The Black Star Sapphire of Queensland

New ROM exhibit will display the enormous six-point star sapphire for the first time in nearly three decades

Discover the science and fascinating story surrounding the stunning Black Star of Queensland with the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) new exhibit, The Black Star Sapphire of Queensland. This brilliant six-point star sapphire, among the largest known black sapphires in the world, will be on display from June 2 to December 2, 2007 in the Samuel European Galleries’ new south link to the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on Level 3.

As part of the Architectural Opening and Building Dedication of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on June 2, 2007, the ROM will present the gemstone, known as the Black Star of Queensland, to the Canadian public for the very first time. The exhibit will also mark the first time the sapphire has been on public display anywhere in the world since 1969, when it was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The exhibit complements the brilliant crystalline forms of the Lee-Chin Crystal as well as keeps public interest high as the Museum and visitors await the new Teck Cominco Suite of Earth Sciences Galleries, expected to open the winter of 2008/09.

"The Royal Ontario Museum is pleased to showcase the beautiful Black Star of Queensland, and tell its fascinating story,” says the ROM’s Director and CEO William Thorsell. “That this exquisite sapphire was once used as a doorstop is remarkable. After nearly three decades, the Black Star of Queensland will once again be on display for not only the Canadian public but for tourists from all over the world visiting the Museum.”

The exhibit focuses exclusively on the Black Star of Queensland. Except for a band of 35 diamonds surrounding the sapphire, no other artefacts will accompany this exquisite gemstone. The chemistry and structure of sapphires, how sapphires are formed in nature, where and how they are mined, and their significance in various cultures will all be explained in the exhibit.

The original gem crystal, weighing 1156 carats, was found on the Reward Claim, in the Rubyvale area, in the State of Queensland, Australia. The Reward Claim lies within the Anakie Sapphire Fields, the largest of several sapphire mining areas in Australia, covering close to 900 square kilometres.

The dazzling sapphire was discovered by a young boy named Roy Spencer in the 1930s on the surface of the Reward Claim; he ran back to show his father Mr. Harry Spencer (one of the earliest miners in the Central Queensland Gemfields) who remarked, “Oh yes, a large black crystal” and threw it down by the back door. Some accounts claim the stone was used as a doorstop for many years. Neither realized the value of the sapphire until it was sold uncut in 1947 to jeweller Harry Kazanjian. It was later cut and polished, revealing a brilliant six-point star sapphire weighing 733 carats. In 2002, the gem was purchased by the present owners.

"The striking Black Star of Queensland exhibits an optical property known as asterism,” says Kimberly Tait, the ROM’s Associate Curator of Mineralogy. “This visual ‘star effect’ in the sapphire is captivating; it follows you as you move around the stone. It takes the talent of an experienced jeweller to cut a stone in such a way as to reveal the star."

Sapphires are found as loose crystals in gravel deposits that occur at surface, but have been mined to depths of 20 metres. Over the course of thousands to millions of years, sapphires were concentrated together with other heavy minerals in certain areas by the action of wind, gravity and water, which tended to carry away lighter minerals.

Star sapphires have been referred to by many cultures as a “stone of Destiny”, as the three bands of the star were believed to represent faith, hope and destiny. The English explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton carried with him a large star sapphire, referring to it as his talisman, for it brought him influence and good luck in his travels. Star sapphires were also believed to help ward off ill omens and the Evil Eye.