Star of India
Considered the largest blue star sapphire in the world, the Star of India was found in the alluvial deposits of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), likely in the Ratnapura area historically renowned for its precious stones. When the sapphire was located by George F Kunz in the 1890s, the mineralogist estimated its discovery to have taken place at least three hundred years previously, and there is no information on the initial ownership or polishing of the rough stone. Given that the sapphire has no recorded connections to India, its name is a misnomer and is often attributed to a colonial-era conflation of the regions of the Indian subcontinent.
Weighing 563.35 carats, the cabochon-cut gem is a slightly oblong dome with a flat base and a diameter of about 4 centimetres. Thought to have been formed one to two billion years ago, the sapphire contains minute crystals of a titanium mineral called rutile, which gives it its milky greyish-blue appearance. The needle-like rutile formations also reflect light in a star pattern, an effect known as asterism. The Star of India is distinctive in that its prominent six-pointed asterism is visible from both top and bottom.
Kunz, who was a prominent consultant for the US Geological Survey and vice-president at the jewellery house Tiffany & Co., included the Star of India in the collection of important gemstones he curated under the commission of American financier JP Morgan. After exhibiting the collection at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Morgan donated all the gemstones, including the Star of India, to the American Museum of Natural History.
While already well-known for its large size, asterism and near-flawless nature, the sapphire garnered attention again after it was stolen from the museum along with twenty-one other gems in 1964. The thieves were apprehended within days and most of the gems recovered from a bus station locker, where they had been hidden. The Star of India was returned to its display at the museum in 1965.
At the time of writing, the sapphire is exhibited in the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
American Museum of Natural History. “Sapphires.” Hall of Gems. Accessed August 4, 2023. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/gems-minerals.
The Gemmological Association of Great Britain. “Famous Gemstones: The Star of India Sapphire.” Gem Hub: Gem Knowledge. Accessed April 10, 2023. https://gem-a.com/gem-hub/gem-knowledge/famous-gemstones-star-india-sapphire.
Long, Tania. “Star of India Gem Stolen From Museum Here.” The New York Times, October 31, 1964. Accessed August 4, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/1964/10/31/star-of-india-gem-stolen-from-museum-here.html.
Lowdon, Kaitlyn. “The Star of India Sapphire: A Journey Through Time, Ownership, and Value.” Eagle and Pearl Jewelers. July 29, 2023. Accessed August 31, 2023. https://eagleandpearl.com/blogs/jewelry-blog/the-star-of-india-sapphire-a-journey-through-time-ownership-and-value.
Preston, Douglas. Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986: 211–18.