Because of their pretty colors, hardness, transparency, and rarity sapphires belong to the most valuable gemstones since
thousands of years. They belong to the multicolored family of the mineral corundum, the second-hardest mineral
after diamond. Corundum consists of aluminium oxide. Heavy pressure in the depth of the earth, and great heat let
corundum crystallize into gemstones. The presence of other elements like iron or chrome are responsible for the
the different colors of sapphires. Corundum which includes chrome, and shows a red color is called ruby, all other
corundums belong to the sapphire family.
The name "sapphire" is derived from the Latin word "Sapphirus", and the Greek word "Sappheiros", both meaning "blue".
The oldest sapphires were already found in ancient times in Sri Lanka. Since 800 BC sapphires have been regarded
as gemstones. Blue sapphires were a holy stone to some religions, perhaps because of their color which reflexes
the blue sky, and heaven.
Monarchs always wore blue sapphires as a defense from harm, and the British Crown Jewels show a lot of blue sapphires.
Already King Solomon wore a sapphire ring, and in modern times, Prince Charles gave a sapphire engagement ring to
Princess Diana. In history sapphire was often associated with the sacred and divine, guardian of innocence and
bestower of truth. It should attract divine favor to its owner, protect travellers, ward off illness, bring peace,
joy, wisdom and prosperity. In the 12th century, sapphire was the most appropriate stone for ecclesiastical rings.
In the 18th century, sapphire was used to test female loyalty, changing its color if the woman was unfaithful.
The best sapphires came from Kashmir (the border region between India, Pakistan, and China). In 1881, they were
dicovered by two Kashmiri hunters, after a hillside above the village of Sumjam slipped away, on an altitude of
16,000 feet. Afterwards Kashmiris could collect considerable quantities of fine large stones.
Formation and Resources
Sagyin Hills / Myanmar *
Inn Gaung Mining Area / Myanmar *
Corundum is colourless aluminium oxide. The blue color results from titanium and iron which was included in the
crystal during its formation. Raw sapphires appear in larger stones than rubies. They are usually water-worn,
washed out by erosion (influence of rain, frost, wind, organic acids etc), and washed by surface runoff water
to the valleys. Therefore sapphires can be found together with other gemstones in the scree of former and recent
rivers ("alluvial deposits"). The rough crystals look like miniature barrels.
The mode of occurrence of sapphire is similar to the occurrence of ruby. Sapphires are found in sands and solid rocks,
frequently together with ruby.
Besides the normal blue color, sapphires show a large amount of
different colors ("fancy" colors):
white, yellow, orange ("padparadja"), pink, purple, violet, and green.
The color of a sapphire is the most important quality criterium. An intense, rich, full blue color which
still looks blue in artificial or daylight is the most wanted one. Depending on where sapphires are found,
the color intensity varies very much. Connoisseurs regard the velvety "Kashmir color" as the most beautiful and
valuable one: an intense blue with very subtle violet undertones, and a fine, silky shine.
Star Sapphires with a good color, and sapphires with an intense color change are also very much sought-after.
Star sapphires show a silky transparency from included rutile needles. The light star appears on the surface of
a sapphire cabochon. The star has usually six rays, sometimes twelve. If one moves the
cabochon below a spotlight, the star wanders across the surface. The value of a star sapphire depends on its color,
transparency, and the star itself: its rays should cover the whole surface, be narrow and sharp, and the star's
center should be in the middle of the surface.
Quality and Value
The value depends on size, color, transparency, and origin. Besides the stones from Kashmir sapphires from Myanmar
and Sri Lanka are also highly valued. Today guaranteed, untreated sapphires with a nice color are more and more
sought-after. Top stones remain rare.
Inclusions (which still prove the genuineness of the stone) don't have a big influence on the value as long as
they don't reduce the transparency or are visible through the top facet ("table").
The cut is also an important quality criterium. Only a perfect cut can emphasize the beauty of a gemstone. A bad cut
always lowers the value.