Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds: The Gemstones That Made History

Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds: The Gemstones That Made History

Ahead of Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels this season, we put the spotlight on coloured gemstones.
Ahead of Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels this season, we put the spotlight on coloured gemstones.

C rystal clear. But what about dazzling colour? Despite not having quite the same worldwide renown as colourless diamonds, coloured gemstones have held their own throughout history and today. Their unique appeal puts them centre-stage in a contemporary jewellery market that craves individuality and uniqueness. We take a look at historic moments in jewellery history and the coloured gemstones that defined them.

One early example of a standout coloured gemstone piece is Empress Josephine's iconic ring, given to her by Napoleon Bonaparte. Gifted in 1796, this exquisite piece features a 1.00 carat pear-shaped diamond and a 1.00 carat sapphire. Apart from diamonds, there are three precious gemstones – sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Oftentimes, any one of these gemstones are paired with diamonds for striking contrast and to enhance the rich colour and clarity of each delicate gem.

Pair of Emerald and Diamond Pendent Earrings | Estimate: 8,850,000 - 10,000,000 HKD

Another remarkable coloured gemstone piece is the ring presented to Jacqueline Kennedy by John F. Kennedy. This extraordinary creation features two emerald-cut gemstones – a 2.88 carat diamond and a 2.84 carat Colombian emerald. Jackie later enhanced the ring by replacing the side baguettes with 12 small marquise-cut diamonds. Available in Magnificent Jewels this season are two exquisite emerald pieces, including a pair of 20.63 carat Colombian emerald and diamond pendant earrings alongside a Colombian minor oil emerald (9.85 carat) and diamond (6.39 carat) ring. For the vast majority of emeralds,minor oil treatment is required as a bare minimum, as a common process used to enhance the colour and clarity of the gemstone. The emerald and diamond earrings in this sale feature emeralds in their original unadulterated state – a testament to the quality, clarity and rarity of the gemstone used.

Sapphires originating from Burma (now Myanmar), Kashmir and Ceylon are arguably the most sought after sapphires in the world, with incredibly saturated deep blue hues that are nearly impossible to find elsewhere. This sale will showcase sapphire jewellery from all three regions, including 18.26 carat Burmese sapphire and diamond earrings, Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. 8.94 carat Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring and a Jacques Timey for Harry Winston 16.65 carat Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring. Each of these designs boast the unique characteristics from each region: the rarest of them all, Kashmir sapphires are a deep cornflower blue with a texture that is often described as soft, or velvety. Burmese sapphires are generally deeper in colour than their Kashmir counterparts, while Ceylon sapphires tend to skew lighter and are softer in colour.

Princess Diana's engagement ring is one of the most talked about sapphire designs in history. It features an oval blue Ceylon sapphire weighting 12 carats surrounded by 14 white diamonds. The ring has since been passed on to the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, and was presented to the royal for her engagement to Prince William in 2010.

Pink Sapphire and Diamond Ring | Estimate: 800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD; Aquamarine and Diamond Pendent Necklace | Estimate: 240,000 - 320,000 HKD; Jacques Timey for Harry Winston, Diamond Bracelet | Estimate: 400,000 - 800,000 HKD

One of the most historically significant sapphires is a cabochon-cut star sapphire weighing 330 carats discovered from in Sri Lanka. Considered one of India's crown jewels, the Star of Asia features a six-rayed star at the centre of the perfectly-cut gem and is held in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Shining bright in our sale this season is a pink sapphire and diamond ring, which spotlights a dazzling pink sapphire sourced from Burma.

A jewellery house known for its expertise in sourcing and cutting coloured gemstones is Harry Winston. This season, Magnificent Jewels is offering a spectacular ruby and diamond necklace punctuated with five rubies and inset with diamonds from the maison. With a lifelong passion for precious jewels, Mr. Winston shared his collection to educate the public and support charitable causes. Through the travelling exhibition "The Court of Jewels”, he showcased legendary jewels including the 337.10 carat blue sapphire that once belonged to Catherine the Great, and an emerald necklace rumoured to have once belonged to the Maharajah of Indore.

Similar to sapphires, Burmese rubies are considered of the finest quality, characterised by their soft, velvety lustre, with particularly vibrant pieces described as “pigeon blood” red. The term "pigeon blood" signifies a specific type of red, a hue unmistakably true red . While not all Burmese rubies are classified as pigeon blood rubies, most pigeon blood rubies originate from Burma. This sale presents a pair of 8.11 carats Burmese pigeon blood ruby and 10.98 carats diamond earrings.

Coloured gemstones have captivated hearts throughout history and continue to sparkle in the modern age. The rarity of a true, quality coloured gemstone has rendered them prized treasures across the globe. From iconic historical pieces like Empress Josephine's ring to contemporary designs by renowned jewellery houses like Harry Winston, the allure of coloured gemstones remains timeless. Whether adorning royal collections or gracing the décolletage of modern tastemakers, coloured gemstones have and always will remain as celebrated as any diamond.

Jewelry The Luxury Sales The Hong Kong Sales

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