Sapphires

Old European Cut Diamond

color - treatments - imperfections - choosing a sapphire

Sapphire is loved for its color, and blue sapphires are the second most popular engagement ring gemstone with my customers. Sapphires come in a wide range of colors, the most popular being blue, padparadscha (pinkish orange), and pink. They also come in yellow, white, green, purple, etc. Ruby and sapphire are the same mineral, except that ruby is red, pinkish-red, and purplish-red. All other gemstone-quality colors of corundum are considered sapphire.

 

Sapphire Color

Sapphires are all about color, rather than the sparkle that diamonds are known for. Color is generally described in hue (color), tone (lightness or darkness of color), and saturation (depth of color).

Generally, rich royal blues command the highest per-carat prices. As sapphire tone gets lighter and darker, they tend to cost less. Here’s a nutshell:

$ - Dark, opaque blue.
$$ - Dark blue
$$$ - Royal Blue
$$$ - Ceylon Blue
$$ - Cornflower Blue
c - White sapphire

Of course, there is tremendous variation within each color. There is violetish-blue and grayish-blue and levels of saturation.

Sometimes, sapphires are described by the mine or region they came from. The Kashmir Mine produced some large beautiful gemstones back in the day. (They are about the most expensive sapphires around.) Stones from specific areas will often have similar characteristics. Sapphires may be sold as Kashmir, Mogok, Ceylon, Burma, Madagascar. This usually means that they come from that region, but dealers also sometimes use those modifiers to describe the color that region is known for even if the sapphires did not come from that part of the world.

Some of those areas also have a reputation because they have produced some amazing “natural" sapphires. “Natural sapphire,” when described in writing by a jewelry retailer, means “natural, untreated sapphire.” Chances are, you don’t want one of those. They are crazy expensive.

 

Sapphire Treatments

Nearly all sapphires sold are treated - most often heat treated. Heat brings out more color saturation and can change tone as well. Most sapphires my customers use in engagement rings fall in this category, and if I quote you prices for a sapphire, it will be a “genuine sapphire” that is heat treated only.

Sapphires are also commonly diffusion treated. The sapphires are heated to extreme temperatures, and titanium or beryllium are introduced. The Ti (for blue) atoms penetrate the sapphire and deposit themselves just below the surface of the stone. The color is permanent unless the stone is chipped or re-polished.

Diffusion treated sapphires cost much less - and are great for customers on a budget - but they will not appraise well.

Another treatment - which is more of an origin - is lab-created. We have had the ability to create sapphires for decades, and the technology has advanced to the point that they can be created inexpensively, at very high quality. Like natural sapphires, there is a wide range of qualities within lab-created sapphires. These are best for eco-friendly and/or budget-conscious customers.

There are a few other treatments for sapphires, but you are not likely to come across any of these while shopping for an engagement ring.

 

Imperfections

While diamonds are always inspected through a loupe, sapphires are usually sold “eye clean.” I do always inspect sapphires through a loupe, but do not expect the same level of clarity in a sapphire as I do a diamond.

When viewed from underneath or at different angles, sapphires may look very different. Often, the concentration of color is not evenly distributed throughout the stone. This color may reflect within the stone and look uniform from the top, but from the bottom one can sometimes see significant "color zoning." This doesn’t necessarily mean that the sapphire will be cheap, but it will be less expensive than an equivalent sapphire without color zoning. “Color banding” or “striations” which are terms for specific types of color zoning. There are many more terms to describe this.

You may come across an “inky sapphire,” meaning that the color is not crisp.

Like diamond, sapphire can trap other minerals as it is forming. Sapphires have many of the same inclusions as diamonds. These inclusions are not as visible as in a clear, reflective stone, but should be noted.

Sapphire cut angles are not as standardized as diamonds. Since sapphires are sold mostly for color, the depth of the cut will depend on the color saturation. A darker sapphire will often be cut shallower so that it will look lighter, and vice versa.

Sometimes stones are cut a little shallow on the bottom facets in order to maximize carat weight - this can cause some leakage in the center. While most of this is unnoticeable when set into jewelry, it can be seen in loose stones.

Polish in sapphire means the same as in diamond - how crisp all the facets are. Vendors are not as careful with cheap sapphires as expensive ones, so if a lot of sapphires are placed in the same bag and get shipped across the world, they can chip each other. (Sapphires also chip slightly over time when worn on a ring.) These tiny chips can be polished out easily, but poor polish on an expensive stone is an indication that the dealer is charging too much.

 

Choosing a sapphire:

As you have learned already, there is a huge range of qualities in sapphire, and, unlike diamonds, there is no universal grading system. There are certainly features of sapphires that are more and less desirable. So here’s what is important:

*How they look from the top.*

The most important visual attribute, in industry lingo, is how they “face up.” When a sapphire is set into a piece of jewelry, one can only see the sapphire from the top, so how it looks from that angle is the most important part. If it faces up well, it will cost more.

As with diamonds, decide how much you want to spend, decide how large you want the stone to be, then we can look at your options within those parameters. Please remember that I do not sell loose sapphires. I only shop for gemstones for customers who are purchasing a workshop or jewelry into which the gemstones will be set.

 
© 2017 Sam Abbay - New York Wedding Ring dba Sam Abbay