Emma Scaramozzino - February 17, 2021
Everything You Need to Know About: Sapphires
We are only two months into 2021, and we are quickly realizing color stone engagement rings are making a huge comeback! Since many of our clients have inquired about the possibility of including a colored gemstone in their engagement ring, wedding band, or other piece of jewelry, we've decided to start a brand new series called: Everything You Need to Know. This week we'll be covering sapphires; where they come from, how to buy one, and more.
Sapphires were first discovered in Kashmir, when a landslide in the Himalayas exposed a large pocket of “cornflower” blue crystals. The beauty of the stones cut from these crystals established Kashmir's sapphire reputation and soon, everyone wanted a sapphire to come from there. Since their discovery in 1881, we no longer see a high volume of sapphires coming from Kashmir. Most of the sapphires in production today are from Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Madagascar, and even Montana. Lab grown sapphires have also become available in recent years, making them easier to source and less expensive.
Depending on small differences in their chemical makeup, sapphire colors can vary from the cornflower blue color they are known for. The stones can also be found in yellow, green, orange, pink, and purple.
*Fun Fact: Rubies are actually just red sapphires.*
Just like diamonds, there are many aspects to consider when buying a sapphire. Although cut and carat are determined the same way as diamonds, the color and clarity grading is much different.
Color is the most important quality factor for sapphires. For melee (small stones - think the stones on an eternity band), and stones under one carat, the color scale ranges from AAA - B. Stones are labeled with these letters based on rarity. For example, an AAA stone (fine quality) accounts for 2% of all natural gemstones, AA accounts for 10%, A for 20%, and B, 50% (a more commercial grade stone).
If you're searching for a stone over a carat, things are a little less cut and dry. Our friend Saul, @saulnice "The Gemologist" on Instagram, explains that color isn't graded the same way in larger stones."Gem is the term used to describe the best quality in gemstones, for any size above one carat. When clients come to me asking for a large sapphire, they would say they want a three carat sapphire...but it has to be a gem." Essentially, the term gem emphasizes that the client needs to see the very best options within that range.
The clarity scale has three categories determined solely on the inclusions found in the stone. A type one stone will be eye-clean and have no visible inclusions to the naked eye, type two will have some visible inclusions, but very few. Type three will have visible inclusions.
There are five types of inclusions that can be found in sapphires. Needles, mineral crystals, and feathers are similar inclusions to ones you can see in diamonds. However, "fingerprints" and color zoning are two types of inclusions specific to sapphires that you will often see. Fingerprints are inclusions that are clustered together and quite literally can look like human fingerprints. These inclusions are typically small, they rarely impact the quality of the sapphire. Color zoning is usually a result of the above inclusions or the cut of a stone. Color zoning interferes with the color and causes it to look uneven across the surface of the sapphire, thus lowering the value of the stone.
Luster is the way light interacts with the surface of a stone. Also known as crystal or the "life" in a stone, this seemingly slight difference between stones can raise the price of a gem significantly. This interaction between the stone and light is noted in the transparency portion of the certificate. When a stone is transparent, it has good luster. When it is translucent or opaque, it lacks luster.
Untreated sapphires are the most rare and expensive types. They are less than 1% off all the sapphires that are found in the world. However, most sapphires are treated in a few different ways.
The most common treatment is heat, which improves the color and clarity of the stone. It is also a more natural process, similar to the intense heat that sapphires experience while forming within the earth. No chemicals are a part of this process, and no foreign materials enter the sapphire. The other treatments used on sapphires, however, are not natural. The three alternative treatments include Beryllium Treatment, which is injected into the stone to enhance color, Surface Diffusion, which coats the stone in titanium to enhance brilliance, and Cavity Filling, which fills cracks within the stone.
When purchasing a large sapphire, especially as the center stone of an engagement ring, you may receive a certificate along with it. Certifications typically come from notable labs such as GIA, Lotus, AIGS, CDC, and IGI.
Birthstone Meanings + Healing Properties
Sapphire is the birthstone of September, and symbolizes sincerity, truth, faithfulness and nobility. However, in many ancient societies it was known to have protective and healing properties.
Greeks and Romans believed blue sapphires protected against harm and envy, while religious leaders of the Middle Ages wore sapphires because they symbolized Heaven. Ancient Persians even believed that the earth actually rested on a giant sapphire, which made the sky blue.
In terms of healing properties, Medieval Europeans believed that sapphire cured plague boils and diseases of the eye. It was also used as an antidote to poison.
Some of the most famous sapphires include the Rockefeller Sapphire, a 62.02 carat rectangular step cut stone, and Princess Diana's sapphire engagement ring, now worn by Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.