Before the Millennium Sapphire was carved into its current form, it was an unnamed dark-blue gemstone discovered in Central Madagascar. From its sheer weight and size (89,850 carats, 17.97 kilograms/40 pounds, 29 cm long, 19 cm wide, 16 cm tall), this Sapphire was destined for greatness from the moment of its discovery.
In 1995, a miner discovered the Sapphire in Madagascar. The exact location of the discovery was, however, undocumented. All that’s known is that it was discovered in Central Madagascar.
Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. It is located approximately 400 kilometers off the coast of East Africa.
Deep in the earth’s crust and under immense heat and pressure, oxygen, aluminum, titanium, and iron combined to form the Sapphire. Erosion, continental drift, and other geological forces eventually brought the rough gem to the surface, where the miner unearthed it.
A French mining group operating in Madagascar took an interest in the Sapphire, suspecting that it was valuable. They, therefore, purchased it from the miner at a negotiated price. Next, they packed the stone in a handmade wooden crate and shipped it to Bangkok, Thailand.
Bangkok has traditionally been an important center in the global precious gemstone world. Much of the colored gemstones from around the world end up in Bangkok. That is why most colored gemstone traders, jewelry buyers, and wholesalers have an office or agent in this city.
Customarily, the French miners sold their premium sapphire production from Madagascar through a Bangkok-based American dealer called Jeffery Bergman. Bergman had heard reports about this mammoth-size gemstone, but he was skeptical. When he opened the newspaper-wrapped stone, however, he was enthralled by what he saw.
Now in the hands of Bergman, the Sapphire’s certification journey began. He took it to the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences for independent laboratory certification. Here, two unforgettable things happened.
- The giant gemstone could not fit through the lab’s usual security reception for gemstones that were being presented for identification.
- Bergman carried the Sapphire through a side door stunning every lab staff that saw it. One gemologist stopped dead in his tracks wide-eyed and asked, “Is that a sapphire?”
Bergman also took the Sapphire to the Gubelin Gemological Laboratory, Lucerne, Switzerland. Christian Dunaigre, who worked with the lab commented:
“It’s overwhelming. At first, I met the news with disbelief. I had problems believing it actually existed. It’s the biggest I have ever seen — the size is exceptional.”
Upon completing the gemological testing, the lab released a Gemstone Identification Report that concluded the gemstone is a natural sapphire.
Publicity and New Ownership
Bergman contacted Reuters to share the independent results of the tests with the rest of the world. The Reuters story rocked the world of precious gems, and other media outlets like USA Today, CNN, NBC and The Bangkok Post picked up the story within a few days.
Bergman then traveled to London to obtain European expertise on the gem. Marcus McCallum, a gemologist at the Gemological Association of Great Britain wrote:
“This crystal is the largest single piece of gem-quality sapphire that I know of, and it is very rare to see such a large piece of such good color.”
Now that the Sapphire was popular and certified, Bergman started arranging an auction on behalf of the French miners. As luck would have it, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis originated in Thailand and buyers who were once liquid vanished from the market as the Thai banks that funded them were insolvent. The French miners who had brought the stone to Bergman wanted to secure capital to scale their operations in Madagascar. Consequently, Bergman reached out to an American gem buyer, Daniel McKinney who happened to be liquid at the time.
Mr. McKinney was the founder of the Hong Kong Gem & Jewelry Show who had formed the vertically integrated jewelry company Wyndmere with his mentor John Connally who served as the former US Treasury Secretary and Governor of Texas.
Mr. McKinney was inspired by the Sapphire and put together a consortium of investors within a few months to purchase the gemstone. The Sapphire acquired new owners, and the Millennium Sapphire Project was born.