The blue sapphire is the birthstone for the month of September. It is also the gem commemorating 5th and 45th wedding anniversaries. Sapphires have been highly valued and sought after from ancient Rome and Persia, throughout the Middle Ages into modern times.
Sapphires are known for their rich blue color, but come in almost every color of the rainbow—including pink, peach, orange, yellow, green, teal, and purple. Red sapphires are better known as rubies. The color variations result from trace elements in the mineral corundum. Classic blue sapphires contain iron and titanium, and trace elements of chromium can turn corundum pink, while more chromium turns it into a ruby. The rarest type, a pinkish orange variety called padparadscha, is sifted from Sri Lankan rivers. It comes from the Sinhalese word for ‘lotus flower.’
Origin of the word
The word sapphire is derived from the Latin and Greek words for ‘blue’: sapphirus and sappheiros, which may have originally referred to another type of blue stone called Lapis Lazuli.
Gemstones are rated on their ability to withstand scratching based on a system called the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and sapphires score a 9 out of 10. Only a diamond, which has a 10 on the Mohs Scale, can scratch a sapphire. Their durability makes them an excellent choice for engagement rings. Because of its hardness, sapphire also has industrial uses. The Apple Watch Series 3 features lab-created sapphire crystal in its screen to make it more scratch resistant, as do several Swiss watch companies.
Places of origin
Kashmir, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Sri Lanka are historically important sources for sapphires. Sapphires have been found in Australia, Tanzania, Thailand, Cambodia, Malawi, Madagascar, the US (Montana), among other countries in Asia and Africa.
Sapphires were discovered in Kashmir around 1881 after a landslide high in the Himalayas. Spectacular sapphires appeared further south as well. The stones faceted from these crystals established Kashmir sapphire’s reputation as one of the world’s most coveted gems.
Sapphires have also been found alongside ruby deposits in the Mogok area of Myanmar. Burmese sapphires possess a rich, intense blue hue, making them particularly prized. Myanmar is also a noted source of jadeite jade, spinel, zircon, amethyst, peridot and other fine gem materials.
Sri Lanka has been an important source of sapphires for more than 2,000 years. The blue and fancy-color stones mined from the alluvial gravels of this “jewel box of the Indian Ocean” display remarkable brilliance and saturation. In addition, the island’s milky white “geuda” sapphires can be heat treated to a rich blue color.
Thailand is a source of sapphires and has a major cutting and treatment center in the Chanthaburi Province. Sapphires from Myanmar and Cambodia often go to Chanthaburi for cutting and treatment and are also sent to Bangkok.
Various cultures have attributed mystical powers to sapphires, including heavenly powers, truth, innocence, peace, and good health. It was believed that sapphires protected their wearers from evil. Because of their blue color, they are associated with the heavens. In fact, Europeans in the Middle Ages believed that sapphires cured eye diseases and preserved chastity, along with providing other heavenly blessings. Sapphires have also been used to symbolize nobility and faithfulness. In folklore story, art, and consumer awareness, sapphire has always been associated with the color blue.
In addition, deep blue sapphires have long been associated with royalty (which likely contributed to the naming of the color “royal blue”). Royal blue sapphires were often worn by medieval kings, some of whom believed that the gemstones would protect them from their enemies.
The sapphire represents integrity, honesty, and honor. The blue essence in a sapphire is of the highest quality and sets the standard in judging the quality of other blue gems, such as topaz and tanzanite. The ancient Greeks and Romans used them as protection stones that eliminated bad spirits and harm to the community.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, sapphire engagement rings were popular among royal families and the wealthy. However, the blue sapphire was the most popular stone because it represented honesty, loyalty, and truth.
Because sapphire symbolizes nobility, truth, sincerity, and faithfulness, it has decorated the robes of royalty and clergy members for centuries.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, people were purchasing sapphires because they were rarer than diamonds. Sapphires were quite popular in Victorian engagement rings, where they were often surrounded by smaller diamonds to create floral designs.
French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte gave Josephine a two stone sapphire and diamond engagement ring in 1796. The ring sold at auction for close to a million dollars in 2013.
The Rockefeller Sapphire is a 62.02 carat (ct) rectangular step-cut stone that was unearthed in Myanmar (Burma). Acquired in 1934 by financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960) from an Indian maharaja, the gem was recut and remounted over the years. The sapphire was first set as a brooch and later as a ring featuring two cut-cornered triangular diamond side stones.
Prince Charles’ engagement ring to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 is the most famous sapphire today and is now worn by Princess Catherine. It features a 12-carat oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. So the history of the sapphire continues.
Many people are surprised to find that sapphires can exhibit a phenomenon called the “star effect,” or asterism. This occurs when inclusions create a star pattern of rays on the surface of a dome-like cabochon-cut sapphire, often called a “star sapphire.”
Perhaps the most intriguing type of sapphire is the “color change” variety. These gemstones exhibit different colors depending on the lighting, subtly shifting from blue in daylight to bluish-purple in incandescent light.
Sapphire care & cleaning
Sapphires are tough and great for daily wear, but it is important to care for your stone on a regular basis. Warm, soapy water is always a safe choice for cleaning. Ultrasonic and steam cleaners are usually safe for untreated, heat-treated, and lattice diffusion–treated stones. Fracture-filled or dyed material should only be cleaned with a damp cloth.
At Patronik, we provide free jewelry cleaning and stone maintenance to all our customers.