Have A Sapphire Query? If you would like to find out more about your sapphire jewellery, our Director of Jewellery, James Nicholson, and his team would be delighted to hear from you: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Phone: +44 (0) 1635 553 553 | Request a valuation
Revered for millennia by Royalty, the powerful and influential, sapphires have been amongst the most coveted gemstones throughout history. The word sapphire possibly originates from the Latin saphirus and Greek sappheiros, and had many ancient associations with the planet Saturn. Sapphires have historically been ascribed with many powerful attributes. The Ancient Persians believed that the reflections from a huge blue sapphire pedestal that supported the earth, created the blue of the sky. In the Hindu tradition, sapphires were the roots of the Kalpavriksh, the wish-fulfilling divine tree, in which rubies were the fruit of the tree, with its trunk made of diamond.
The Ancient Greeks associated sapphires with the god Apollo, and priests would wear sapphires whilst consulting the Oracle at Delphi. In Biblical tradition the Ten Commandments are said to have been given to Moses on a slab of sapphire (although this could have been lapis lazuli). Later sapphires were used in ecclesiastical rings worn by the Christian clergy, as sapphires were regarded to be sanctified gems symbolising chastity, piety and repentance. Medieval Popes encouraged cardinals to wear sapphire rings on their blessing hand.
Historically, Emperors, Kings and other Royals have possessed and worn sapphires to attract Divine favour and wealth, whilst at the same time symbolising purity and wisdom and protecting the wearer from envy and infidelity, making sapphires a very powerful amulet against any harm. Not only were sapphires an antidote to poisons, they could even ward off and kill poisonous snakes, banish evil spirits and repel negative spells from sorcerers. Aside from their power to act against poisons, sapphires had other healing powers, and were considered to be a cure for eye diseases from the time of the Ancient Egyptians and into the Middle Ages. Ivan the Terrible, who reigned in 16th century Muscovy, believed that sapphires had the power to strengthen the heart and muscles.
Sapphires are now associated with anniversaries and Royal Jubilees. A 45th Wedding Anniversary has been dedicated as the Sapphire Anniversary, and a monarch reigning for 65 years would celebrate their Sapphire Jubilee. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee in February 2017, having become the longest reigning monarch in British history in 2015.
Sapphires are found in alluvial deposits such as dried up riverbeds, and in underground mines. They are mined in many parts of the world, with the largest current sapphire mining production taking place in East Africa (Madagascar) and Australia.
KASHMIR SAPPHIRES: The most prized and fabled sapphires were found in Kashmir and are amongst the most expensive and sought after of all gemstones. Kashmir sapphires are prized for their incomparable cornflower blue colour with the highest concentration of blue colouration. They have a velvet like sheen caused by minute inclusions giving a milky bluish hue and described by some as a somewhat “sleepy” in appearance.
The majority of Kashmir sapphires were discovered in the late 19th century. A deposit of the finest sapphires was unearthed in 1881 following a landslide in the Padar Region of the Kudi Valley, on the southwestern slopes of Zanskar Mountain range in the Himalayas at more than 13,000 feet above sea level. This highly inaccessible place, which took more than five days to trek to from the nearest road head, produced the most fabulous sapphires. The Maharajah of Kashmir quickly sent a garrison of Sepoys to guard the mine, thus protecting his revenues from opportunist gem prospectors. The sapphire deposits were found near the surface amongst the debris caused by the landslide and were therefore not mined at any depth greater than a few feet. Although the mining activity could only take place between July and September, due to the annual snow falls in the region, the area was fully mined out of its sapphires after only five years of prospecting between 1882 and 1887. Once this area, known as the Old Mine, ceased to yield any more sapphires, the Maharajah tasked geologists with finding new deposits of sapphires close by.
From 1888 until the early 20th century more deposits were discovered in nearby, in an area called the New Mine. The New Mine was sporadically worked until the 1930s, but yielded very little gem quality stones, and mining was all but abandoned in about 1932. The gem deposits in the Padar Region continue to be heavily guarded and have occasionally been worked to reveal small amounts of gem quality sapphire since 1952. Various mining companies have been given licences to prospect for sapphires in the area whilst mining for other gem varieties, but often without profitable results, and have failed to find any new significant sapphire deposits. The scarcity of sapphires from this fabled region does of course mean that Kashmir sapphires are extremely rare, and don’t appear on the market terribly often.
BURMESE SAPPHIRES: Burmese sapphires are a vibrant but intense darker blue than Kashmir sapphires. They are characterised by their very fine rutile needle inclusions, known as ‘silk’. Gem collectors and connoisseurs prize Burmese sapphires for their intense depth of colour. Gem quality sapphires have been found and mined in Burma, now Myanmar, for over 1000 years. Burmese sapphires occur in the Mogok Stone Tract, between the Mandalay Division and Shan State of upper Myanmar, more than 400 miles north of the capital Yangon. This region of Myanmar is also feted for the most prized Pigeon Blood red rubies, as well as other sought-after gemstones such as jadeite, topaz, peridot, spinel and zircon. It is estimated that there are around 1200 gemstone mining operations in the Mogok region, comprised of artisanal men and women one-man-band miners, to local cooperatives and a few large-scale industrial mining concerns. Gemstone mining still takes place amongst surface deep alluvial deposits and in open pit mines, but these are becoming rapidly depleted, and more highly mechanised deeper scale mining is replacing the traditional methods of mining in Mogok.
SRI LANKAN or CEYLON SAPPHIRES: Sapphires have been mined in Sri Lanka for nearly 2000 years. Known to ancient traders as Ratna-Dweepa, or Gem Island, Sri Lanka has an abundance of precious gemstone varieties including sapphire, amethyst, topaz, chrysoberyl, zircon and tourmaline. Marco Polo commented on the Sri Lankan sapphire mines during his travels in the late 13th century. Today, most of the production of these sapphires is from Ratnapura, in the middle of the island, southeast of Colombo.
Sri Lankan sapphires are sought after for their lighter vivid blue colour and are quite frequently found in large clear stones of 5 carats to over 20 carats. These vivid light blue sapphires have been marketed in the jewellery trade as Ceylon Sapphires. Sri Lankan sapphires can exhibit a slight, and sometimes quite marked, colour change from light blue to a violet tinge in different lights. Other coloured sapphires are found in Sri Lanka alongside the blue variety include the Padparadscha Sapphire. Sri Lanka is the only source of this most rare and highly valued sapphire. Padparadscha Sapphires are the most wonderful pinkish-orange colour, and the name Padparadscha is derived from the Sanskrit word for Lotus flower.
AMERICAN SAPPHIRES: In the 1860s deposits of sapphires were found in Montana, U.S.A, along the alluvial plains of the Missouri River at Yogo Gulch in Judith Basin County. Some blue pebbles from the deposits that were found in the 1860s were not immediately recognised as sapphires. It was only in 1894, when the stones were sent to New York for the eminent gemmologist George Frederick Kunz to examine, that they were discovered to be sapphires. Kunz described the blue pebbles as ‘the finest gemstones ever found in the United States’, and Tiffany & Co purchased all of them for $3750 (about $112,000 today). The Yogo Mine sapphires are of a vibrant cornflower blue colour and are often set in very pretty late 19th century and early 20th century Art Nouveau style jewellery. The sapphire mines at Yogo Gulch became increasingly unprofitable to mine after the 1920s, and although sapphires of all colours are still mined in other parts of Montana, they are not of the same quality as those from the Yogo mines.
FROM AFRICA TO AUSTRALIA... Today sapphires are mined in many parts of the world. The majority of the sapphires found in modern jewellery come from mines near the town of Ilakaka in Madagascar, and from Australia. These sapphires tend to be darker, sometimes so dark they can appear almost black, or more of a midnight, inky blue. Sapphires are also mined in Mozambique, Tanzania, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as in the historical regions of Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Montana.
Sapphires belong to the mineral family of corundum, which is aluminium oxide, and can occur in a rainbow of colours from blue to yellow, pink, violet, green and colourless, with the red variety of corundum being what we call ruby. Sapphires occur in this variety of colour due to small amounts of trace elements in the crystals. The presence of iron and titanium will turn a sapphire a wonderful blue, whilst chromium will turn them pink and red (ruby). Yellow sapphires are coloured by iron, and vanadium will turn sapphires violet.
Corundum is the second hardest natural mineral on the Mohs scale of hardness. This means sapphire crystals can take a very bright polish, which is resistant to being scratched, making it an ideal gem to set into jewellery. Sapphires are also very resistant to chemical attack. The hardness and resulting polish, alongside their high refractive index (the ability to reflect light) enable sapphires to become brightly coloured, highly prized and valued gemstones. They often occur in quite large crystals, which means they can be cut into large gem quality specimens of 10-20 carats and larger.
As previously alluded to, sapphires come in a variety of other colours apart from blue. In recent decades the different coloured sapphires have come to the attention of jewellery collectors, and thus there has been an increased interest amongst the public in them.
PINK SAPPHIRES were very rare until the 1990s, and were only occasionally found in Edwardian and Art Deco jewellery. Since the 1990s, good quality pink sapphires have been found in reasonable quantities in Madagascar, which is where the majority of pink sapphires come from. Pink sapphires are also found in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and East Africa. Pink sapphires range in colour from pale pink to vivid magenta. The most prized are a rich pink hue with purple overtones, with the depth of the pink colouration being caused by the amount of chromium present in the stone. Chromium also causes the red colour of ruby. There is a very thin dividing line as to where a pink sapphire technically becomes a ruby, and there is no acknowledged gemmological standard defining this dividing line. Indeed, in some circumstances one gemmologist might describe a pink corundum as a pink sapphire, whilst another might call the same stone a ruby.
YELLOW SAPPHIRES found some fame in Edwardian and Art Deco jewellery of the early 20th century. The most sought-after yellow sapphires are a vibrant canary yellow. The yellow colour of sapphires is caused by traces of iron. The finest fully saturated vivid yellow to deep orange-yellow sapphires come from Sri Lanka and Madagascar, and this attractive colour has sparked the interest of jewellery buyers. Yellow sapphire can occur in quite large specimens of up to 20 carats and more. More commercial yellow sapphires are also found amongst the gem deposits in Australia, Thailand and Burma. The prices of the finest yellow sapphires have been steadily rising in recent years.
VIOLET or PURPLE SAPPHIRES are far rarer than the more traditional blue sapphires. Once known as “Oriental Amethyst”, the best specimens have a very bright royal deep purple colouration. Purple sapphires are found in the same locations as the other varieties of sapphire.
COLOUR CHANGE SAPPHIRES are rare and exhibit a colour change when viewed in daylight or in incandescent light. The colour in these stones can change from blue to violet, and from violet purple to reddish purple. There are rare colour-change sapphires that change from green in daylight to reddish brown in incandescent light, in a similar manner to the highly prized alexandrite. Colour change sapphires can have a weak (barely perceptible) colour change, whilst more valuable colour change sapphires will exhibit strong and very noticeable changes in colour under different lighting.
GREEN SAPPHIRES are found in Montana (USA), Madagascar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ceylon, Burma, Australia, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and China. They range in colour from an olive green to dark green and grey green. Green sapphires are rarely seen in jewellery and are amongst the least valuable of all the varieties of sapphire.
COLOURLESS SAPPHIRES were traditionally used as a diamond simulant. However, colourless, or white, sapphires are not a convincing substitute for a diamond, as they lack the brightness and reflective properties of diamond. Colourless sapphires are often found in traditional Indian jewellery.
In antique, and especially Victorian jewellery, sapphires were cut in an oval mixed cut style, with the top (crown) being cut in a similar fashion to a brilliant cut diamond with 33 facets, and the base (pavilion) with fewer facets in the manner of a step cut. This has been considered to be the best cut to get the richest colour from a sapphire.
In Art Deco jewellery of the 1920s and 1930s, square and step cut sapphires became highly fashionable. Less often, sapphires are cut in round mixed cuts and rectangular baton cut stones. It is common to find so-called “Native Cut” sapphires in Edwardian and Art deco jewellery. These sapphires were cut in Sri Lanka, India and Burma, and are deep cushion shaped stones, where the cutter has tried to get the maximum yield from the original crystal, whilst at the same time orientating the stone so that the most desirable colour is retained.
Sapphires with the least transparency due to their high number of inclusions, are cut into domed cabochons that bring out the depth of colour. Some cabochon sapphires contain many rutile needle inclusions, that when cut bring out a star effect through the stone and are known as Star Sapphires.
THE STUART SAPPHIRE: Perhaps originally belonging to King Charles II, this cabochon sapphire was stolen by King James II when he fled to France in 1688. The sapphire was handed down through the Stuart family, and was eventually bought back for the British crown jewels by King George III following the death of Henry Benedict Stuart in 1807. The sapphire now resides at the base of the Imperial State Crown, originally made for Queen Victoria in 1838, alongside the St Edward’s sapphire, which is in the top of the crown.
THE GIANT BLUE OF THE ORIENT: This is the largest cut sapphire in the world, weighing 486.52 carats. It was found in Sri Lanka in 1907, and is of intense medium blue colour. The Giant Blue of the Orient appeared at auction in 2004, and has remained in private hands ever since.
THE STAR OF INDIA: This is the largest blue sapphire in the world. The Star of India is a 563.35 carat grey-blue star sapphire, and is one of the largest gemstones in the world. George Kunz bought the sapphire for Tiffany & Co’s stand at the Paris Exposition of 1900. The Star Of India is now on permanent exhibition in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
THE LOGAN SAPPHIRE: Some of the world’s most famous sapphires are Sri Lankan in origin. They include The Logan Sapphire, donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington by Mrs Polly Logan in 1960. The Logan Sapphire is the second largest blue sapphire in the world and weighs 422.99 carats.
QUEEN MARIE OF ROMANIA’S SAPPHIRE: In 1913 Cartier mounted a 478 carat sapphire of Sri Lankan origin as a pendant on a sautoir necklace. It was later purchased from Cartier in 1921 by the King of Romania, and subsequently became known as Queen Marie of Romania’s Sapphire.
PRINCESS DIANA’S ENGAGEMENT RING: More recently, an oval sapphire set in the centre of the engagement ring made by Garrard & Co, given by HRH Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, is a Sri Lankan sapphire. This iconic ring, again given as an engagement ring by HRH Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2010, is often photographed today being worn by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.
GEOGRAPHIC ORIGIN - Kashmir, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka. Today a great deal of emphasis is placed on the origin of the sapphire in determining its value. With Kashmir sapphires leading in the value stakes, the very finest Kashmir sapphires have in recent years sold on the international market for in excess of $170,000 per carat. Burmese sapphires come second. Until the 1950s, Burmese sapphires were not particularly noted for their superior quality and depth of colour. In recent decades Burmese sapphires have become internationally recognised and appreciated, and their value and demand has risen dramatically. Finally, in third place, according to current market value trend, come the Sri Lankan sapphires. Any large, highly valued sapphires will often be sold with certificates from internationally recognised gemmological laboratories. These certificates will show detailed inspection of the stone, the country of origin of the sapphire, and will state whether the stone has been subject to any colour treatment.
DEPTH OF COLOUR & TRANSPARENCY: In all sapphires the main indicator of value is the depth of colour. The stronger, brighter colours will always attract the attention of potential buyers. However, one also has to take into account other elements when placing a value on sapphires. Secondary to colour is the transparency of the stone, in which the presence of noticeable inclusions will affect the value considerably. Some sapphires can exhibit a “window” effect, which is where the colour saturation is not even throughout the stone. This means the stone can appear lighter and almost colourless in patches, when viewed from certain angles.
NATURAL COLOUR Vs HEAT TREATED: Inferior quality sapphires have been routinely heat-treated to turn them into better looking stones. This heat-treating is fully accepted within the jewellery trade, and the process can turn dull and dark sapphires into much brighter gem quality material. Today most of the sapphires sold in jewellery are heat-treated. Jewellery and gem collectors not only prefer sapphires from one of the three most sought after sources, but they also prefer to buy sapphires which have not been colour treated in any way at all. A heat-treated sapphire will consequently be much less valuable than a naturally coloured sapphire.
Have A Sapphire Query? If you would like to find out more about your sapphire jewellery, our Director of Jewellery, James Nicholson, and his team would be delighted to hear from you.
Phone: +44 (0) 1635 553 553
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