Sapphire is one of the three precious coloured gemstones, part of the family of corundum, where the predominantly red stones are known as Rubies whereas the rest of the colours are all considered Sapphires. Sapphires are the birthstone of September, named after the Greek word 'sappheiros', which probably referred to Lapis Lazuli.
Many consumers think that Sapphires are only comes in blue, which is why it is the norm that when unspecified, the usage of the word Sapphire means blue Sapphires. Corundum is a naturally colorless material, but may have different colors when impurities are present.
History & Lore
The largest faceted Sapphire is the Blue Giant of the Orient, weighing at a stunning 486.52 cts. The Sri Lankan stone was offered for the second time in history at Christies Auctions 2004, no bids were offered on it, but the Sapphire was sold then in an after-auction sale for USD$1 million. If you compare that price to what Sapphires are going around today, it was really affordable, averaging just over US$2000 per ct, which already are prices we are looking at for 2 cts fine quality stones from Sri Lanka.
Other notable gems include the 392.52 cts Blue Belle of Asia that holds the record auction value at USD$17.5 million and the Stuart Sapphire, a magnificent 104 cts cabochon set into the Imperial State Crown of England. The most famous Sapphire that is known in this century is probably the 12 cts Sri Lankan Blue Sapphire famously given as an engagement ring from Prince Charles to Princess Diana in 1981. The beautiful Sapphire has a Royal Blue colour, and through this event, many people from the general public gets to know about Sapphires as the stone of royalty.
In our inventory, we have kept a 35.11 cts Oval Unheated Sri Lankan Royal Blue Full-Fire Eye-clean Sapphire Ring. It is the star of our range of collector's investment gems that is only available for viewing upon special request
Sapphire comes in a variety of hues, blue, violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, colourless, purple, black, grey and brown. Sapphires that exhibit both orange and pink, are known in the trade as Padparadscha Sapphires, which is the most expensive colour, after blue. Blue Sapphires ranges from greenish-blue to blue to violet-blue, with the blue to violetish-blue colours of vivid saturations commanding the highest value per carat.
There are many trade names for Sapphire colours, perhaps the most famous will be the Royal blue and the Cornflower blue. Cornflower blue have a lighter tone and saturation than Royal Blue Sapphires, they resemble the colour of cornflowers, which is the only flower with a pure blue hue. Royal blue Sapphires have stronger tone and saturation, they can also include slight violetish hues, which is in the acceptable range of Royal Blue colour grading.
Different laboratories use different standards for grading colour in Sapphires, for example a Royal Blue from GRS might not qualify as a Royal Blue in a SSEF grading. SSEF and Gubelin has aligned their grading for Royal Blue Sapphires and Pigeon Blood Rubies. Some other laboratories, for example Lotus, has more terms such as Peacock blue, Velvet blue, Indigo blue and Twilight blue. By current market demands, Cornflower Blue is still the highest valued, with Royal Blue coming in as a close second.
Blue Sapphires typically have some inclusions but are cleaner compared with Rubies. An eye clean blue Sapphire would be generally considered as top grade in terms of clarity, these Sapphires often command a premium price over similar coloured Sapphires with eye visible inclusions. We recommend purchasing Sapphires either of eye clean quality or with inclusions not directly visible on the table. Also colour zoning is a common characteristic of Blue Sapphires.
Sapphires come from a variety of sources, with four origins more well-known compared to others. They are: Kashmir, Burmese, Sri Lanka and the newly important Africa. Kashmir mines produced arguably the finest Sapphires, with their vivid saturation and a velvety appearance. They are highly sought after by collectors.
Kashmir mines are barely accessible, only available for mining at certain times of the year. The mine is located high up in the Himalayas and is depleted thus abandoned many years ago. This increases the rarity of Kashmir Sapphires. They were already low in quantity during production times, now with the mines depleted, it is only going to get scarcer. These days, it is more likely to find Kashmir Sapphires only during big trade shows or in auctions, than to find in your local jewellery dealer’s shop. Cornflower Blue is a signature of Kashmir produced Sapphires, so much so that some experts refuse to give the Cornflower Blue name to Sapphires not of Kashmir Origin.
Burmese mines are known for their Royal Blue colour, some experts feel that only Sapphires of Burmese origin should be given the name of Royal Blue. Burmese mines generally produce Sapphires of good saturation, but unlike Kashmir, they do not have the velvety appearance.
Sri Lanka was the major producer of Sapphires, now overtaken by Africa in volume, but productions of Sapphires in Sri Lanka has never stopped. Sri Lanka produced some of the biggest Sapphires in the world, and they are sometimes known in the trade by the name Ceylon, which was the name of Sri Lanka before 1948. The most famous Sri Lankan Sapphire as mentioned earlier, is probably Princess Diana’s engagement ring.
Africa has now become the leader in the production of Sapphires, with major deposits in Madagascar and Tanzania. Origin is a big price determination for Sapphires, with Kashmir being the undisputable first, folds above Sapphires of other origins, Burmese right after, followed by Sri Lankan then African. Sapphires are also produced in many other countries, such as Australia, China, Thailand etc.
Sapphires can exhibit colour change, most exhibiting a change from blue under natural daylight, to violet-purple under incandescent light. Most colour change effects are slight, but top-quality Sapphires in this range can exhibit strong effects. Of course, the more distinct the change, the higher the value.
Sapphires are also known to exhibit asterism, which is the star effect, caused by the inclusions in the gemstone itself. The biggest Sapphire in the world is a Star Sapphire weighing at 1404.49 cts, it has been estimated by some that it can fetch prices as high as USD$100 million.
Majority of the Sapphires on the market are heated, and it is so common that heated Sapphires are widely accepted in the industry. Sapphires are heated to improve its colour and clarity, as well as removing colour zoning or improving the effect of Star Sapphires. Heated Sapphires are easily identified by experienced gemmologists due to the high heat damaging or healing some of the inclusions in the stone. Unheated Sapphires are rare and generally go for much higher prices than their heated counterparts.
Sapphires on the market that are not specified to be unheated are most likely to be heated Sapphires. Sapphires also are known to be lattice diffused, this treatment is stable, but the colour is only confined to the outer layers of the Sapphire, which might be removed during re-polishing. This kind of treatment is not as accepted by the industry or public, as it artificially changes the colour of a gemstone. There also exists another type of diffusion method done by using Beryllium, which penetrates the Sapphire deeper and is harder to detect. This is why we recommend that when purchasing Sapphires, always buy stones with certifications from reputable laboratories.
Synthetic Sapphires are probably the most widely used synthetic gemstones. You might have heard of Sapphire Crystal Glass used in watches, that is actually synthetic Sapphire. It is also commercially important as shatter proof windows for armoured vehicles and military body armour suits. Synthetic Sapphires as gemstones are also widely used for costume jewellery and also in some countries as normal jewellery pieces. Synthetic Sapphires can be easily created via the flame fusion method, which is one of the most cost-effective methods of producing synthetic gemstones.
Sapphires are one of the hardest gemstones in the world, just after Diamonds and after man-made Moissanites. Sapphires also has very good toughness and no cleavage, which means that it is less likely to break when hit. With a Mohs scale rating of 9, Sapphires are durable jewellery suitable for everyday wear, including in rings or bracelets, and designs that are more susceptible to scratches. Sapphires should be cleaned with warm soapy water and a soft brush.