Whether you are buying a Sapphire for an Engagement ring, birthday (it is Septembers birthstone) or anniversary gift (45), you want to know that you are buying the best stone that you can afford and one that is perfect for you.
But in order to do this, you need to have an idea what you are looking for and the kind of questions to ask in order to achieve this and in this post, we are going to cover everything you need to know about buying one of these beautiful gemstones.
Are Sapphires Good For Daily Wear?
If you are buying a Sapphire to go in a ring, you want to know whether it can stand up to the daily wear and tear that a ring goes through, especially if it is going in an engagement ring that is going to be worn every day for the rest of their lives, so are Sapphires good for daily wear?
Yes, Sapphires are a very good gemstone that can be worn daily as they are a very durable gemstone, which makes them a great option for engagement rings and a good alternative to Diamond.
When talking about durability of gems, it can be broken down into three main components, which are:
- Hardness – this how hard the surface of the gemstones is
- Toughness – this is how strong the stone is in terms of the stone breaking or fracturing
- Stability – which is how well the stone deals with physical and chemical changes such as heat, light and exposure to chemicals (things like cleaning products etc)
And Sapphires are very good in all three of these, which we have broken down below:
Hardness: 9 (Very Good)
Toughness: Very Good
Stability: Very Good
In terms of hardness, Sapphires are one of the hardest natural gemstones and score 9 on the Mohs hardness scale with only Diamond being harder at 10.
They are also very tough, meaning they are less likely to break or fracture than many gemstones and are very stable.
What To Look For When Buying a Sapphire
In this section of the guide, I’m going to be covering the different quality factors that impact the value of Sapphires as they can range from a few pounds per carats to millions per carat depending on these different factors.
Possibly the most important factor when assessing whether a Sapphire is good quality or not is its colour but it is broken down into two sections, which are the colour of the stone and the quality of the colour.
When most people think of Sapphire, they think of Blue but Sapphires can be found in pretty much any colour you can think of, including Green, Yellow, Purple, Orange and Pink amongst many others.
When it comes to value, some colours are more valuable than others due to the demand and availability of that colour in the market with Purples and Pinks having higher values than the same quality Greens and Yellows.
The two most valuable colours when it comes to Sapphire are certain Blues, which include trade names such as Cornflower or Royal Blue and the very rare Padparadscha Sapphire, which is a stunning blend of orange and pink that resembles the colour of the lotus flower.
Quality of the Colour
The body colour of the Sapphire does have an impact on the value of the stone but the bigger impact is the quality of the colour, with very good quality Sapphires will posses a rich, vibrant body colour with good hues and saturation that is spread evenly across the stone.
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.
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:
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.
The next quality factor is cut and just like colour, this is broken down into two parts, which are the style of the cut and the quality of cut.
Style of Cut
The majority of natural Sapphires on the market are usually cut in one of four styles, which are:
- Cushion (including elongated cushions)
- Emerald or Hexagonal
This is because these styles not only help bring out the stunning colour found in Sapphires but also produce the best yield from the rough crystal from which they are cut.
But Sapphires can also be cut into Marquise and Heart shapes but the demand for the styles of cut are quite a bit lower than the four popular cut styles.
Quality of Cut
Not all Sapphires are cut to the same quality, this usually isn’t an issue with more expensive Sapphires as the cutter takes more time to make sure the stone is cut and polished to a high standard as the stone will be worth more as a result.
But this can be an issue with lower quality Sapphires and can result in:
- Poor proportions such as the crown or pavilion being too deep or shallow
- Facets not being aligned properly
- Table being off-centre
- Wonky girdle
This can make the gem not look as good as it could if it had been cut properly and it also makes setting the stone into a piece of jewellery more challenging for the setter.
I might as well finish off the 4 C’s for Sapphires as carat, which is the measurement that is used to weigh gemstones is also a factor to consider when buying a Sapphire as it will have an impact on the value of the stone.
As with all gemstones, the heavier the stone, the more it will cost per carat and stones weighing more than 1ct will attract a premium over stones that weight less than a carat when all other factors are equal.
Sapphires weighing more than 3 or 4 carats will have a higher price per carat as heavier stones with good colour and clarity are rarer than the equivalent quality stones that weigh less.
One thing that you should know is that a heavier stone doesn’t always mean that the stone will be bigger in terms of the size (all gemstones are measured by their length and width or their diameter for round stones).
For example, you could have two 8x6mm Oval Sapphires and depending on how they are cut, the weights could range from just over 1 carat to over 2 carat.
This differs from Diamonds as they are cut to specific dimensions and an 8x6mm Oval Diamond would weigh somewhere around 1.2 carats.
One factor that can have a big impact on the value of a Sapphire is if and how the stone has been treated and 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 and below are two of the most common types of treatment when it comes to Sapphires:
Glass or Fracture Filling
So how do treatments affect the value of a Sapphire:
- Untreated Sapphires – this will attract a premium over a Sapphire of the same quality and size that has been heat treated
- Heat Treated Sapphires – these sell for less than their untreated counterparts and as the majority of Sapphires on the market have been heat treated (and are assumed to have been unless explicitly stated that they haven’t), a lot of pricing is based around heat treated stones
- Glass or Fracture Filled Sapphires – these sell for considerably less than other Sapphires as they are known to be low-quality stones and the treatment isn’t permanent (avoid these if possible!)
If the seller of the stone is claiming that the stone is untreated, then you ideally want a report from a reputable gem lab to back this up as untreated stones attract a premium over treated stones.
Most retailers won’t say that a Sapphire has been heat treated as it is generally accepted that the stone has been unless it comes with a report stating that is hasn’t but every stone that has been glass or fracture filled should be disclosed.
A very important thing you want to know when buying a Sapphire is whether the stone is natural or synthetic as the price difference between a natural and synthetic of similar qualities can be hugely different!
For example the synthetic blue Sapphire in the image has a retail value of around £30 but a natural stone with the colour and clarity could easily be worth a few hundred to thousands a carat depending on whether the stone is treated or not and where it was mined.
If the stone is being sold as a Sapphire, then it is assumed that the stone is natural as all synthetic stones state that is synthetic, man-made or lab-created so that you as the buyer know that it isn’t a natural Sapphire.
The origin of a stone (where it was mined) can also impact on the value of a Sapphire as some locations are more desirable than other, for example, a Kashmir Sapphire will attract a premium over a similar quality stone from Burma (Myanmar) or Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon Sapphires).
Now, not every seller is going to know the answer to this question and it is nothing against them as not every Sapphire on the market has been either been traced from mine to the retailer or has a gem report that includes an origin report.
But if a seller is claiming that the stone is from a certain location, especially one from where stones command a premium, such as Kashmir, then the seller does need to provide some provenance to prove this, which will usually be in the form of a gem report from a reputable lab.
The majority of Sapphires on the market will come from countries such as Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and Madagascar but there are also some very nice stones from Australia and Montana, USA (which is one of the only places in the northern hemisphere where Sapphires are found).
As I’ve mentioned these a few times in this guide, I thought it best to expand on these a bit more as not all Gemstone Reports are the same (often called certificates, although this is the wrong term!).
This is because there are many different gem labs around the world, many of which have a good reputation and are highly respected including the GIA, SSEF and Gubelin, while not quite at the level of the three just mentioned, reports from IGI and AnchorCert (part of the Birmingham Assay Office) can also be trusted.
Depending on the testing that has been done, the report can include:
- Information about the stone, size, weight etc
- The identity of the stone
- Whether the stone is natural or synthetic
- If the stone has been treated or not
- The origin of the stone (it is not possible to do this on some stones)
And the information regarding whether the stone is natural or synthetic, treated or not and the origin are the opinion of the gemmologist who has tested the stone, they aren’t facts, which is why it is a report and not a certificate and if the stone is sent to another lab, the information on the report may be different to the original report.
But the people testing the stones are highly trained and have access to very good and expensive equipment to help them test the stone.
Then you have the not so good gem labs and these are one that provide a certificate of authenticity or something similar and the certificate or whatever they call it isn’t worth the paper it is written on, so when the seller claims the stone comes with a report or certificate, ask to see it and check to see that:
- The lab is a legitimate institution
- That you can check the report online (most good labs offer this)
- Make sure the stone matches the report (size, weight etc)
This way you can have the piece of mind that the report and the stone are what they are claimed to be.
5 Tips for Buying a Sapphire
Now that you have learnt a bit about Sapphires, I thought it best to give you some tips so that you can make the buying process as easy and enjoyable as possible.
1. Set A Budget
I can’t stress this one enough, set yourself a budget of what you are prepared to spend and if you are buying a piece of jewellery, this is the budget for the whole piece.
And once you have set your budget, let the person you are talking to, whether a sales person, designer or jeweller what your budget is as this makes the whole process so much easier as making the person on the side play a guessing game of what your budget is doesn’t help anyone.
You won’t be judged, no matter what the size of your budget but what it does do is make the sales person or jewellers life easier as they can then tailor their offering to fit your budget.
2. Buy From A Reputable Seller
Always do your research before buying or putting down a deposit on a piece into the person or company you are buying from and it is very easy to do that online as most businesses will have feedback from previous customers.
This may be on Google, their Facebook page, through their website or review sites such as Trustpilot and if they do have a one or more negative reviews, read what the reason for the negative review is as sometimes it just a disgruntled customer who couldn’t get their own way rather than the seller doing anything wrong (can you tell I’ve sold jewellery before?).
3. See The Stones in Person (if Possible)
If you can, always look at the stone with your own eyes before committing to buy it as photographing gemstones is very difficult and they don’t always look the same in real life as they do in a picture.
Sometimes they can look better (which is a good thing) but they can also not be a colourful, lively or bright as the picture suggests.
If you are looking at a loose stone (before it has been set), also be aware that the stone might look different when it has been set as depending on the style of setting, there may not be as much light getting into the stone.
4. If It Looks Too Good To Be True – It Probably Is
While you can definitely get a good deal out there when it comes to buying a Sapphire, the truth is that if the stone looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Many people have bought stones online, whether through online market places or supposed dealers only to find that the stone isn’t what they thought it was when they get it checked by a gemmologist or valued.
I personally have seen people by ‘Natural, Untreated Blue Sapphires’ only for them to be heavily treated or synthetic Sapphires and in some cases even blue glass.
5. Buy The Sapphire You Like
Many people get caught up in trying to buy the best Sapphire they can or one that ticks certain boxes but by doing this you might end up buying a stone that you or the person you are buying it for doesn’t even like.
And while I do highly recommend avoiding glass or fracture filled stones due to the durability issues with them, for all other Sapphires, just buy what you like, especially if you are buying it for yourself as you are going to be looking at the stone everyday.
This is where seeing a selection of Sapphires in person is the best thing to do in my opinion as you will see a stone that catches your eye and that you keep going back to, which tells you that stone is for you!
Sapphire Buying FAQ
Kashmir Blue Sapphires are the most expensive. Other shades of blue including Cornflower, Royal and Velvet are also very expensive. Outside of blue, the pinkish orange colour of Padparadscha is also very rare and expensive.
The rarest colour of Sapphire is called Padparadscha, which range from pinkish-orange to orangish-pink colour and is only found in small quantities.
I know that this is a bit of a long guide but I wanted to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can buy the perfect Sapphire for yourself or the person you plan on giving it to.
And by educating yourself around Sapphires, you can make a more informed buying decision that will hopefully result in you getting the perfect stone and not overpaying for it.