How to Choose a Quality Sapphire
Captivating. Beautiful. Brilliant. Elegant. These are just a few of the adjectives that can be used to describe sapphires. Sapphires are one of the 4 precious stones that are frequently used in engagement rings and other jewellery.
Sapphires vary widely in their colour and quality. The secret to choosing a good-quality, beautiful sapphire is to understand their history and how they are formed, as well as to carefully consider the colour, clarity, and cut of each gemstone.
The History of Sapphires Begins Centuries Ago
Greeks, Romans and other ancient people mined, bought, and sometimes even stole sapphires and prized them highly. They believed that these gems could connect them with heaven and their deities, as well as give them peace and protection from their enemies.
These ancient civilizations incorporated sapphires into many areas of their lives. They used them to decorate pottery and sculptures, perform religious rituals and occasionally used larger sapphires to make axes and other tools.
In the 1800s, sapphires began to be recognized as precious gems that could be used in many types of jewellery. Some of the world’s first commercial sapphire mines were dug in Kashmir in 1880. These mines began to supply the demand for jewellery-grade sapphires.
Where Do Most Sapphires Come From?
Sapphires are currently mined in many countries, including Pakistan, Madagascar, India, China, Columbia, Australia and the United States. Most sapphires, though, come from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is a small country located off the coast of India. It is sometimes called the “Gem Island” because an estimated 25% of the country is covered by metamorphic rocks that contain a high density of gems. More than half of all the gems mined in Sri Lanka are sapphires and they are some of the best sapphires in the world in relation to colour, clarity and size.
How Are Sapphires Made?
Kilometers beneath our feet molten magma runs, bubbles and slowly cools. As it cools, molecules of aluminum and oxygen bond together to form extremely hard crystals called corundum.
Corundum contributes to the formation of many different types of rocks and every now and then it forms large crystals that we call sapphires and rubies.
How Hard Are Sapphires Compared to Diamonds?
Scientists use the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness to define the hardness of all minerals and gems, including sapphires. In order to determine how a mineral or gem rates on the scale, they do a variety of scratch tests to see how well the mineral or gem resists scratching.
Talc is the softest mineral on the Mohs scale. It has a hardness of 1 and is softer than a fingernail. Diamonds resist scratching better than steel and rate a 10 on the Mohs scale.
Corundum or sapphires are also stronger than steel. They rate a number 9 on the Mohs scale and are resistant not only to scratching, but also chipping and cracking.
Sapphires Come in Many Colours, Not Only Blue
We generally think of sapphires as being blue and most of them are blue. The colour blue predominates because magma almost always contains small amounts of titanium which colours the corundum blue. Occasionally, though, the titanium is replaced by other metals and fancy sapphires form in a variety of colours, including:
● Yellow Sapphires – Yellow sapphires can be very light in colour or dark almost orange. The most sought after yellow sapphires have a bright colour that radiates cheerfulness and positivity.
● Pink Sapphires – Pink sapphires are well-loved for their feminine beauty and romantic air. They come in many shades of pink ranging from light baby pink to intense magenta.
● Purple Sapphires – Anytime that chromium and titanium infiltrate the same corundum crystal, a purple sapphire is born. It can be dark purple or even a light shade of violet.
● Green Sapphires – Of all the fancy sapphires, green sapphires are one of the most unusual. They can be light mint green or deep forest green. All of them are beautiful and represent new life and tranquility.
● Peach Sapphires – Peach, also called champagne, sapphires can be light or dark in colour. Peach sapphires have a modern beauty that goes well with any skin tone.
● Padparadscha Sapphires – Padparadscha sapphires are a blend of yellow, orange and pink tones. In most of these rare sapphires, the colours blend completely together but in a few of them, each colour remains distinct to some extent. Padparadscha sapphires have a majestic beauty.
Sapphires can be all of these beautiful colours, but they are never red. Anytime that chromium infiltrates corundum and colours it red, the gem is no longer called a sapphire. It is a ruby. The name ruby originated from the Latin word ruber which means red. Rubies, like sapphires, are one of the four gemstones that are considered precious because of their beauty and value.
What is Pleochroism and How Does It Affects the Colour of Sapphires?
Every sapphire has more than one trace metal in it. Most of them have one dominant metal that gives them their primary colour and then one or more secondary metals that cause pleochroism or overtones of different colours. For instance, blue sapphires often have violet overtones and yellow sapphires usually have touches of green. These overtones cause sapphires to slightly change colour when they are viewed from different angles.
Since pleochroism is present in all sapphires, jewellers must carefully study the sapphire’s colour and overtones before they cut it, so that the final gem has the best colour possible.
The Most Famous Sapphires in the World
We mentioned earlier that the majority of sapphires are blue. They can be any shade of blue from light baby blue to vivid cornflower blue to dark velvety blue that is almost black.
Interestingly, most of the famous sapphires in the world are blue, for example:
● The Star of India Sapphire – The Star of India is famous for its exceptional size and its double asterism or stars.
This sapphire comes from Sri Lanka and weighs 563.35 carats which make it about the size of a golf ball.
Thanks to a mineral called rutile the Star of India is an unusual milky blue colour and has a double asterism. This double asterism makes a visible star pattern on both the top and bottom of the Star of India.
All sapphires that have stars, including the Star of India, have a cabochon cut. The cabochon cut involves gently rounding the gem and then polishing it. Star sapphires are never given any facets because the facets would obscure their stars.
● Princess Diana’s Engagement Sapphire – In 1981, Prince Charles proposed to Princess Diana with a beautiful 12-carat sapphire. This sapphirealso came from Sri Lanka and has an elegant deep blue color that is enhanced by its oval cut. The sapphire is set in an 18k white gold engagement ring and surrounded by 14 solitaire diamonds.
Twenty-nine years later, Prince William used the same ring to ask the Duchess of Cambridge to marry him. It was his way of including his mother in the happy occasion.
● The Logan Sapphire – The Logan Sapphire stands out for being one of the largest faceted sapphires in the world, as well as for being almost flawless. This impressive 423-carat gem come from Sri Lanka and was given a mixed cushion cut before being set in a gold and silver brooch and surrounded with 20 brilliant-cut diamonds.
The Logan Sapphire was never given any heat treatments to enhance its color but naturally has a gorgeous blue color with slight violet overtones.
● The Stuart Sapphire – The Stuart Sapphire has a history that dates back to the mid-1600s and is one of the oldest sapphires in the world. It was owned by various English kings before it was permanently set in Queen Victoria’s Imperial State Crown.
The exact origin of the Stuart Sapphire is unknown. It weighs approximately 104 carats and has a rich blue colour. The Stuart Sapphire along with 16 other sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and almost 3,000 diamonds adorn the Imperial State Crown and represent the sovereignty of the British Monarch.
3 Important Factors That Will Help You Choose the Best Blue Sapphire
The secret to choosing a beautiful, high-quality blue sapphire is to consider the colour, clarity and cut of each gem.
1. Choose the right shade of blue
A blue sapphire’s colour is evaluated for three specific characteristics: hue, tone, and saturation.
● The sapphire’s hue – A sapphire’s hue refers to its overall colour. This includes its primary colour and any overtones that it has. The best blue sapphires have uniform colouring with little to no visible zoning.
Colour zoning happens when the colour of a gem is uneven and leaves spots or “zones” that are lighter or darker in colour than the rest of the stone.
Jewellers often use hyphenated colour words to describe a blue sapphire’s hue, for example, blue-violet and greenish-blue. In these hyphenated colour words, the sapphire’s colour overtones are listed first followed by its primary colour.
● The sapphire’s tone – The tone of a blue sapphire refers to the depth of its colour. A cornflower blue sapphire and dark blue sapphire are the same colour, but they have very different tones. The cornflower blue sapphire has a light-medium tone while the dark blue sapphire has a dark tone.
Blue sapphires are usually categorized as having a light tone, light-medium tone, medium tone, medium-dark tone or dark tone. As a general rule, blue sapphires with a medium or medium-dark tone have the highest value.
● The sapphire’s saturation – Saturation refers to the purity of a blue sapphire’s colour. A gem with gray or brown overtones is said to have poor saturation, while a sapphire with a vivid blue colour has good saturation.
2. Make sure that there are no noticeable inclusions
The overall clarity or purity of a blue sapphire is another factor that determines whether it is a quality gem or not. Clarity has to do with how many and what types of inclusions the sapphire has.
Every sapphire has inclusions. These inclusions are small particles inside the gem that are distinctly different from the rest of the sapphire.
Many things can cause an inclusion, including tiny cracks in the gem that healed as it grew, mineral fibers, trace metals that cause spots in the gem’s colour and even other crystals.
Thanks to their depth of colour, many sapphires hide their own inclusions and when necessary, jewellers can also cut sapphires in a way that masks more noticeable inclusions. The best quality sapphires are “eye-clean” which means that none of the inclusions in the gem are visible to the naked eye.
3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the cut
The third factor that influences a sapphire’s quality is its cut. In their natural state, sapphire crystals are hexagons. Jewellers take these raw hexagonal sapphires and cut them into a variety of shapes, including ovals, cushions, pear-shaped, and round.
A sapphire’s cut is very important. A poor-quality cut leaves a sapphire dull and lacking in colour, while a high-quality cut brings the sapphire to life by enhancing its natural colour and giving it brilliance.
There are standardized cuts for diamonds, but not for sapphires. Every sapphire is given a personalized cut to hide its inclusions, capture its best colour and in short, bring out its unique beauty.
A well-cut sapphire will always have a well-placed and even table on the crown of the gem and all of its facets will be symmetrical. The depth of a cut sapphire often varies according to its colour tones. Jewellers usually give light coloured sapphires a deep cut to add depth to its colour. Dark sapphires often have a shallow cut to allow more light into the gem and increase reflection, so that the gem is brighter and has optimal brilliance.
What is considered to be a high-quality blue sapphire?
Blue sapphires that have vivid and uniform colouring with medium to medium-dark tones are usually considered to be the most beautiful. When you pair this beautiful colouring with great clarity and a good cut, you have a high-quality blue sapphire.
Blue sapphires with these qualities are outstanding in any engagement ring and they have the highest value per carat.
Sapphires Are Less Expensive Than Diamonds
Every gem has a specific density. If you place a 1-carat sapphire and a 1-carat diamond side by side, they will have the same weight but be different sizes.
For example, a round cut sapphire that weighs 1 carat will have a diameter of 6 mm, while a round cut diamond that also weighs 1 carat will have a diameter of 6.4 mm. This difference in size is due to the sapphire having a greater density than the diamond.
Occasionally the differences in size between gems of the same weight cause confusion as the gems are chosen and set. To prevent this confusion, jewellers usually list the carat weight of a sapphire along with its dimensions in millimeters.
Although sapphires are heavier gemstones compared to diamonds, their prices are generally lower. This makes it possible for you to have a larger gemstone for a similar budget.
Only Buy a Sapphire That Comes With a Colored Stone Report
Sapphires do not receive a certificate like diamonds. Instead, sapphires receive a Colored Stone Report. We recommend that you buy a sapphire that has a report from a reliable gem lab so that you know exactly what you are purchasing.
The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, Gübelin Gem Lab, GIA, and the IGI all issue trustworthy colored stone reports. All of the sapphires that we sell have a report from the IGI (International Gemological Institute). These reports list the following information for each sapphire:
● Species – The type of stone
● Variety – Whether it is a natural stone or made synthetically.
● Shape and cut – Details about its shape and cut.
● Weight – Its exact weight in carats.
● Measurements – Exact measurements of its height, width and length in millimeters.
● Colour – A description of its colour.
● Transparency – Whether it is transparent, semi-opaque or opaque.
● Characteristics – Notes about inclusions and any other outstanding characteristics.
Most colored stone reports also come with a clear picture of the gem.
Sapphires Should Only Be Bought From Fairtrade Mining Companies
Sapphires are mined from riverbeds, deep underground pit mines, and large strip mines. Each of these mines can be dangerous to the miners and also the environment. It is important, therefore, to only purchase sapphires that come from fairtrade and responsible mining companies.
A fairtrade mining company always:
● Pays their miners fairly.
● Invests in safety equipment and practices that counterbalance the dangers of the mine.
● Works to improve the quality of life in the society around them.
● Implements sustainable mining practices.
When we buy from mining companies that hold to these high standards, we are supporting our fellow men and the environment. All the sapphires that we sell come from fairtrade mining companies.
Beware of Sapphire Treatments That Harm the Gem
The molten magma and newly formed rocks that surround sapphires as they crystalize range in temperature from 700°C to 1300°C.
Gemologists have discovered that sapphires formed in the hotter part of this temperature range have better colour and clarity than those that form under cooler temperatures.
Because of the important influence that heat has on the beauty of sapphire, most jewellers heat sapphires before cutting them to improve their colour and fade inclusions. Treating sapphires with heat is an accepted industry standard for these gemstones.
Besides heat, there are other treatments that can improve a sapphire’s appearance. Unfortunately, these treatments change the natural structure and composition of the sapphire and result in an inferior gem.
We don’t sell sapphires that have undergone harmful treatments and recommend that you not invest in sapphires that have been treated with anything besides heat. The most common sapphire treatments that harm the gem are:
● Sapphire Irradiation – During irradiation, sapphires are bombarded with high levels of ionizing radiation. The radiation removes some inclusions and improves colour, but it also changes the atomic structure within the sapphire.
● Sapphires with fracture fillings – A small percentage of natural sapphires have small fractures. Jewellers are able to fill these fractures with a transparent resin that looks just like the gem once it is dry. The danger of fracture fillings is that over time the resin wears away and leaves the sapphire damaged.
● Sapphires treated with dyes – Some sapphires lack in colour even after they have been heated. In order to make these gems more desirable, some jewellers heat them to open up their pores and then introduce colored dyes into the gem to improve or even completely change its colour. The colour of dyed sapphires is not identical to natural sapphires and can fade over time.
● Beryllium treatment for sapphires – Beryllium treatment is relatively new to the jewellery market and can also be called lattice diffusion. During beryllium treatments, sapphires are heated and simultaneously exposed to beryllium, a chemical element frequently found in gems.
The heat and beryllium work together to change the chemical composition of the sapphire in a way that decreases some of its blue tones. Beryllium treatments are often used to enhance the colour of fancy sapphires, such as those that are yellow, pink or green.
Sapphires Can Also Be Made Synthetically
Since the late 1800s, scientists have been able to make synthetic gemstones, including sapphires. These synthetic sapphires are almost identical to natural sapphires in their chemical makeup and appearance.
Synthetic sapphires can be made in the following ways:
● Flame Fusion Sapphires – This is the oldest way of making synthetic sapphires. It involves heating specific chemicals in a high-temperature flame. The chemicals melt and fuse together forming a crystal.
● Pulled Crystal Sapphires – This process is similar to flame fusion except the chemicals are melted in a crucible. A seed crystal is then dipped into the chemicals and slowly pulled out as the synthetic sapphire grows around it.
● Flux-grown Sapphires – This is the slowest and most expensive way of producing synthetic sapphires. The flux is a liquid medium that contains all the chemicals necessary for making a sapphire. The flux is heated and then cooled very slowly so that the chemicals crystallize forming sapphires.
Synthetic gems were first made for industrial purposes. Today, however, they are also sold on the jewellery market. We prefer the beauty and quality of natural sapphires and do not work with synthetic sapphires.
Sapphires Usually Go Best With White Metals and Diamonds
Sapphire engagement rings include various visual components, including colours, shapes, and textures. Each component has its own beauty, but if we match each component with other complementary components, their combined beauty becomes outstanding.
So what precious metals and gemstones can be paired with sapphires to create an outstanding engagement ring?
White precious metals pair well with sapphires
White gold and platinum bring out the deep colours that sapphires, especially blue sapphires, are famous for. These white precious metals are also elegant and enhance the sapphire’s natural elegance
Diamonds are the best gems to use with sapphires
Sapphires can be set with various gems, but they go best with the clear, white beauty of diamonds. We always suggest that our clients choose diamonds with clarity between VVS2 and VS2 so that both the diamonds and sapphire will be “eye-clean” and not have any visible inclusions.
How to Take Care of Your Sapphire Engagement Ring?
Sapphire engagement rings don’t require any specialized care. We recommend that you wash them regularly with warm water and a mild detergent. If your ring becomes dirty, you can soak it in warm water for a few minutes and then scrub the band and gems with a soft toothbrush. Dry the ring well with a soft lint-free cloth.
It is a good idea to have a sapphire engagement ring cleaned by a jeweller once in a while. During the cleaning, the jeweller will check the gems and settings to see if they need any repairs.
The Symbology and Traditions of Sapphires
Sapphires in general and blue sapphires, in particular, symbolize the depth of true love, as well as sincerity, and faithfulness. Because of the qualities that they represent, sapphires are not only popular for engagement rings but also for anniversaries.
Sapphires are traditionally given for 5th and 45th wedding anniversaries, but they can be used to celebrate other anniversaries as well. In 2017, England held a Blue Sapphire Jubilee to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. During the jubilee, Queen Elizabeth received a snowflake brooch with a variety of blue sapphires.
Sapphires Have a Classic, but Trendy Beauty
There are many reasons to include sapphires in an engagement ring. They are valuable, they represent qualities that we want to express to the one we love and they are easy to care for. But perhaps the greatest advantage a sapphire can bring to an engagement ring is its beauty – a classic but trendy beauty that never goes out of style.