Sapphire

“Hail the jewel in the heart of the lotus.”

Buddhist Mantra

Etymology

Blue Sapphire: the raw crystal and a cut gemstone

Blue Sapphire: the raw crystal and a cut gemstone

The name ‘Sapphire’ derives from the Latin ‘sappheiros,' meaning blue. Some believe it comes from the Hebrew ‘sappir’ (precious stone) or Sanskrit ‘sanipriya’. Used to describe a dark precious stone, ‘sanipriya’ means ‘sacred to Saturn’ and this entomology lends credence to the fact that Sapphire is regarded as the gem of Saturn in Indian astrological beliefs. Historically, ‘sappheiros’ usually referred to Lapis Lazuli rather than Blue Corundum, with the modern Sapphire probably called ‘hyakinthos’ in ancient Greece.

Chemical composition of Sapphire

Ruby and Sapphire are colored varieties of the mineral Corundum (aluminum oxide crystals), which derives its name from the Sanskrit word for Rubies and Sapphires, ‘kuruvinda’. Corundum produces ‘allochromatic’ gemstones, meaning that trace amounts of elements such as chromium, iron and titanium as well as color centers (imperfections in the crystal) are responsible for producing its rainbow of colors.

Color Change Sapphire

Color Change Sapphire

Sapphire extraction

The wonderful hues of Padparadscha Sapphire

The wonderful hues of Padparadscha Sapphire

Although Blue Sapphires traditionally hail from Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Mogok), other sources include Australia, Cambodia (Pailin), China, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Nigeria, Tanzania, Thailand, the U.S. (Montana) and Vietnam. Even though Australia produced approximately 70 percent of the world’s Sapphires during the 80s, the poor old Aussie Blue Sapphire is much maligned, often unfairly pigeonholed as too inky or overly green. Starting in the 1990s, Madagascar became established as the new leading source of Sapphires, accounting for about twenty percent of current production. Sapphires from Madagascar have really impacted the gem world’s perception of this country, despite the fact that the finest Blue Sapphires were discovered in Kashmir (India) around 1881, with the deposit ostensibly depleted by the 1930s. Occasionally re-entering the market in antique jewelry or as collectors’ investment gemstones, Kashmir Sapphires are especially noted for a fine silk that imparts a soft velvety blue, with only minor areas of darkness in a table-up gem.

The history of Sapphire

Like all famous gemstones, Blue Sapphire features in mythological and religious stories. While Persians believed Sapphire’s reflections gave the sky its colors, this gem also scores several mentions in the Scripture. In Exodus (24:10), the throne of God is paved with Blue Sapphire of a heavenly clarity. Blue Sapphire is also one of the 12 ‘stones of fire’ (Ezekiel 28:13-16) set in the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:15-30). As one of the 12 gemstones set in the foundations of the city walls of Jerusalem (Revelations 21:19), Sapphire is also associated with the Apostle St. Paul. According to Greek mythology, the first person to wear September’s birthstone was Prometheus. Apparently, he took a Blue Sapphire at the same time he ‘borrowed’ the fire that got him into so much trouble. Blue Sapphire is also believed to bring peace and joy to those who wear it.

Properties of Sapphire

Fancy Sapphire

Fancy Sapphire

Sapphires are transparent and come in various colors, including blue, blue-violet, blue-green and combinations of these colors. They occasionally present strong pleochroism, displaying different colors depending on the angle of observation. Sapphire shows its best side in natural or fluorescent light, while incandescent lighting does nothing to flatter Blue Sapphire. While both Ruby and Sapphires are classed as Type II gemstones (gems that typically grow with some minor inclusions in nature that may be eye-visible), Sapphires are usually cleaner (and larger) than Ruby, with an eye-clean clarity (no visible inclusions when the gem is examined 15 centimeters from the naked eye) being the typical standard fine microscopic inclusions (called ‘flour,' ‘milk’ or ‘silk’) in some Blue Sapphires can impart a ‘velvety’ or ‘sleepy’ appearance that boosts both beauty and value.

Varieties of Sapphire

In common usage, ‘Sapphire’ refers solely to the blue varieties, although one should always add the color before the name to indicate the existence of other colors. Sapphires of other colors are collectively described as ‘Fancy Sapphires,' or their color is added as a prefix. Trace elements like chrome, iron and titanium create the blue, green, orange, red, violet and yellow hues.

Rare Black Star Sapphire

Rare Black Star Sapphire

Another variety is the Star Sapphire. ‘Asterism’ or ‘star effect’ is caused by needle-shaped inclusions that form a star on the surface of the gemstone. Also called ‘silk,' these Rutile inclusions are even more evident in a well-cut stone, where they should appear as straight and equidistant rays. Six pointed stars are the standard, but stars with up to twelve points are available in the marketplace.

Care for Sapphire

Sapphires may be subjected to normal cleaning, including steam or ultrasound cleaning.