One of the things I like most about my job is that I never know what to expect when the phone rings. That was the case one day in December 2016 when I received a call from a colleague inquiring about Canadian sapphires. The Government of Canada had decided they would like to present the Queen of England with a Canadian sapphire brooch to celebrate her Sapphire Jubilee. They issued a Request for Quotation to six jewellers. Four of them called me, all on the same day.
The only problem is, the government didn't check to see if there are any blue sapphire mines in Canada.
There aren't any blue sapphire mines in Canada.
Not to be daunted, I flipped through my Rolodex and called Dave. I knew Dave had a friend in the Slocan Valley who owned a mine that produced light blue corundum. After looking at the rough, it was too light for the Queen's brooch. Strike one.
My next call was to Brad. It took me awhile to get through to him as he is often out in the bush. I tracked him down and my persistence paid off. Brad is an interesting fellow. He is a geologist who has made it his life's mission to find every gemstone deposit in Canada. No one has done this before and if anyone can do it, Brad can. He loves exploring and prospecting in remote corners of the country.
One summer, Brad was camping and prospecting alone in the far north, in Nunavut. Late one night, in the light of the midnight sun, a polar bear came out of nowhere and charged him. He shot it between the eyes at close range - so close that it collapsed dead on top of him. Brad thought "Great, I stopped it from killing me when it was alive and now it's going to kill me when it's dead." Mature polar bears weigh an average of 1,000 pounds (450kg).
He managed to wriggle free and get back to his boat, then to the safety of the nearest village. In one of those villages along the coast of Nunavut in Canada's far north, he met two brothers who told him they had found blue stones nearby. They took Brad to the area of the deposit and Brad mapped it. The short prospecting season ended and Brad left, asking the brothers to let him know if they found more. They didn't.
In all, they found a handful of rough sapphire crystals, almost all smaller than one carat when cut, ranging from beautiful cornflower blue to colourless. They are the only true blue sapphires ever found in Canada. I bought the entire collection from Brad and worked with my client Hillberg & Berk to make the Queen's brooch with the sapphires. The Governor General of Canada presented the brooch to Her Majesty the Queen on July 19, 2017.
The overall look of the brooch is a snowflake to symbolize the Great White North. Each arm of the snowflake is the shape of a royal sceptre - a clever design touch from the top notch creative team.
The colour variation challenged the design team, but I asked them to use that colour variation as a strength, to make it a positive design feature. They came through in spades by graduating the colours from the centre to the tips. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, white to sapphire blue is also the colour gradation of a glacier from surface to core. Well done!
Watch this 1-minute video to see how the Queen's brooch was created!