The azure light of Sapphire's stone resembles that celestial throne,
A symbol of each simple heart that grasps in hope the better part,
Whose life each holy deed combines, and in the light of virtue shines.

Marbodus, 12th Century AD

The Story of Sapphire

Sapphire gets its name from the Latin word sapphirus, meaning blue, and is often referred to as the "gem of the heavens" or the "celestial gem," as its color mirrors the sky at different times of the day. The word sapphire without a prefix, implies blue only. Sapphires of all other colors are assigned a color prefix or are collectively termed fancy sapphires. If the color is red, it is a "ruby." Both ruby and sapphire are varieties of the mineral corundum.

Legends and lore

Blue is one of the favorite colors of both men and women and is a color psychologically linked to the emotions of sympathy, calmness and loyalty.

Legend has it that the first person to wear a sapphire was Prometheus, the rival of Zeus, who took the gemstone from Cacaus, where he also stole fire from heaven for man.

The ancient Persians believed sapphires were a chip from the pedestal that supported the earth and that its reflections gave the sky its color.

Sapphire is mentioned in the Bible as being one of the twelve "stones of fire" (Ezekiel 28:13–16) that were given to Moses and set in the breastplate of Aaron (Exodus 28:15–30). Sapphire is also one of the twelve gemstones set in the foundations of the city walls of Jerusalem (Revelations 21:19) and associated with the Apostle St. Paul.

The guardians of innocence, sapphires symbolise truth, sincerity and faithfulness, and are thought to bring peace, joy and wisdom to their owners. The ancient Sinhalese believed that the powers of wisdom were contained within sapphires and that when the wearer of a sapphire faced challenging obstacles the gem's power enabled them to find the correct solution.

In India it was believed that a sapphire immersed in water formed an elixir that could cure the bite of scorpions and snakes. Alternatively, if it were worn as a talisman pendant, it would protect the wearer against evil spirits.

The following legend is Burmese in origin and highlights sapphires' connection with faithfulness:

Eons ago Tsun-Kyan-Kse, a golden haired goddess with sapphire blue eyes, presided lovingly over the temple of Lao-Tsun. Everyday, the temple's chief monk Mun-Ha, meditated before the golden goddess accompanied by his devoted companion, a green-eyed cat named Sinh. One day the temple was besieged by a group of terrible outlaws. When they threw Mun-Ha to the floor, Sinh leapt fiercely at the bandits, jumping up on his master's chest to protect him. The wrong doers fled screaming in fear, never to return and in gratitude for his courage, the golden goddess awarded Sinh with her sapphire blue eyes. To this day, Sinh's ancestors guard over the temple.

The temple still stands and is populated by Siamese cats with striking blue eyes (typically this breed has green eyes).

For hundreds of years blue sapphires were the popular choice for engagement and wedding rings.

Facts about sapphire

The modern popularity of padparadscha and pink sapphires aside, blue sapphires are traditionally the most coveted members of the sapphire family. Coming in a wide variety of hues, sapphires range in color from pastel blues all the way through to the depths of midnight blue.

Sapphires are identical to ruby (the red variety of corundum), except for one key component, their color. Sapphires are allochromatic (other colored) gems and obtain their colors due to the presence of trace elements including iron and titanium. The crystalline form of aluminium oxide, the name corundum is believed to be derived from three ancient Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit words for rubies and sapphires, kurundam, kurund or kuruvinda respectively.

While personal preference should always be your primary concern when purchasing colored gemstones, sapphires that sit in the middle of the blue color range are historically the most coveted.

Sapphires are one of the toughest gemstones, second in hardness only to diamonds. Corundum is primarily mined from alluvial deposits formed by weathered corundum-bearing rocks, and only occasionally from hard-rock deposits.

Asterism or the "star effect" is a reflection effect that appears as two or more intersecting bands of light across the surface of a gem. This rare phenomenon is found in both sapphires and rubies. Asterism in corundum is due to reflections from multitudes of exsolved needle inclusions (silk), which in most varieties consist of rutile and/or hematite.

Intersecting needles of rutile "silk" in a sapphire

Intersecting needles of rutile "silk" in a sapphire. Such inclusions, which cross at 60/120°, can create a six-rayed star effect if the gem is cabochon cut. Click on the photo for a larger image. Photo: Richard W. Hughes

Sapphire: A precious classic

Enhancements

Because fine sapphire is naturally so scarce, most gems are heat treated to improve their quality. Heat enhancement is stable, routine and does not require special care. Since untreated stones are so rare, the absence of such treatment can have a significant impact on value. A special type of heat treatment, termed diffusion, adds a coloring agent (typically titanium or beryllium). These stones are more inexpensive than those treated with just heat.

Heating sapphire at our Lao mines. Sapphminco sapphire are enhanced only by traditional heating methods

Heating sapphire at our Lao mines. Sapphminco sapphire are enhanced only by traditional heating methods.
Click on the photo for a larger image. Photo: Ryan Libre

Sapphire: Tale of the Tape

Composition

Al2O3

Hardness (Mohs)

9; only diamond is harder than sapphire

Specific Gravity

4.00

Refractive Index

1.762–1.770 (0.008); doubly refractive, uniaxial negative

Crystal System

Hexagonal-trigonal

Colors

All except red (ruby)

Pleochroism

Strongly dichroic

Dispersion

0.018

Cleavage

None; fracture conchoidal; frequent parting

Phenomena

6- and 12-rayed stars; change of color

Handling

No special care needed

Enhancements

Most rubies and sapphires are heated to improve their color/clarity. They may also be heated with coloring agents (bulk diffusion); irradiation produces a yellow that is unstable; fractured stones may be dyed and/or filled. The only enhancement used on Sappminco's sapphires is ordinary heating (no bulk diffusion).

Major Sources

Australia, China, Laos, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, USA, Vietnam

Synthetic available?

Yes