Birthstones: September - Sapphire
September marks the beginning of autumn, which means Sapphire is our birthstone this month. As one of the four precious gemstones (the others being Diamond, Ruby and Emerald), Sapphire is singular in its association with divinity and its manifestation as wildly different hues.
So this month we’re going to learn about the physical makeup of a Sapphire, its symbolic powers, and what makes for good Sapphire jewellery.
What Makes a Sapphire
Sapphire is the gemstone-quality variant of the mineral corundum. Corundum, in its purest form, is composed only of aluminium and oxygen. Natural corundum looks “colourless.” However, corundum is rarely without other trace elements. In the case of Sapphire, the presence of iron and titanium is what gives it the signature blue colour.
Corundum crystal with Sapphire (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Corundum that has other colours are also called Sapphire, with the lone exception of red corundum, which is classified as Ruby. The word “Sapphire,” when used by itself, generally refers to the blue version of the gemstone.
For other versions, the colour is mentioned before “Sapphire,” such as “Green Sapphire” or “Orange Sapphire.” Such Sapphires are also called fancy Sapphires.
Sapphire and Fancy Sapphires (Source: LiveAuctioneers)
There are also Sapphires that have a combination of colours. These are called parti-coloured Sapphires, and they are typically yellow and green or yellow and blue.
Parti-coloured yellow-blue Sapphire (Source:Eragem)
Sapphires that have a light to medium-toned, orange-pink hue are called Padparadscha. The name comes from the Sanskrit phrase padma ranga that translates to “lotus colour.”
Padparadscha Sapphire ring (Source:Eragem)
Inclusions can also be present in Sapphires. Inclusions in a Sapphire can reflect light in such a manner that it produces a velvety appearance. These inclusions are called “silk.” Star Sapphire, for instance, is a variant of the gemstone that has inclusions arranged in a six-rayed pattern.
Star Sapphire (Source: The Jewellery Editor)
Meanwhile, colour-change Sapphires show as one shade in natural light and as another in indoor light.
Colour-change Sapphire under different lights (Source: Diamonds and Gems)
Sapphires are only second to Diamonds in the Mohs scale. With a hardness rating of 9, Sapphires are highly durable, which make them perfect to wear as jewellery.
Where Sapphires Are Mined
Kashmir is where the world’s most sought after Sapphires are usually sourced, so much so that Sapphires with a bold blue colour are called Kashmir Sapphires even if they aren’t mined from Kashmir. Sapphires from this Indian province also have a velvety sheen look, thanks to their inclusions.
Kashmir Sapphire (Source: JewelleryNet)
Another reliable source for high-quality Sapphires is Myanmar. Sapphires here have a violet tinge, lean towards a medium to medium dark tone, and shine with a deep intensity.
Meanwhile, greyish and violet-blue Sapphires have been extracted from the mines of Sri Lanka throughout most of human history. This tiny South Asian island country still yields fine Sapphires to this day.
Sapphire from Sri Lanka (Source: Gemological Institute of America)
Thailand is one more major producer of Sapphires. Although most of the Sapphires mined from this location have the right kind of blue, they also tend to be colour-change Sapphires, showing green in certain light conditions.
Australia is known for its parti-coloured Sapphires that shine as green and yellow and as blue and yellow.
In the US, the state of Montana has significant Sapphire deposits, producing such precious gemstones of all colour variants.
The History and Significance of Sapphires
Humans have deemed Sapphires as treasures as far back as 800 BC. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians believed in the divine power of Sapphires. Ancient Persian royalty, in particular, believed the skies were blue because of the reflection of Sapphires. The Ten Commandments were supposedly etched onto tablets made entirely of Sapphire.
The word “Sapphire” comes from the Latin word “sapphirus,” the Greek word “sappheiros,” and from the Hebrew word “sappir”—all of which roughly means “blue”. The Ancient Greeks actually used the label “sappheiros” for Lapis Lazuli, another gemstone known for its brilliant blue colour.
Hall Sapphire and Diamond Necklace currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History (Source: Pinterest)
The Sanskrit word “Shanipriya” has also been argued as “Sapphire’s” origin. Shanipriya translates to “dear to Saturn,” tying the mythology of the gemstone to the celestial body. Believers of traditional Hinduism wear Sapphire jewellery to gain favour with the planet Saturn.
The Catholic Church, during the Medieval period, had members of the clergy wear Sapphires on their robes to denote their connection to Heaven. Other cultures of the time believed Sapphires made it easier to communicate with benevolent spirits, angels, and oracles. Inversely, Sapphires, when worn, were thought to be talismans that ward off witchcraft and sorcery.
Sapphires have also been linked to enriching relationships, especially that of romantic ones. This was realised in the grandest fashion in our modern times with the 12-carat oval blue Sapphire engagement ring given to the late Princess Diana by Prince Charles. The ring now belongs to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, after being engaged to Prince William.
Sapphire engagement ring worn by Princess Diana and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Source: Gemme Couture)
Buying Sapphire Jewellery
Gemstones are mainly judged in four categories: colour, clarity, cut, and carat.
Like the two other coloured precious gemstones, Emerald and Ruby, Sapphire is evaluated mostly for its colour. Silky blue and violetish blue command the highest prices. Deep saturation is the key element, as a vivid colour also applies to the quality of all the other shades of Sapphire. However, it cannot be so saturated that the stone looks dark and doesn’t reflect much light.
Generally speaking, the clearer the stone, the higher its price. Inclusions are common though, even in high-quality Sapphires. Sapphires that are naturally clear are rare, and thus are quite costly. The exception to the inclusion rule is the Star Sapphire, where the presence of a six or 12-rayed star pattern can drive up its value, especially if the pattern contrasts strongly with the colour.
The best Sapphires are cut in a way that shows off the deepest shade in the stone. This is because Sapphires tend to have colour zoning, where different parts of one stone have varying hue intensities. For Star Sapphires, the cabochon cut with a fairly high dome is ideal to highlight the star pattern.
Commercial-grade Sapphires usually weigh less than 5.0 carats, but large Sapphires of such quality are not uncommon. Prices for commercial-grade Sapphires don’t scale drastically by carat. However, fine-quality Sapphires are rare, so prices jump significantly the higher the carat.
Maintaining Sapphire Jewellery
Caring for your Sapphire jewellery is fairly straightforward. Thanks to their hardness, you don’t have to worry too much about scratching or breaking them while wearing them. Just be more careful when handling Sapphires with more inclusions, as such stones are less stable. Store them separately from softer gemstones so those don’t get scratched. You can clean Sapphires with ultrasonic cleaning tools or with mild soap and warm water.