Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Mikaela Jamka
What is a Sapphire?
A sapphire is a precious gemstone that is very valuable and desired due to its rich color, hardness, durability, and luster. Sapphires are a variety of the mineral corundum, which is ranked on Mohs Scale of Hardness as a number nine, putting it just under the hardness of a diamond. Although sapphires are typically associated with the color blue, the amounts of iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium that are present during the formation of this gemstone determine the color. Some of the available colors are pink, green, yellow, and even clear.
Sapphires did not gain their current name until the late 18th
century. Prior to this era, the gemstone was referred to as hyacinth, a name
bestowed upon it by the naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder. Sapphires
are produced in nearly two dozen countries, but the three that have the
best-known origins are Kashmir, Burma, and Sri Lanka. As stated by Topazery,
“Regardless of the country of origin, sapphires have been a favorite gemstone of
royalty and the general public alike for centuries. In the Middle Ages, clergy
wore sapphires as symbols of heaven. Many emulated this practice, believing
sapphires held the power to make peace between enemies, communicate with
spirits, and could even preserve chastity.”
One of the more notable royalties to use sapphires is the
British. Several sapphires adorn the Imperial State Crown, created in 1937, for
the coronation of King George VI. The crown is encrusted with several famous
sapphires such as St. Edwards’s Sapphire and the Stuart Sapphire, which is a
104-carat stone placed on the back of the crown’s band.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection of sapphires is kept in a large vault beneath Buckingham Palace. According to The Natural Sapphire Company, “Among her most cherished items is the Prince Albert Brooch, a huge sapphire, which was given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert the day before their wedding.” Both Princess Diana and Princess Anne received sapphire engagement rings. Princess Diana’s ring has now been passed down to Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William.
Top Quality Sapphires are Rare
The three most famous regions for blue sapphires are Kashmir,
Burma, and Sri Lanka. After the process of mining for sapphires, the raw
crystals are taken to cutting centers, which specialize in transforming the
dull, dirty, rock-like gemstones into dazzling ones. This job requires an
extremely skilled craftsman due to the hardness and complex design of the gems.
The angles at which the gem and its facets are cut determine not only its
brilliance and intensity, but the way in which the color is brought out.
Another factor in determining a sapphire’s intensity and hue is
the location in which it was found. According to the International Colored
Gemstone Association, “Specialists and connoisseurs regard the Kashmir color
with its velvety shine as the most beautiful and most valuable blue.
Typical of the Kashmir color is a pure, intense blue with a very
subtle violet undertone, which is intensified yet more by a fine, silky shine.
It is said that this hue does not change in artificial light.” On the other
hand, Sri Lankan sapphires gain their value and recognition from their luminous
light to mid-blue color, and Burmese sapphires are known for their rich,
royal blue color.
Sapphire’s value depends on their size, color, transparency, and
origin. The most valuable are genuine Kashmir stones. However, Burmese sapphires
are valued almost as highly, and proceeding those are the sapphires from Ceylon.
If a gemstone has undergone any kind of treatment, then the price automatically
drops significantly as the more sought-after gems are genuine and untreated.
With that being said, top-quality sapphires remain extremely rare.
The price and value of a sapphire are dictated by the four
“C’s”- color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. As discussed in the previous
section, color greatly impacts the price of a gemstone because it often
indicates its origin. As stated by the Gemstone Universe, “A gem can command a
superlative price only when the color is complemented by an excellent clarity.
By clarity, one means the relative absence of inclusions, feathers, crystal
ingrowths and other clarity characteristics in the gemstone. A couple of
inclusions are a sure mark of the genuineness of a gem.” Just as with humans, no
gem is perfect and it is natural for them to have impurities. Not surprisingly,
the gemstones with the least amount of impurities are higher priced and more
sought after. Gemstones with 95% clarity and above come with a premium price
The majority of buyers in the gem trade seek out the maximum
carat weight for the precious stones they purchase. Most blue sapphires
available in the markets today are either oval mixed cut or mixed cushion cut
because they are simpler cuts which allow for the most preservation of the
actual gem. More intricate cuts involve trimming the fat of the actual gemstone,
leading to a loss of material and ultimately a price increase.
As with any precious stone the carat weight greatly impacts the price. The higher the weight of a natural blue sapphire, the costlier the gem will be. According to The Gemstone Universe, “Anything four carats and above could be a collector’s item commanding its own price, depending upon the attributes.”
Aastro.com. Sapphire Gemstone. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
Gem Rock Auctions. How to Buy Sapphires. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
International Colored Gemstone Association, Administrator. "Sapphire." Gemstone.org. International Colored Gemstone Association, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
Palagems.com. Kashmir Sapphires. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
Royal-fans.com. Kate Middelton's Engagement Ring. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
Ruby-sapphire.com. Sapphire Mining. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
Smithworkdesign.com. Sri Lankan Blue Sapphire. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
The Gemstone Universe. "Blue Sapphire, Blue Sapphire Price, Blue Sapphire Price per Carat, Buy Blue Sapphire Online, Blue Sapphire Price in India, Blue Sapphire Price Guide, Blue Sapphire Price List, Blue Sapphire Price Delhi, Blue Sapphire Gemstone, Planetary Bhasma Ring, Buying a Gemstone, Gemstones, Information on Blue Sapphire." Gemstoneuniverse. The Gemstone Universe, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
The Natural Sapphire Company. "Sapphires Featured in The British Crown Jewels." Education. The Natural Sapphire Company, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
Topazery. "Sapphires, Emeralds, and Rubies." History of Sapphires, Emeralds, and Rubies. Topazery, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.