The birthstone for the month of September, sapphires have been treasured as a precious gemstone in cultures as far back as ancient Rome and Persia.
What Color Are Sapphires?
Most people associate sapphires with a rich, dark blue color. In fact, the name is even derived from the Latin and Greek words for “blue,” sapphirus and sappheiros. But that’s not the only shade available. Sapphires are found in almost every color of the rainbow, including pink, peach, orange, yellow, green, teal, and purple. Red sapphires are also common, though they are more often referred to as rubies.
All shades of sapphires — including rubies — are varieties of the mineral corundum. The coloring of each gemstone is determined by the trace elements in the corundum. Classic blue sapphires contain iron and titanium. Trace elements of chromium can turn the gemstone pink, while a higher concentration of chromium leads to the creation of a ruby.
The rarest color of sapphire is a pinkish-orange variety called “padparadscha,” from the Sinhalese word for lotus flower. These gemstones are most commonly found in Sri Lankan rivers. While the quality of the stone can have a huge impact on the price, high-quality padparadscha is among the world’s most expensive gems. The price for a top-tier piece can reach up to $30,000 per carat.
A Useful Gemstone
Sapphires are one of the most durable naturally occurring elements in the world. The Mohs Scale of Hardness is a system used to rate gemstones on their ability to withstand scratching. Sapphires score an impressive 9 out of 10 on this scale. The only natural item that can scratch a sapphire is a diamond, which is a 10 out of 10 on the scale. For comparison, a copper penny is a 3.5 out of 10 and a steel nail is a 6.5 out of 10.
The hardness of sapphires also makes them useful in industrial settings. They have been used to create items like scientific instruments, electronic wafers, and high-durability windows. You may even be wearing one on your wrist right now. The Apple Watch Series 3 includes lab-created sapphire crystal in its screen to make it more scratch-resistant. Several Swiss watch companies also use a similar method to create durable timepieces.
Throughout history, some cultures have also attributed mystical powers to sapphires. In the Middle Ages, Europeans associated them with the heavens due to their rich, blue hue. They believed that the gemstone could accomplish a range of things, like cure eye disease, preserve chastity, and provide heavenly blessings. Their royal blue color also earned them ties to nobility. Some medieval kings wore them with the belief that they would provide protection from their enemies.
While diamonds dominate the landscape today, blue sapphires were actually the favored gemstones for engagement rings prior to the 20th century. They were especially popular in Victorian engagement rings, and they were often surrounded by smaller diamonds to create floral designs.
Perhaps the most famous sapphire in the world, the engagement ring given by England’s Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 features a 12-carat oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. The ring, which is now worn by Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, was inspired by a brooch Prince Albert gave to his future wife, Queen Victoria, back in 1840.
Since they are so durable and scratch-resistant, sapphires do make practical engagement ring stones, as they can hold up to everyday wear. If you’re in the market for a sapphire ring, jeweler Kate Earlam-Charnley suggests an oval cut to best show off the gemstone’s vibrant color. She explains, “Oval cuts allow the most light to travel through the gemstone, enhancing its color and making sure the sapphire does not appear flat.”
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