3.11.10

Famous Gemstones - Star of India

Article

The Star of India is the most famous star sapphire in the world. Greyish blue in colour, and about the size of a golf ball, the Star of India is particularly unique in that it has two stars on both sides. It is described as – flawless. When you consider the high security in place today, it is amazing to think that such a precious gem could be permitted to be stolen, because of the dead battery of a burglar alarm.  

On the night of 29th October 1964, three thieves crept into the American Museum through a bathroom window they had unlocked during ‘open hours’ of the museum. Their goal was to steal the Star of India – and they succeeded. Two days later the Star of India was found in a locker at a Miami bus station, and Jack Murphy (alias Murf the Surf), and two other men were caught.

The American Museum has been the proud caretaker of the Star of India, ever since it was donated to the museum by J P Morgan, an industrialist, financier and patron of the institute, on 29th October 1964. Geologists confirm that the Star was formed in the Earth two billion years ago, and it is believed that this gem was mined in Shr Lanka in the 16th century. Shri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is the home of many more sapphires, and perhaps star sapphires, to be found in the sand and gravel deposits of rivers.

The Star of India is the world’s largest known star sapphire, weighing 563.35 carats. The fibres of the mineral rutile, create the dazzling star shape. Rutile fibres are aligned in a three-fold pattern, and reflect incoming light as a star. This effect is known as asterism, and is what gives the star sapphires their value. The mineral rutile is also responsible for the velvety quality of these gems.

Star sapphires have been found elsewhere other than Shri Lanka, such as the famous black variety from Thailand, where the most valuable are mined in Chanthaburi, and have a golden star. However, the famous Star of Bombay, was again, mined in Shri Lanka. This Star was donated to the Smithsonian collection by Mary Pickford, the most famous silent movie actress. It is a 60 carat, cashmere blue stone, which was set into a ring.

In 1935, the ring was bought by Hollywood silent movie actor Douglas Fairbank Sr. for his wife Mary. Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979) was known as ‘America’s Sweetheart’, and ‘the girl with the curl’. She has been honoured with the unofficial title of ‘the first Movie Star in Hollywood’, and rose to stardom playing teenage heroines. The turning point in her career was the film, ‘The Poor Little Rich Girl’ in 1917. It is somewhat ironical that she became the owner of the Star of Bombay.


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