Sapphire, September’s Birthstone – The Royal Gemstone

The Sapphire Guide

Sapphire Birth Month?

In modern times, Sapphire is the birthstone for those born in the month of September but this has only been since the National Association of Jewelers released their official Birthstone list in 1912.

Prior to this, Sapphire was the birthstone for this born in the month of April according the the historic Roman, Italian, Russian, Hebrew and Arabic calendars and Sapphires are considered by some as an alternative to Diamond as a traditional April birthstone.

What is a Sapphire?

Sapphires are part of the Corundum family of gemstones and are the sister gemstone of Ruby. While commonly thought of as Blue gemstones, any member of type of Corundum that is not red in colour is known as a Sapphire.

This means that they come in pretty much any colour you can think of with popular colours being Blues, Pinks, Purples, Yellows and Oranges and it very much depends on where you are in the world as to what colour is most popular.

Sapphire History

Due to the beauty and rarity of Sapphires, they have featured prominently in our history but Sapphires are often known as the Royal Gemstone.

For us in the UK, this is because Sapphires have been associated, especially in recent history with our Royal Family as both Princess Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge have had engagement rings that featured a stunning Ceylon Blue Sapphire as the centre stone, Princess Eugenie also has a Sapphire in her engagement ring but instead of blue, she has a very rare Padparadscha Sapphire.

But Sapphires and Royalty can be dated back much further than that, to around the 2nd Century AD as Kings wore Sapphires as a way to protect them from harm.

Sapphires were also been held in high regard by Hindu’s, the Ancient Greeks and also the Ancient Persians. There are also references to Sapphires in the bible and were popular with the clergy for whom Sapphires were seen as a sanctified gem that was also associated with Chastity.

How Durable Are Sapphires?

Hardness: 9
Hardness: 9
Toughness: Very Good
Toughness: Very Good
Stability: Very Good
Stability: Very Good

Sapphires are very durable gemstones due to their high levels of hardness, with only Diamonds and Synthetic Moissanite being higher on the Mohs Scale of Hardness for gemstones. They are also very tough, meaning they are less likely to break or fracture than many gemstones, they are also very stable when exposed to physical changes such as heat and light or chemical changes such as being exposed to acids.

This means that Sapphires are great gemstones to be worn in all kinds of jewellery and make a great alternative to diamonds for engagement rings.

How can you tell a Good Quality Sapphire?

Colour

Possibly the most important factor when assessing whether a Sapphire is good quality or not is its colour.

Very good quality Sapphires will posses a rich, vibrant body colour with good hues and saturation that is spread evenly across the stone.

Blue Sapphire Colour Quality

The quality of the colour in blue Sapphires can vary quite a lot, as you can see in the image above.

  • The stone on the left is very dark and appears black when looking down through the top of the stone, it also has an opaque appearance (no light passing through the stone)
  • The middle stone has good clarity and transparency but the stone is a pale blue colour, this is a much better quality than the stone on the left but still not the most desirable.
  • The final stone is a fine gem quality Sapphire, it has good clarity and transparency but also possesses a very desirable deep, rich blue colour.

One thing that can be quite commonly found in Sapphires is angular colour zoning as can be seen in one of my rings.

Colour zoning is bands of colour that range from blue to colourless in Blue Sapphires, these are visible in the stone and may only be visible from certain angles, depending on how they have been cut.

These are not as desirable as Sapphires that have an even colour distribution but it is an indication that the stone is natural and it does add character.

Sapphire-Colour-Zoning

Which Colour Sapphire is the Most Expensive?

Natural Cornflower or Kashmir Blue Sapphires are the most expensive. Other shades of blue including Royal and Velvet are also very expensive. Outside of blue, the pinkish orange colour of Padparadscha is also very rare and expensive.

What is the Rarest Colour of Sapphire?

The rarest colour of Sapphire is called Padparadscha, which range from pinkish-orange to orangish-pink colour and is only found in small quantities.

Clarity

Another very important element in identifying whether a Sapphire is good quality or not is its clarity, this is how free from inclusions and blemishes the stone is and in the chart below, you can see the difference between the two:

Good Clarity

  • The Sapphire is transparent
  • No inclusions or blemishes are noticeable with the naked eye
  • Inclusions are not obvious or easy to see under 10x magnification

Poor Clarity

  • The Sapphire is opaque
  • Inclusions are noticeable to the naked eye
  • Some inclusions may affect the durability of the Sapphire

Not all inclusions are bad in a Sapphire though and some can be used to identify the origin of the stone and also whether or not it has been treated.

While the majority of time, most people will be looking for an ‘eye clean’, transparent Sapphire, there is one exception to the rule!

And that is Star Sapphires, which are heavily included, opaque Sapphires that show a phenomenon known as asterism, which you can clearly see in the GIA picture.

The Asterism is caused by lots of rutile needles within the stone that follow the growth structure of the natural crystal and when the stone is cut properly, the light reflects off these inclusions to cause the appearance of the star.

These are highly desirable amongst collectors.

Treatments

It is estimated that over 90% of the Sapphires for sale at any given time have been treated or enhanced in some way. However, not all treatments are the same and while some are industry accepted, some are not and can have a negative impact on the value of the stone.

Heat Treatment

  • Industry accepted treatment
  • Permanent and stable treatment
  • Replicates what happens in nature
  • Improves the colour by lightening or darkening the stone

Glass or Fracture Filling

  • Treatment isn’t permanent
  • Only done on poor quality Sapphires
  • Can affect the durability of the stone
Treated and Synthetic Blue Sapphires
Heavily Treated and Synthetic Blue Sapphire

How to tell if a Sapphire is Real?

As with all gemstones, it is always best to take the stone to a qualified gemmologist to get an accurate identification, this is because it takes a combination of equipment, knowledge and experience to know what to look for in order to be able to know what the stone is and whether it is natural.

‘Fake’ Sapphires fall into one of two categories:

Synthetic Sapphires

  • Man made Sapphires
  • Look the same as Natural Sapphires
  • Sometimes called lab-created Sapphires

Sapphire Simulants

  • Any gemstone that looks like a Sapphire
  • Can be natural stones such as Spinel
  • Can be man made stones such as Glass
So how can you tell a real from a fake Sapphire?

Sapphires are actually one of the harder gemstones to identify with simple equipment such as a 10x jewellers loupe but the process a gemmologist may take to identify what the stone is and if it is natural would be:

  • View the stone under magnification such as a 10x loupe or microscope to look at the condition of the stone as softer stones such as glass will often show more signs of damage and for inclusions in the stone, natural Sapphire inclusions may include:
    • Angular colour zoning
    • Crystal inclusions
  • Use a polariscope to identify whether the stone is isotropic or anisotropic
  • Use a refractometer to check the refractive index of the stone

Once the stone has been identified as a Sapphire, further investigation into the inclusions can be used to potentially identify the origin of the stone.

Where are Sapphires Found?

Sapphires are found in many countries around the world and many of these countries can be sources of fine gem quality stones but when it comes to Blue Sapphires, there are a few countries that stand out.

The most famous and desirable location for Blue Sapphires is Kashmir and not only are the finest stones from this region incredible for their stunning blue colour but they are also rare as the Old Mine where these stones were found was exhausted in 1888. Some specimens have been found in the region since but nothing on a commercial scale.

While more widely known for the finest Rubies, the Mogok region of Burma (Myanmar) has also been a source of some of the finest Blue Sapphires ever found, including some very large examples and some of the finest Star Sapphires ever found. But the amount of Sapphires from Burma is quite small and this makes them very rare and highly desirable.

Sri Lanka is the world’s leading source of gem quality blue Sapphires, known commercially as Ceylon Sapphires, with production far outstripping that from Kashmir and Burma. While primarily known for their stunning Blue Sapphires, many other colours of Sapphire are found in Sri Lanka, including the beautiful and incredibly rare Padparadscha Sapphire, which is names after the pinkish orange colour of the Lotus Blossom flower.

Other notable countries for Sapphires includes Madagascar, which has become one of the more popular sources for Blue Sapphires. Australia also has good sources of Sapphire but their Blue Sapphires tend to be quite a bit darker than other sources around the world but Australia is a leading source of Parti Sapphires, which are bi-colour Sapphires and they have become increasingly popular in recent years.

An interesting source of Sapphires is Montana, USA as it is one of the few sources found in the northern hemisphere and while the sources aren’t as big as some others that have been mentioned, some exceptional fine quality Sapphires have been found here.

Famous Sapphires


The World's Most Expensive Sapphire

The Blue Belle of Asia

We start with the Most Expensive Sapphire ever sold at public auction.

The Blue Belle of Asia is a 392.52 carat, untreated Ceylon Sapphire and it sold for over $17 million in 2014. It is also one of the largest faceted Sapphires in the world.

Blue Giant of the Orient

Talking of large Sapphires, the Blue Giant of the Orient is the largest faceted Sapphire in the world, weighing in at an incredible 486.52 carats.

Just like the Blue Belle, the Blue Giant is a Ceylon Sapphire but when it went to auction in 2004, it came nowhere close in terms of price, selling for $1 million following the auction.


Blue Giant of the Orient

Star of Adam Sapphire

The Star of Adam

While the two Sapphires above are large examples of Sapphires, they are both dwarfed by the 1404.49 Star of Adam and as you can see from the picture, its HUGE!

It was also a very recent find as it was only found in 2016 and once again came from the rich gem deposits in Sri Lanka.

%d bloggers like this: