The Star of India Sapphire: A Journey Through Time, Ownership, and Value
Star of India Sapphire // Daniel Torres, Jr. / Wikimedia Commons
The Star of India is not just a gemstone—it's a symbol of mystery, beauty, and history. It is one of the world's largest and most famous sapphires, reflecting an alluring azure that dazzles its beholders. Its significance is even more pronounced when we delve into its impressive lineage of owners, substantial size, and current value.
The Star of India hails from the gemstone mines of Sri Lanka, a country renowned for its rich repository of sapphires. The precise date of its extraction remains a mystery, but it was likely discovered during the mid-19th century. This impressive gemstone is an astounding 563.35 carats, making it one of the largest star sapphires globally.
The remarkable feature of the Star of India, which sets it apart from other gemstones, is its asterism. This optical phenomenon causes a star-like pattern to shimmer on the surface when light strikes it. The Star of India exhibits a rare and captivating double-star effect, visible from both the front and back.
The first owner of the Star of India, whose name is lost to the mists of time, likely found it amidst the alluvial gemstone deposits of Sri Lanka. The gemstone then passed through various hands, eventually being purchased by George Frederick Kunz, a gemologist at Tiffany & Co.
In 1900, financier and philanthropist J.P. Morgan commissioned Kunz to assemble a collection of gems for the Paris Exposition. The Star of India was one of the many precious stones Kunz included. Following the Exposition, Morgan donated the gem, along with others in the collection, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it remains to this day.
A notable and infamous part of the Star of India's history involves a daring thief named Jack Murphy, better known as "Murph the Surf." In 1964, he and two accomplices broke into the American Museum of Natural History, taking twenty-two of the most valuable gems valued at the time at over $410,000, including the Star of India. After a nationwide manhunt, the sapphire was eventually recovered from a Miami bus station locker. Since then, the Star of India has stayed securely within the museum, enchanting visitors with its mesmerizing beauty.
Evaluation of Size and Value
Star of India // American Museum of Natural History
Sapphires are a variety of corundum, the third-hardest mineral. Pure corundum is clear, but when colored blue by titanium impurities, it’s called a sapphire. When colored red by chromium, it’s a ruby.
The size of the Star of India is staggering, to say the least. At 563.35 carats, it is one of the largest sapphires in the world, roughly the size of a golf-ball. This astronomical carat weight—more than a hundred times the size of an average sapphire—makes the Star of India a remarkable gem.
However, size isn't the only factor contributing to its value. The Star of India's color—a rich, milky blue—is highly desirable in sapphires. Rutile, a mineral in the Star of India, gives the gem its milky quality and star effect. Tiny fibers of rutile in a three-fold pattern reflect incoming light in the star pattern, known as asterism. Additionally, its unique double-star asterism is extremely rare, further boosting its worth.
While it's challenging to precisely appraise the Star of India due to its historical and cultural significance, some estimates place its value in the tens of millions of dollars. It's crucial to remember, though, that as a donated piece in a museum collection, it's essentially priceless. The Star of India holds invaluable educational and aesthetic value to the public and gemological community alike.
The Star of India is more than a sapphire—it's a touchstone of history. From the hands of anonymous Sri Lankan miners to a celebrated New York museum, it has journeyed through time and across continents. Its illustrious list of past owners, exceptional size, and immense value make it a legendary gemstone in its own right.
Moreover, the Star of India has a profound cultural impact. It's not just a gem—it's an ambassador from the depths of Earth's crust, a symbol of natural beauty and human craftsmanship, and an embodiment of our collective history. Just like its enchanting double star, the allure of the Star of India shines brilliantly from every angle.