Rubies, Sapphires & Emeralds, by G.F. Kunz-- on precious stones and jewelry, from the Dec 1, 1895 LA Times  

The Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1895, p. 11:



The Test of Purity--The Common Frauds of the Trade--
Where the Best Stones are Found--
The Most Precious of All Gems--The "King of Rubies"--
The Emerald and its Value--The Principal Sources of Supply.

(From a Special Correspondent of the Times.)

    Next in importance to the diamond comes what may be called the group of corundum gems, embracing the true ruby and sapphire of various shades of color. This mineral is found in almost all the colors of the rainbow, and its transparent varieties rank among the choicest and most valuable of gems.

    The name sapphire is generally applied in jewelry to the blue variety, the red being called ruby; the emerald-green, Oriental emerald; the leaf green, chloro-sapphire; the purple, Oriental amethyst, and the yellow, Oriental topaz or yellow sapphire. The valuable of these is the ruby, though the green and purple varieties are rarest, and are both rich and beautiful gems.
    A colorless variety, called white sapphire, is sometimes mistaken for the diamond.

    As with the diamond, the various forms of corundum unfit for gem use are of much value industrially. The finest watch jewels, phonograph points, and wire-drawing plates are made from small or poorly-colored rubies and sapphires, while the ruder varieties of corundum and the massive granular form known as emery, which is mingled with magnetic oxide of iron, are well known as the most important of abrading and polishing materials, and are largely employed for cutting-wheels, emery paper, and similar purposes.

    The kinds most used in jewelry are the following:

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    First--Ruby, the red variety, when fine, is the most precious of all gems, the choicest rubies, when of four carats weight or more, being valued at from five to ten times the price of diamonds of the same size and quality, or at from $8000 to $15,000 for a four-carat stone. A ten-carat gem recently sold for nearly $50,000, which would give us a value of over $700,000 an ounce.

    The chief locality for rubies is in Burma, in the valley of the Mogok, fifty miles from the Irrawaddy and forty-five miles from Mandalay. All the finest stones have come from this region, and here alone are found rubies of the peculiar intense color known as pigeon's blood.
    In Ceylon, in the Ratnapura district, beautiful stones are found of lighter shades, sometimes almost pink, occasionally with a tinge of purple, or the color of currant wine. These, however, though often marvelously beautiful and brilliant, are less prized than the Burmese.
    Recently Siam has also yielded many fine rubies, which, however, tend to very dark shades, more of a garnet red, or inclining to brown. Small rubies have been found in Franklin county, N.C., in the Government of Perm in Russia, and pale-colored ones in Montana.


    The war of 1886 gave England the control of the long-famous Burmese mines, and of the treasures of King Thebaw, who had been called the "King of Rubies," and was reported to possess dishes of rubies among his crown jewels surpassing anything known in the world. This collection was found to have little of marketable value, on account of its inferior quality. It contained rubies, emeralds, cat's eyes, etc., of unusual size, but not very choice. The whole suite is now exhibited at the South Kensington museum, under an ordinary glass case and with no unusualy precautions.


    Sapphire proper, the blue variety of transparent corundum, ranks next in value to the diamond, fine stones being sold at about the same price as diamonds of like size. The crystals of ruby are usually small, rarely over half an inch long, those of sapphire are often much larger, even up to three inches in length. The kind most prized is a bright medium shade known as "corn-flower," the tint of the national flower of Germany, and a very rich, deeper shade known as the velvet blue.
    The tastes of different countries vary, London and Vienna preferring the darker sapphires, Paris rather lighter shades, and Lyons and Marseilles being the chief market for light-colored stones.
    Some varieties of sapphire have a semi-transparent, or milky hue; these are somewhat abundant in Australia; and some, both sapphires and rubies, have the peculiar character known as asterism, presenting a star-like pattern of intersecting lines when cut across the prism.

    Cut sapphires are often a fine, even blue, if received in a setting, but when unmounted are almost white, except at the lower point, in other words, blue, if viewed from above. Unscrupulous dealers sometimes paint or enamel the inside of a setting and give the stone a blue color of apparent value, when, in reality, it is of little worth.

    The fine blue sapphires come from the Orient, chiefly from the Ratnapura district in Ceylon, and from the Simlat Pass of the Himalayas, where they were brought to light by the landslide of 1882.
    Some are found with the rubies of Burmah and Siam; a few have been cut from material obtained in North Carolina, and quite a number of the light-colored stones are now yielded by the gravel bars of the Upper Missouri river, near Helena, Mont.

    These latter are varied in color--pale-blues and reds, light-greens and blue-greens, yellow and colorless. Many of them make bright and beautiful gems, but not dark enough to have the highest value, and all rather small. When finely cut, some of them have a luster like burnished metal, peculiar to sapphires from this locality.
    From them a remakable piece of jewelry has been made, consisting of a crescent two inches long, one end of which was of red sapphire, and the other blue, graduating into each other between, through all the intermediate tints.
    By artificial light they are changed to a brilliant red. Some of the more beautiful green ones have been cut into true oriental emeralds, though the tints are usually rather too light.

    In some cases dark blue sapphires are lightened in color by heating; this is the case with some from Epailly, in France, and such stones are often exposed to fire by lapidaries to render them more brilliant.


    The name Brazilian sapphire is applied to the blue variety of tourmaline, called indicolite. Among gems of this group that are especially noted, the following may be mentioned:

    Three rubies among the crown jewels of France, one of them weighing 240 carats, having formed part of the dowry of Catherine di Medici on her marriage to Henry II, and the two others having been reset for Marie Stuart. There is among the English crown jewels a celebrated stone known as the Black Prince ruby, but, unfortunately, it is not a true ruby, but a red spinel.

    The saphir merveilleux, sixty-six carats in weight, and known as the "wooden spoon sapphire," because found by a Ceylonese wooden-spoon dealer, was lately in the Hope collection. It is celebrated as the stone that figures in the "Tales of the Castle," by Mme. de Genlis, a remarkable violet sapphire, quite red by artificial light.

    Other blue sapphires are: one of 132 carats in the mineral gallery of the Jardin des Plantes at Paris; one large rose-cut stone in the British Museum; a very large pear-shaped one, two inches long, on the top of the German Imperial crown; a similar one on the Austrian crown, and another one on one of the Russian crowns at Moscow. These date back to a period between the tenth and eleventh centuries, and may have come to these various monarchs as crusade plunder or tribute.

    There are two yellow sapphires of especial note, each nearly two inches long. One of them forms the top of a Russian crown in the Kremlin in Moscow; the other is an oblong, nearly fully set with a border of large brilliants; it is among the Austrian jewels, and used to be worn on a black velvet muff by the jewel loving Empress Maria Theresa while sleigh-riding.


    The finest green sapphire in the world is a transparent nodule of natural crystal in the cabinet of Clarence S. Bermont of Philadelphia. It is from Franklin, Macon county, N. C., and would cut into a magnificent deep-green gem of thirty carats.

    The purple or violet sapphire is formed by a minute interlamination of red ruby and blue sapphire. This intermixture of different colors in the same crystal is frequent in corundum. In the Tiffany-Morgan collection in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, there is a large specimen from North Carolina composed of many alternate layers of blue and yellow.

    In London, a fine large ruby, valued at $90,000, was slightly reduced in weight by cutting to improve its brilliancy, whereupon it developed a blue tint, resulting in a loss of about $70,000 to the dealer.

    Some celebrated European jewels have been preserved in their original East Indian workmanship, not facetted but simply polished, and sometimes perforated. The pendant sapphires in the votive crowns of the Guarrazar treasure of the seventh century, now at the Cluny Museum in Paris, and those of the Pala d' Oro in the church of Sant' Aintrogio at Milan, of the eighth century, are of this kind.


    A very large and remarkable perforated ruby of similar workmanship, now in the possession of a noble lady in Ireland, has evidently had a long and eventful history. It is over an inch and a half in length, and nearly an inch wide, and weighs 130 carats. Upon it are sharply engraved, in Arabic characters, the names of four successive rulers of great note in East Indian history, viz.: Akbar, his son Jahangir, his son Shah Jehan, and his son Aurungzebe, covering together about the first two-thirds of the seventeenth century.
    This was bought some years ago in Teheran, and is doubtless one of the jewels before referred to as carried from India to Persia in 1739 by Nadir Shah, and scattered and lost after his death. Another ruby, larger than this one, of which a model and impressions still exist, had the same four names engraved upon it, but the stone has been recut--a piece of historical vandalism that is unpardonable. Its present whereabouts are uncertain.
    Another ruby engraved with the name of Arungzebe is said to have been among the jewels of his son; and a diamond that has been cut since also had the engraved names of Jahangir and Shah Jehan.

    The Kaaba at Mecca, said to have been built by Abraham, incloses a sacred black stone seven inches long, called a "ruby from heaven," but in reality believed to be a meteorite.


    Next to the diamond and ruby the emerald has always been held in the highest esteem. Its peculiarly rich and delicate color has a charm that is ever new, and it cool green tint is said by many authors to be restful to the eye.
    Emeralds are usually cut in simpler forms than diamonds and the corundum gems. The form preferred is what is called a table-cut--a square or oblong with a large flat face, and beveled edges, the lower surface being cut in long narrow facets parallel to the sides. Fine gems commmand the price of fine diamonds, and the phrase "a flawless emerald" is classic.
    The immense emeralds reported by ancient writers as carved into statues, etc., were plainly other green stones confounded under the same name.

    Fine emeralds have always been rare and highly esteemed. The emerald is the softest of the precious stones, and, although not in so great demand from 1875 to 1890, it was never cheap. With its recent return to high favor, fortunately new finds have been made, and many fine emeralds sold. Those of rich color cut on cabochon are especially appreciated at present.


    The ancient Mexicans and Peruvians had many fine emeralds with attracted the attention of their Spanish conquerors. They were held in great esteem by the native chiefs, and were exquisitely wrought. Those of Mexico came from Bogota; those of Peru were obtained in Bogota or in the Atacama Desert, or else in Ecuador, where the name of Esmeralda is still borne by a village and river on account of the former abundance of the gems in the vicinity. None, however, are now brought from either of these regions.
    Cortez sent home two large cases of emeralds, which were lost on a ship returning to Spain. He also brought with him magnificent emeralds, for some of which he was offered enormous sums. In one of the cases, it is said, were 40,000 carats. Some of them had been cut in the most exquisite manner by the Mexican workmen--one carved in to the form of a flower, another of a fish, with eyes of gold, another of a bell with a pearl for the toungue, and a fourth into a cup with a golden foot. It may be that the Spaniards sometimes confused the rich green jadeite with emerald.

    In the temple of the Sun at Cuzco in Peru there is reported to have been a splendid image of the sun, with disk and rays of gold, set thick with emeralds; this fell to Pizzaro, who, it is said, gambled it away in a single night.
    The royal collection at Madrid contains magnificent crystals of emerald, some of them of the finest water and of large size, evidently from some of these new world localities.


    The principal source of emeralds is at the Muso [Muzo] mine, near Bogota, Colombia, S. A. They are also found at Takawaja, Siberia, and at Mount Zabara in upper Egypt. This last place was the principal source known to the ancients, but it had been long forgotten when a French traveler, M. Cailliaud, discovered the old workings a few years ago. Some of the ancient emeralds were doubtless obtained from a locality at Habachthal in the Tyrol, as well as from Mt. Zabara in Egypt.
    Light-colored emeralds in considerable quantity have lately been found at Emmaville, New South Wales, and in Alexander county, N. C., but the latter, though elegant specimens of crystal, are not clear enough for cutting.

    A Bogota specimen in the cabinet of the Duke of Devonshire is remarkably fine; it is a perfect hexagonal crystal two inches high, and about the same in diameter, and weighs eighteen and three-quarter ounces. A yet choicer crystal, costing 500, but only one-third the weight, was in the celebrated Hope collection.

    Some of the Siberian emeralds in the Imperial Museum at St. Petersburg are much larger but less fine; one is 14 inches long and 12 inches broad, and weighs 16 pounds. North Carolina has yielded a few very fine crystals, the best of which are in the Bement collection in Philadelphia.

    The opal holds its place among the gems by virtue of its singular beauty; although in general no stone not harder than quartz is so ranked. There are many varieties, ranging from those that have little or no play of color, to the exquisitely beautiful precious opal of jewelry. Among the finer varieties may be noted the following:

    First -- Noble opal, which is whitish in general aspect, and translucent but closely shot through with small and brilliant gleams of all the colors of the rainbow. This is the kind most prized for setting. When the colors occur in minute specks like a mosaic it is called por-opal.
    Second -- Flame opal, which is transparent and almost colorless, but has broad, flame-like surfaces of various tints.
    Third -- Fire opal, or girasol; this is somewhat like the last, but the general color of the glassy mass is yellow to red, with colored reflections of many tints in the same way.
    Fourth -- Recently the Australian mines have yielded brilliant precious opals, whose general color is rich blue to green; sometimes when held up to the light they show a yellow or reddish color. This is the main distinguishing point between them and the finest Hungarian opals.

    The finest quality of noble opal is mined at Dubrek, in Hungary, but the Queensland, [and] N. S. W. [mines]... are now formidable rivals, both as to quality and yield.

    In our own country, within a few years past, promising localities of fine opals have been discovered at several points in the far Northwest, in the lava beds of the Owhyhee district in Idaho, and in Washington State near the Idaho line. These have been worked to some extent, and fine material obtained, and a single gem has sold for $1000.

    Allusion should be made to a very beautiful style of work known as opal cameo, which consists in carving a head or other device in a thin seam of opal and cutting away around it to the stone on which it rests, thus bringing out the head in relief on a different colored background. In the Queensland opal this effect can be produced with great beauty, the dark-brown rock contrasting very elegantly with the raised device in brilliant blue or green opal, filled with its gleams of fire.

    The famous necklace of opals that belonged first to the Empress Josephine and lastly to the ill-fated Eugenie was recently sold in the United States. The great central opal, known as the burning Troy, like the rest of the gems in this collarette, proved to be more valuable for its history than for its beauty.

    Note: Largely self-educated mineralolgist and numismatist Dr. George F. Kunz (1856-1932; his degrees were honorary) was employed by Tiffany & Company for 53 years, and became Vice-President of Tiffany's in the early 1900's. After his death, his books and papers became part of the US Geological Survey Library.
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Classic Gem Articles:
Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds 1895
Semi-Precious Stones 1896
Gem Cutting & Polishing 1896
Where Gems are Found 1904

Classic Diamond Articles:
On Diamond Cutting 1867
De Beers Diamond Mine 1888
Diamond Cutting Industry-Art 1895
Cutting the Cullinan Diamond 1908

Classic Pearl Articles:
Bahrein Pearl Trade 1914

Classic Watch Articles:
Making Watches in Waltham 1867
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