Sapphires derive their name from the Latin word "sapphirus", meaning blue, and are often referred to as the "gem of the heavens" or the "celestial gem" as their colours mirror the sky at different times of the day.
The word Sapphire, stated without a prefix, implies Blue Sapphires only. Sapphires of all other colours are assigned a colour prefix or are collectively termed "Fancy Sapphires".
Legends & Lore
Blue is one of the favourite colours of both men and women and is a colour psychologically linked to the emotions of sympathy, calmness and loyalty.
Legend has it that the first person to wear 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 colours.
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 symbolize truth, sincerity and faithfulness, and are thought to bring peace, joy and wisdom to their owners. In ancient times it was believed 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 cat's 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.
In many cultures Star Sapphires were considered love charms; Helen of Troy was said to have owned a Star Sapphire and to have owed her conquests to it! In 17th century Germany, Star Sapphires were the "siegstein", meaning "victory stone". To others, Star Sapphires were the "stone of destiny", as their crossing bands of light were believed to represent faith, hope and destiny. Star Sapphires were commonly used as talismans to protect against the evil eye and the Sinhalese used them to guard against witchcraft. The famous English oriental traveller, Sir Richard Francis Burton, possessed a large specimen which he referred to as his talisman, claiming it brought him good horses and prompt attention wherever he went. In fact, it was only in those places where he received proper attention that he would show it, a favour greatly appreciated because the sight of the gem was believed to bring good luck. The fame of Burton's Star Sapphire travelled ahead of him, serving him as a guiding star. One of the most unique of all talismanic gems, Star Sapphires are said to be so potent that they continue to exercise their good influence over the first wearer even if it has passed into other hands.
Just The Facts
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 colour 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 colour. Sapphires are "allochromatic" (other coloured) gems and obtain their colours 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 coloured gemstones, Sapphires that sit in the middle of the blue colour 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 and only occasionally from host rock deposits just beneath the earth's surface.
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.
Sapphire locations and varieties
As Sapphires from different locations can vary slightly in appearance, we have detailed some of our main sources and varieties below.
Ceylon Sapphires (Sri Lanka)
The island of Ceylon (known as Sri Lanka since 1972) holds the earliest records for the mining of Sapphires. Noted for their royal and cornflower blues, Ceylon Sapphires are synonymous with top quality Sapphires and are highly coveted. A classic source of quality Sapphires throughout history (King Solomon reportedly wooed the Queen of Sheba with Sri Lankan Sapphires), mining occurs in the gem rich alluvial gravels found beneath the tea-covered slopes of Elahera and Rathnapura (which literally means, "gem city").
Ceylon Sapphires received a boost in their popularity in 1981 when Prince Charles gave Lady Diana an engagement ring set with a stunning 18 carat Ceylon Sapphire.
we use the prefix "Ceylon" to denote a quality as well as an origin (not all Sri Lankan Sapphires can be called "Ceylon").
Today, Madagascar also provides some of the highest quality Sapphires. Sapphires were first unearthed on this island in the early 1990's. The Madagascan gem fields now reportedly account for approximately 20% of the world's Sapphires. The majority of Madagascar's Sapphires come from the prolific gem fields of Ilakaka, Antiermene and Diego Suarez.
Pailin Sapphire (Cambodia)
The Cambodian city of Pailin (the ancient Khmer word for "Blue Sapphire") is steeped in local folklore regarding its precious treasures: "Long ago, people hunting in the forests around Pailin encountered a magical old lady called Yiey Yat ("yiey" means grandmother in Khmer) living as a hermit in the mountains. Fearing for the local wildlife, she told them that if they stopped hunting, the gods would reward them with something of far greater value in the streams and rivers of Mount Yat. The people went there and saw an otter ("pey" in Khmer) playing ("leng" in Khmer) in a stream. Swimming up to them, when the otter opened its mouth, it was full of gems!" As a result, the area and its Sapphires are known as "pey leng", which when translated to Thai became Pailin. Even today, many people visit the shrine of Yiey Yat to ask her for riches.
Kanchanaburi Sapphire (Thailand)
The sleepy province of Kanchanaburi, renowned for the bridge over the River Kwai, rests among the jungle clad valleys of western Thailand. Kanchanaburi's Bo Ploi Sapphire mines were discovered in 1918 and today remain one of world's premier sources of Blue Sapphires. The Sapphires of Bo Ploi are mined from alluvial deposits spread over 3.2 square kilometres. The miners of Bo Ploi must unearth over 50 tons of alluvial soil to extract just 1 carat of Sapphire crystal. Sapphires have been heavily mined from the Bo Ploi mines in the last ten years and are approaching depletion. This increasing rarity makes these Sapphires a must for any jewellery collection.
Australian Sapphire (Australia)
Some of the finest Sapphires in the world herald from this sun-burnt country. Top quality Australian Sapphires exhibit brilliant cornflower blues usually associated with those from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Sapphires have been mined in Australia for over 100 years. The majority of Australian Sapphires come from three fields; the Anakie fields in central Queensland, the Lava Plains in northern Queensland and the New England fields around Inverell in the northeast of New South Wales.
During the 1980's Australia produced approximately 70% of the world's Sapphires and although production has decreased, the demand from the international market for Australian Sapphires remains very high. Sapphires found in Australia originate from similar geological conditions to those of Thailand and Cambodia, and thus possess similar characteristics.
Nigerian Sapphire (Nigeria)
Nigeria plays a key role in supplying the world with some of the most popular gemstones. Nigerian Sapphire is mined at Nisama Jama'a in Nigeria's Kaduna State.
Shangdong Sapphire (China)
While China has never been considered an historical source of corundum (domestic finds were not reported until the late 1970's), the Chinese were aware of and coveted Ruby and Sapphire from other locales as early as 319 AD. Chinese Sapphire deposits are widely distributed over 20 of the country's provinces, although they are mainly found along the eastern coastline. In all of these places, Sapphires occur in basalts, similar to those mined in Australia. Among these localities, the deposit in Shangdong Province has the best quality. Shangdong Sapphire was discovered near Wutu, Changle County, Shangdong Province in the late 1980's, initially in alluvial deposits and later in the host basalt. Gem mining occurs in the secondary alluvial deposits while the primary deposits are worked for mineral specimens. Generally, Chinese Blue Sapphires have a deep blue colour, but similar to Sapphires from Ban Kha Ja, Chanthaburi and Australia, greenish blues and yellows are also found. Like the much maligned Aussie Sapphires, Chinese Sapphires are a lot more than dark inky gems that appear more black than blue. While Shangdong Sapphire has royal blues that are beyond vivid, it also has a transparency far greater than most Midnight Blue Sapphire. In the Shangdong Province there are reportedly at least 20 small Sapphire mines operated by 200-300 miners.
Umba River Sapphire (Tanzania)
On the Great North Road in Tanzania, between the plains of the Serengeti and the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro lies Arusha, the gateway to the beating heart of Africa and home to the fabled gemstone mines of the Umba Valley. Collecting in rich alluvial deposits that run the course of the valley, Umba River Sapphire is sourced using age-old mining techniques by Waarusha and Wameru miners whose knowledge of gemstones has been handed down for generations.
Midnight Blue Sapphire
Midnight Blue Sapphire combines deep rich colours and a spellbinding lustre all in one gemstone. Deep blues intermingle in Midnight Blue Sapphire as if to reveal the secret of the sky at night. This accentuates their lustre and is one reason for its enduring popularity. Mined in a wide variety of countries including Madagascar, Australia, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam and China, Midnight Blue Sapphire is a gemstone whose colours are beyond vivid. But there is nothing black about Midnight Blue Sapphire. To visualize this, think of the colour of a desert sky shortly after the sun has set, with stars rising in the distance. This is the colour of Midnight Blue Sapphire, an intense azure hue unmatched in the gem kingdom.