TREASURES OF THE EAST
Exceptional gemstones that redefine high jewellery
THIS PAGE Model wearing earrings and ring from the Capri collection, DE GRISOGONO
OPPOSITE Blue sapphire and diamond ring, DER MOND
Home to many precious stones, Asia is known for its impressive list of quality gemstones. Of the stones unearthed here, these four are renowned for their exquisite use in jewellery. From Kashmir sapphires and lush pinkishred spinels, to fine, opaque jade and playful turquoises, these Asian gems are rare, striking, and definitely a sight to behold.
Blue sapphires are exceptional, but the most coveted ones come from Kashmir, a state in northern India. First discovered in the early 1980s in a remote mountainous region of Kashmir through an accidental landslip, Kashmir sapphires are one of the rarest and highly valued stones in the jewellery industry. The Kashmir sapphire mines caused a concern for the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1887 when the yield started to decline. Future exploration has failed due to severe weather conditions and guerrilla warfare in the region. Whether similar quality and sizes of blue sapphires will ever be produced out of Kashmir valley again still remains to be seen. But the ones in the market that are from the late 1800s are fetching record auction prices, such as the Richelieu Sapphires that were sold for $8,358,520 at Sotheby’s Geneva in 2013, setting a record price of $175,821 per carat.
Deep, red gemstones have always been popular in fine jewellery, and rubies have played that role quite well over the years. Another such red gemstone, closely resembling a ruby, is the spinel, which only received its much-deserved recognition in the late 19th century. Before then, all deep red spinels were thought to be rubies. Many famous old rubies were discovered to be spinels, such as the enormous centrepiece of the royal crown of England, the Black Prince’s Ruby. Found only in Asia and Tanzania, spinels come
in many colours, with deep reds and pinks being the most sought after. Mostly undervalued and non-marketed due to scarce supply, fine quality red spinels are now being used in high jewellery. Once favoured by royalties and rulers, these gemstones were an integral part of the Mughal treasury. Rare spinels have been found from the Mughal era with names of rulers and their years of reign engraved on them.
Jade has great cultural significance in China. Sold at a low price until a few years ago, jade’s prices have climbed up the charts as the Myanmar supply dwindled and demand increased. Low grade and opaque but durable, Nephrite jade is known as mutton fat and commonly used to make utensils and weapons. Meanwhile, the more valuable translucent Jadeite is used in jewellery, carved religious figures, and home decoration items. Moving from simpler bead jewellery, jade is now used in high jewellery by designers such as Wallace Chan, Chow Tai Fook, and even JAR. A Cartier jade necklace that once belonged to American heiress Barbara Hutton even made news when it sold above its estimated price at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2014.
One gemstone that has successfully transitioned from fashion jewellery to high jewellery is turquoise. This striking, sky-blue coloured gemstone started out with a humble beginning in silver jewellery. One of the oldest gemstones, dating back to around 3000 BC, turquoise has been part of different folklore and legends, and was worn by Pharaohs and Aztec kings. Turquoise was also famous in Chinese and Persian cultures. Its blue green colour tones add a soothing appeal, which is easy to pair with various shades of gold. A traditional December birthstone, turquoise, is one of favourite gemstones for Asian tribal jewellery due to its availability in the land.
From Kashmir sapphires and red spinels, to opaque jade and playful turquoises, these Asian gems are a sight to behold