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Sapphires: The Stuff Of Which Rainbows Are Made

Sapphire ring from the 1950’s.
Photo credit: Pinterest

We know them as the birthstone for September and for their deep blues to medium violets. But there’s so much more to sapphires than that. The ancients believed they could provide healing (but then again, what stone didn’t they think could help heal something?). They were collected by royalty and favored by nobles, as well as Hollywood kings and queens. We’ll dive into their origin, chemical make up and see some amazing pieces here today.

sapphire and diamond ring
This sapphire and diamond ring was made in 1900. The center vivid blue cushion cut sapphire (approx. 2.25 cts) is surrounded by 14 old mine cut diamonds prong set in 14 kt. platinum (totaling approx. 3.2 cts).
Photo credit: Park Place Antique Jewelry

Sapphires: The Bluest Blues

Here’s a big shocker: a sapphire is just a ruby that’s any color other than red. Whew. Glad we got that out of the way. Sapphires, just like rubies are corundum (we went over this a little bit ago when we talked about rubies), that are any color, and we many ANY color, other than red. Most commonly, we think of them as blue. But you can find sapphires of any color (including black and white), most commonly yellow, purple, orange, or green. Pink and “red” sapphires (the ruby) have a bit of chromium in them to skew them to that side of the spectrum.

kashmir sapphire and diamond earrings
Magnificent pair of 19th century intense corn blue Kashmir sapphire and diamond earrings once belonging to a European princess.
Photo credit: Bonhams

We’ll talk about the other colors shortly, but for now, let’s concentrate on the blues. The most prized blue sapphires are the Kashmir blues. Known to be intensely saturated and velvety, they are highly sought after. One famous Kashmir (named after the region of the world where they are found) include Hill’s Kashmir Pendant (weighing in at 22.66 carats). The Kashmir stones were mined starting in 1880 for about eight years and while the mine was quickly depleted, you can still find Kashmir stones on the market now and then.

Ceylon Sapphire And Diamond Ring
Ceylon Sapphire And Diamond Ring (33.06cts). The sapphire was originally featured in a fabulous Art Deco necklace from the 1920s-30s by the renowned French jeweler – La Cloche Freres. Photo credit: Lang Antiques

Other blues, like the Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) sapphires are less intense and more of a cornflower blue in color. Sri Lanka has provided some of the oldest know sapphires – they were digging them up in ancient times.

A padparadscha sapphire and diamond ring.
A Padparadscha Sapphire and Diamond Ring.
Photo credit: Pinterest

Colors of the Rainbow

But not all corundum, as we discussed, is blue. There are other sapphires that are prized for their pinks, yellows, violets and oranges. As a matter of fact, one of the most sought after colors, other than blue, is the padparadscha (pinkish orange). A fine padparadscha can often draw higher prices than the finest of blue sapphires. Other sapphire mines can (or could) be found in Afghanistan, Australia, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, China, Colombia, India, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam and often produce the pink, orange, green, yellow and even colorless sapphires we see today.

Star of India Star Sapphire
Star of India Star Sapphire, unique due to its size (563.35cts) and it has a star on both sides of the stone.
Photo credit: Flicker user lotos_leo

Star Light Start Bright

One type of sapphire that surprises many is the “star sapphire”. Star sapphires are still corundum but they have needle-like inclusions that create an asterism or star like appearance. These sapphires are most often cut en cabochon (meaning of the cabochon style) to best highlight the asterism. Most often they are six-rayed stars, but occasionally, when there are two different sets of inclusions in a stone, you’ll find 12-rayed jewels. The largest known star sapphire is the Star of India weighing in at 563.35 carats. Discovered in Sri Lanka about 300 years ago, it is now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. It is grayish blue in color, with a slightly milky quality caused by the presence of the mineral rutile (the mineral that creates the asterisms). Apart from its astounding size, the Star of India is unusual because it has stars on both sides of the stone.

Rare natural pink Sapphire
Rare natural pink Sapphire offered last year in auction at Bonhams
Photo credit: Bonhams

What color sapphire is your favorite? Do you stand by the traditional deep blue or love one of the more unique colors? Tell us in the comments below. And to see more gorgeous sapphire rings, be sure to browse our store. Just click the button on the right that says “Visit Our Shop.”


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