From Jodhpur to US: Tracing the dazzling history of the Star of Asia Sapphire

Washington’s world famous, National Museum of Natural History, attracts over seven million visitors every year. This museum has the largest collection of 145 million plants animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, etc., and is frequented by large number of scientists from all over the world. The mineral section of the museum surprised me, as a rare gem, which once belonged to the rulers of the Jodhpur princely state, was being displayed. This aroused my curiosity and I took a step closer to the display showcase where the rare Cabochone shaped 330 carat (66 gm) ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’ sat in it’s dazzling glory. The stone, which originates from the Mogok mines of Burma (Myanmar), is said to have once belonged to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and was acquired by the museum in 1961.

“This is not surprising, because the main producing and consuming nations of gemstones and diamonds during the period of the discovery of rubies in Burma’s Mogok, were the different kingdoms and sultanates of the Indian sub-continent. Thus, large quantities of rubies and sapphires mined in the Mogok mines were smuggled out of Burma, and reached these independent kingdoms, where they had a ready market, and were snapped up by the ruling monarchies of these kingdoms. It’s possible the rare gem was bought by the Maharaja of Jodhpur,” said Sukesh Mehta, an Indian jeweller at Yangon, the capital of Myanmar.

For several centuries this rare gem remained as a prized possession of the Jodhpur royals. Due to an uncertain history, it is not precisely known during which period in the history of Jodhpur, the ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’ became the property of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. But, it is known for certain that the renowned sapphire had changed hands and eventually came into the possession of Martin Leo Ehrmann, one of the greatest collector and supplier of minerals and gemstones to many universities and museums in the United States. Among his notable clients were the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Harvard University, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. His buying spree had also brought him to India and the erstwhile Ceylone (Sri Lanka).

“The new inventory book of the Jodhpur royal family has no mention of the ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’. But, over the years, a lot of jewellery and gemstones were disposed off and new ones were bought. On many occasions, the jewellery was presented to the British royals and officers as a goodwill gesture. It is also possible that this rare jewel was given to the British royals by the ruler of Jodhpur in the past and from there it changed hands,” said Karni Singh Jasol, director of the Mehrangarh Fort Museum.

In 1961, the ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’ was acquired by the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution from Martin Leo Ehrmann, with whom the Institution had dealings since 1932. Rumour has it, Maharaja of Jodhpur, who built the majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace in 1943, had to sell a lot of personal belonging to build the palace and, it is around that time ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’ this could have been acquired by Ehrman.

Maharaja Hanwant Singh, who married Bollywood actress Zubeida, died in an air crash near Jodhpur in 1952. He left behind a son, Gaj Singh, and during his infancy various administrators were appointed to look after the Jodhpur royals’ estate. Some say, the ‘Star of Asia Sapphire’ was sold during this period and the records relating to the rare gem were destroyed.

Did you know?

Star of Asia Sapphire is a 330-carat blue-violet star sapphire, with a distinct six-rayed star perfectly positioned at the centre of the cabochon-cut stone, with rays extending towards the girdle of the stone. The presence of rutile fibres makes the stone milky and translucent and is also responsible for the asterism (star effect) of the gemstone.

It is one of the top quality blue star sapphires in the world, perhaps only second to the renowned 563.35-carat ‘Star of India Sapphire’ in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, according to Ashok Pandey, a New York-based jeweller.

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