The unexplored, unprotected Sapphire mines

Greater Kashmir

Illegally extracted gem from Paddar sapphire mines in Kishtwar is sold for over Rs one crore in the grey market

In May last year when a ring set with a 19.88 ct cushion-shaped Kashmir sapphire was put under hammer, a world renowned auction house, Christies, expected it to fetch USD 3 million (Rs 18 crore), but the sapphire known as ‘Star of Kashmir’ smashed all records and eventually sold for over Rs 20 crores.
According to thejewelleryeditor.com, “there is no other sapphire that compares to a Kashmir sapphire. Looking through one is like looking at the Himalayan sky as the inclusions in the stone can sometimes resemble whispy clouds. The rich, velvety blue, unenhanced by man, is without peer.”
Mined from Padder area in Kishtwar, the sapphire is again in limelight but for all the wrong reasons.
Smugglers are having a field day at the Paddar sapphire mines with a single gem illegally extracted there being sold for over Rs one crore in grey market, discovery channel has revealed.
In their popular series “Game of Stones” the channel aired an episode titled ‘Himalayan Motherlode’ that focused on a rare Kashmir Sapphire extracted from Paddar. The episode broadcast on March 07 in USA documents the story of international gem hunters trying to get hold of a valuable Kashmir sapphire that has surfaced in a grey market in India. The programme starts with the disclaimer, “the gems in this program are real. Some identities and locations have been changed to protect sources.”
The programme is shot with both secret as well as normal cameras. The programme starts after a famous US gem hunter Don Kogen flies to Rajasthan after receiving information about a Himalayan beryl, ‘one of the rarest gemstones on earth,’ being put on sale by smugglers in the desert state.
The programme shows how the team meets the smugglers and verifies the gems. After the smuggler tells them that there is about 100 kgs of such stones worth millions of dollars in a mine in Kashmir, Kogen promptly buys the beryls and the map for about Rs one lakh.
According to the programme the team makes a short trip to these mines with quarter-million dollars worth of cash and guns. At the mines, Kogen is disappointed to find only one kilo worth of beryl, but gets the information about a rare Kashmir Sapphire being put for auction in an underground market in Jaipur. The team hurries down the inhospitable mines using a makeshift sled.
The people and dress indicates that the program has been shot in Himachal Pradesh. According to experts the actual mine is far more inhospitable with not a leaf of grass growing anywhere and temperature plummeting to 30 degrees below freezing point in winters.
The episode shows his struggle with another international gem hunter Tom Cushman to acquire the Kashmir Sapphire, ‘the Holy Grail of gemstones.’
The gem is being sold by a trader named Komal on the outskirts of Sambar Lake.
At the bidding place Tom is joined by three other bidders and they get a chance to look at a small 4.22 karat Kashmir Sapphire before the process begins. Gem experts confirm its authenticity. The bidding narrows down to Don and Tom, and ultimately Don gets it for USD 202,000 (Rs 1.23 crore). Delighted at his purchase, Don hopes to sell it in international market at double the price (Rs 2.3 crore).
The Padder mines come under Jammu Kashmir Mineral Limited (JKML), which undertake annual mining activity at the site. “The department sends a mining team every year to this remote site in Mid June,” said Abid Suhail, Managing Director JKML. “Sometimes we get 7000 gms and sometimes we get 2500 gms of corundum. On an average, every year we extract 5000 gms of the precious material.”
The concerned department had floated global tenders aimed at exploration and extraction of the famed Kashmir sapphire but the process is going on at a slow pace. “We got six offers from both local and international firms. One of them is from Sri Lanka and another is an NRI,” said Suhail. “Their papers are undergoing the evaluation process.”
The department agrees that there are complaints of smuggling going on at the mining area. The mines are located at a height of 4327 metres above sea level in an isolated place between high mountains. “When there is an isolated mine with such precious gems, naturally smuggling elements try to get involved,” said Suhail. “Regarding further information you will have to contact police who are entrusted with the security. I cannot comment any further,” said Suhail before snapping the phone.
Meanwhile police has dismissed the reports of smuggling. “There were some earlier reports about the smuggling but not since the time I have been posted here,” said Sanjay Kumar, SP Kishtwar. “Before my tenure that started in August, some FIRs have been filed with regards to smuggling of Kashmir sapphires.”
He said that currently there is ten feet of snow in the mines and no activity is happening there.
The police provides security cover to miners from JKML. “The area opens up usually by the end of May and our guards are posted there for the security,” said Kumar. He also denied information about any foreign team having visited the area during his tenure.
The Paddar mines discovered in late 19th century produce a rare kind of Sapphire, which is deep bluish in colour resembling peacock neck. The gem stone is renowned world over for its clarity and transparency. The gemstones mined during that the era of Maharaja Ranbir Singh fetch huge amount of money whenever they’re auctioned.
The Kashmir sapphire deposits were accidentally discovered by local people after a hillside slipped away in 1881 in Padder area. Kashmir sapphires, with intense velvet blue color, are regarded as the purest form of Sapphire found anywhere in the world, thus making them most sought after and highly valued.