and deferring form stone to stone.

Important pieces

The Rockefeller Sapphire is a magnificent sapphire set in a single-stone ring. It is a rectangular-cut sapphire weighing approximately 62.02 carats, flanked by cut-cornered triangular-cut diamonds, mounted in platinum made my Tiffany & Co. At its auction in 2001 it was accompanied by a special report from reputed Swiss gemological laboratory Gubelin stating that the origin of the sapphire is Burma (Myanmar). This stone has a documented provenance that makes it extremely rare and precious. It belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad prior to becoming the property of John D. Rockefeller between 1934-1971.

The Ruspoli Sapphire weighs133.06 carats and is also called the Wooden Spoon-Seller’s Sapphire, in reference to the poor man who is said to have found it in Bengal, India. 0Today this stone resides today in Paris’s Museum of Natural History and is said to be possibly of Burmese origin. It has a distinctive lozenge shape and possesses only six facets, appearing like a huge sapphire rhomb, it is almost "without flaw," since it has only one small feather and crystal inclusion.

A fabulous 598-ct piece of rough Burmese sapphire from Mogok was purchased by the English dealer and lapidary, Albert Ramsay, in 1928. Found near Gwebin, by a miner named U Kyauk Lon, this stone was bought for $13,000 and 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.

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