Few gems have held our attention over millennia as well as sapphire. The pure blue colors and excellent durability of this gem-quality member of the corundum family make for an exceptional gemstone. However, not all sapphires are blue. The September birthstone comes in every color of the rainbow. Except red.
Color is the most important element in estimating the value of blue sapphire. Although hue counts, the closer to a pure blue the better, saturation is more important. Top sapphires reach vivid saturation. (Many sapphires on the market are actually grayish). Tone is also an important consideration. Dark sapphires are abundant and never reach very high values. (Of course, the same can be said for all dark gems: too dark and they’ll only be moderately valuable). The pictures below are a rough illustration of differences in blue sapphire saturation. After blue, pink and pink-orange padparadscha colors command the highest prices.
All red, gem-quality corundum gems are considered rubies. All other colors of gem-quality corundum are considered sapphires. On the market, blue sapphires are usually simply called sapphires, while sapphires of other colors are commonly specified as yellow sapphires, pink sapphires, etc, and are collectively known as “fancy sapphires.” However, when discussing the physical and optical properties of sapphires, the term “sapphire” applies to all sapphires regardless of color.
Sapphires get their extraordinary colors from trace elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, and others. Traces of vanadium may cause color change in some sapphires. These sapphires show one color in daylight or fluorescent light and another in incandescent light.
There is some disagreement about the distinction between pink sapphires and rubies. Some authorities classify only corundum gems with a dominant red hue as ruby. Others consider any red corundum, including pink, which is a light tone of red, to be ruby.
Debates over colors and definitions extend to padparadscha sapphires, too. Subjective descriptions of these “lotus-colored” sapphires include “sunset,” “peach,” and “salmon.” The preferred color qualities range from a light to medium-tone orange-pink to pink with a slight orange hue to orange with a slight pinkish hue to a more deeply saturated orange-pink. These preferences also vary between consumers from Eastern and Western countries.
For centuries, sapphire has been popularly associated with royalty and said to protect against poison and fraud. Star sapphires have also been associated with the power to divine the future. However, ancient references to sapphires may actually refer to lapis lazuli, another striking but gemologically distinct blue stone.
Typically, natural blue sapphires have no reaction to ultraviolet light (UV). However, there are some notable exceptions:
Please note: you may find these names used purely as descriptive terms. Sapphires can’t always be identified by their color alone. Always confirm the origin of a sapphire with a vendor, especially if the gem is sold with a “geographic” name. Ask if the name refers to the actual origin or simply the color.
Sapphire’s hardness is second only to diamond among natural gems. It also has no cleavage planes. This makes it a superb jewelry stone. Of course, a heavily included or fractured stone will be less stable.
For reasonably clean stones, no special wear or care precautions are necessary. However, avoid cleaning any oil-treated sapphires with ultrasonic systems. Otherwise, you can clean sapphires with mechanical systems. Nevertheless, cleaning your sapphires at home with warm water, detergent, and a soft brush or taking them to a professional jeweler are your safest choices.