September's birthstone has come a long way since the days when any and every blue stone was called a sapphire. Though its fame is shared with its "Big Three" counterparts ruby and emerald, sapphire has enjoyed a long run as one of the world's most beloved gemstones, earning itself a place of honor in crown jewels, royal accessories, museums, and even in modern royal engagement rings. Lest sapphire get too haughty, it has common uses as well. The rough polishing material on emery boards is made up of lower-quality corundum grains, strengthened with hematite, magnetite, and quartz.
|Ranking a hard 9 on Mohs' scale, sapphire is safely cleaned with warm soapy water and a soft brush. As long as it's not oiled or glass-filled, sapphires and sapphire jewelry should be safe in ultrasonic and steam cleaners. Be careful to avoid particularly harsh detergents and aggressive scrubbing with oiled sapphires.|
|While the color blue immediately comes to mind when one thinks of sapphire, sapphire actually comes in all colors of the rainbow--except red, because red corundum is called ruby. Sapphires other than blue are considered "fancy sapphires," some of the most popular of which are pink, yellow, and purple, including the beloved and very rare pinkish-orange padparadscha sapphire. Almost all sapphires are heated to improve or alter their color. Read more. |
|According to GIA's color grading factors for colored stones, the most valued sapphires are velvety violetish blue to blue in medium or medium-dark tones with strong to vivid saturation. Because almost all sapphires are heated to improve or alter their color and/or their clarity, natural unheated sapphires are quite rare and much more valuable than their heated counterparts. Natural blue and yellow sapphires in particular are sought by collectors and regularly fetch impressive prices. For other sapphires, the intensity and saturation of color, followed by clarity and size, are the factors that determine the stone's value. Orangy-pink padparadscha sapphires, as well as the famed silky blue Kashmir, Burmese, and Ceylon (Sri Lankan) sapphires, are typically among the most valued.|
Name Origin and Meaning
The word "sapphire" comes from the Greek word sappheiros or sapphirus, which is derived from the Hebrew sappir. However, according to Pliny's Natural History, while the stone referred to as sapphirus was blue, it was not transparent and, as he noted in more than one instance, was speckled with gold, leading scholars to believe that it was lapis lazuli instead of sapphire. In other ancient texts, the word cyanus appears to refer to the stone we now know as sapphire, from the Greek root word cyan, meaning "blue."
Sapphire has a long and storied history that has no clear beginning. Highlights include mentions of it in the Bible as well as in ancient scholarly texts like Pliny's Natural History. Sapphire has been prized for thousands of years not only for its beauty but also for its supposed powers, usually related to eyes or vision, thanks to sapphire's calming blue hues. To wit: An oval blue sapphire set in a gold ring was among the possessions of France's King Charles V during the 14th century, apparently used to touch and soothe the eyes, and clergymen in the Middle Ages wore rings set with blue sapphires prized for their "heavenly" blue color.
Sapphire began writing itself a more factual history when 18th-century gemologists began using the term "corundum" to describe blue stones of a particular hardness. While still not exact, it was a step in the right direction and a big improvement over the days when every blue stone was called sapphire. Since then, sapphire's history has been closely tied to the Kashmir region of Pakistan and India, the source of the world's finest, most prized sapphires, both then and now.
Color-change sapphire also exists, changing from blue or violet hues to reddish purple, thanks to the presence of vanadium.
Pure corundum is colorless, made up of aluminum and oxygen. The various colors of sapphire are the result of impurities known as trace elements, so when no impurities exist, colorless sapphire is formed. Iron and titanium are responsible for making sapphire blue. If chromium is present, an unusual pink sapphire will form, but a lot of chromium will tip the hue scale too far toward red and the gem will be a ruby.