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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Corundum (var. sapphire)

This gem is the first sapphire from Malawi for the National Gem Collection, and it is natural and untreated.
Photo by Greg Polley. Click to zoom.
Catalog Number NMNH G11482-00
Locality Malawi
Weight 4.71 ct

Purchased with funds from the Tiffany & Co. Foundation in 2014.

Historically the finest sapphire gems came from Burma, Sri Lanka, and the Kashmir region of India. Although sapphires occur in a wide variety of colors, traditionally blue has been the most popular and valuable. Sapphire is the gem variety of the mineral corundum. Pure corundum is colorless, but small amounts of impurity atoms can impart a range of colors. In this case, iron and titanium are responsible for the beautiful blue color of the sapphire. This oval cut 4.71ct sapphire is a deep slightly greenish-blue color.  It was found at Chimwadzulu Hill in Malawi, overlooking the Great Rift Valley. The sapphire deposit has been known since 1958, but efforts to mine the deposit commercially were unsuccessful, and the mine was abandoned from the 1960s until 1986. Several ventures failed until 1994 when Minex started mining both sapphires and rubies, mining only during the dry season from April-October. The sapphires from Malawi are all natural and untreated, a rare occurrence in today‚Äôs gem business.  This gem is the first sapphire from Malawi for the National Gem Collection.


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