Everything you need to know about Sapphires
Our inhouse Gemmologists are here to teach you everything you need to know about Sapphires.
Get ready to become a Sapphire expert... Our in-house gemmologists are here to impart their gemstone wisdom, and answer your most asked questions about Sapphires!
What are Sapphires made of?
Sapphires are valued worldwide for their unique beauty, rarity, immerse hardness (durability) and the fact that nature produces them in a rainbow of colors.
These vibrant stones are part of the mineral family Corundum and are allochromatic gemstones. This means that in their ‘pure’ state of aluminium oxide they are completely colourless. It's thanks to the chemical elements present in the earth at the time of the crystal formation, that we have the many vibrant colours and shades of Sapphires that we do, such as blue, pink, yellow, violet, green and orange.
What makes Sapphires Blue? (or Yellow? or Pink?)
When you find a Sapphire that has been coloured by iron and titanium, it will be Blue Sapphire. The sapphire's saturation and shade of blue is determined by the concentration of those elements. Iron is the main transition element for Yellow Sapphire, and chromium is to thank for Pink Sapphires.
Are Rubies a type of Sapphire?
Ruby is the other gemstone that forms part of the corundum family, distinguished only by colour. Rubies are inherently red, and sapphires are any other color. However, rubies can have pink, purple, or orange undertones. The dominance of undertones determines whether the stone is a ruby or a pink, orange or purple sapphire.
Where do Sapphires come from?
Sapphires can be found in many different parts of the world. Sri Lankan and Thai Sapphires are both historically famous and highly prized, due to their vivid colour and popularity with Royal families, and more recently due to their amazing quality coupled with both country’s responsible and transparent mining practices. Other notable sources include Thailand, Australia, Tanzania, Myanmar, Madagascar, Pakistan, the USA and Vietnam.
For thousands of years, colourful gemstones have been treasured talismans for the benefits they are said to impart upon their wearer.
The connection to the earth is said to infuse the stones with energy and spiritual meaning, which have been carried from primordial times through to modern day Hollywood. From celestial blue to sparkling yellow, Sapphires are believed to be some of the most powerful of symbolic stones.
Blue Sapphire: Is widely known as the stone of truth, hope and harmony, as well as being the stone of mental acuity and learning.
Pink Sapphire: Is a stone of wisdom and resilience. It is linked to love and forgiveness.
Yellow Sapphire: Is said to bring wisdom, happiness and prosperity, and is often linked to financial luck.
Sapphires come in a myriad of shades including violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and intermediate hues. There are also “parti-colored” Sapphires that show combinations of different colours. Some stones exhibit the phenomenon known as color change, most often going from blue in daylight or fluorescent lighting to purple under incandescent light. Sapphires can even be gray, black, or brown.
Gemstone color can be both incredibly exciting and a little tricky to navigate.
There are many color choices and the wealth of available information which can be quite overwhelming. Some experts proclaim the superior value of special shades of colours, such as "Royal Blue Sapphires" or "Cornflower Blue Sapphires", but since colour perception is subjective and cannot be standardised by a measurable, repeatable value, these systems of naming colours remain debated and disputed among gemologists and gemstone collectors.
Instead when describing the "colour" of gemstones, there are 3 factors that are being considered:
1) Hue which reflects the basic colors we see. When most people discuss “colour,” they’re actually referring to hue.
2) Tone refers to a gem’s relative lightness or darkness.
3) Saturation refers to the hue’s intensity.
When we source Blue Sapphires at Fenton, we typically look to source a mid to deep blue tone. a bright, lively colour, that has a good saturation of blue, is not so pale it’s almost colourless and is not so dark it’s almost opaque. Having said that, we have sourced stones from ends of the spectrum for bespoke orders in the past.
In addition to the color attributes, we of course also consider clarity and cut quality.
Colour will always be a personal preference, and in our opinion, no one colour is better quality than another. The beauty with natural coloured stones is that we are dictated to by mother nature, and so you will not find two identical, natural Sapphires - your gemstone is wholly unique to you.
Clarity is slightly easier to gauge. Whilst Sapphires are very different gemstones to diamonds, you can still grade their clarity on the same characteristics. Diamonds can have up to 10 different clarity labels, whereas Sapphires will typically have 3: included, slightly included and eye clean.
An inclusion is the name for tiny lines of growth, crystals or needles, which you can see inside the gemstone. These are small elements that were trapped inside the stone during its formation. These can also be called imperfections, however we don’t see them as imperfect. Inclusions tell the story of your gemstone - where it’s from, how old it might be, what else was happening in the earth at the time of crystallisation. In Sapphires, these clarity characteristics can vary from other mineral crystals, to liquid ‘feathers’, to 3-directional rutile, also known as ‘silk’. Silks can reflect light to create a star effect which is highly prized. The placement and concentration of an inclusion will determine the overall clarity of your Sapphire.
A natural Sapphire entirely free from inclusions does not exist. At Fenton we avoid stones with black or obvious distracting inclusions (inside the stone) or blemishes (on the surface of the stone). The Sapphires are 'eye clean' which means any inclusion will be difficult to see with the naked eye.
All gemstones of a significant size are cut by hand. This is because each crystal is unique, and the lapidary (stone cutter) will choose how to cut the stone to best maximise colour, clarity, life and sparkle.
Gemstone cutting is usually practised by skilled local lapidaries (gemstone cutting experts) who have passed the skill of cutting on from generation to generation. Symmetry is undoubtedly important, however if you notice some irregularities in your gemstone, it is likely because your cutter has used their knowledge to cut your gemstone in such a way that other important factors such as the surface colour are even and enhanced.
At Fenton, we offer 4 different cuts: oval, emerald, round and cushion. They come in five different sizes, depending on the style of the ring you choose.
OVAL CUT SAPPHIRES
Oval gemstones are faceted to allow for maximum sparkle and lustre. It is a great option if you are looking for both surface area on the finger and maximum sparkle, as the oval is longer than the square cushion or round cut, but more sparkly than the emerald cut.
Our Sizes: 7x5mm, 8x6mm, 9x7mm, 10x8mm, 11x9mm, 12x10mm
ROUND CUT SAPPHIRES
The round cut, similarly to the oval cut, is faceted in order to maximise the sparkle of the gemstone.
Our Sizes: 5mm, 6mm, 7mm, 8mm, 9mm, 10mm
CUSHION CUT SAPPHIRES
The Fenton cushion cut is square in shape, but with rounded edges rather than sharp, straight corners. This blends the geometry of the square with the softness of the round or oval cuts.The Faceting also allows for maximum sparkle.
Our Sizes: 5mm, 6mm, 7mm, 8mm, 9mm, 10mm
EMERALD CUT SAPPHIRES
Emerald cuts are ‘step cut’, which means there are fewer facets than the other cuts, making the emerald cut more subtle with more of a focus on showcasing the clarity, rather than sparkle of the gemstone. Unlike the above cuts, the emerald cut is less forgiving when there are inclusions in a gemstone.
(Fun fact: the emerald cut was named so because it was originally created for an Emerald. The cut was created to show off the colour of these fantastic gemstone by allowing long “window facets”)
Our Sizes: 7x5mm, 8x6mm, 9x7mm, 10x8mm, 11x9mm, 12x10mm
Sapphire Durability - Hardness, Toughness and Stability
When it comes to durability, gemstones are graded on three different aspects; hardness, toughness and stability.
Hardness is the gemstone’s ability to resist scratching and chipping, and is measured on the MOH’s scale (a scale devised by geologist and mineralogist Friedrich Mohs). The scale ranges from 1-10, from soft to hard. Diamonds, as the hardest natural mineral, measure 10 on the scale, with Sapphires following at number 9.
Toughness is the gemstone’s ability to resist fracture and cleavage (a smooth, clean break), and Sapphires are very tough.
Stability is the gemstone’s ability to resist changing in appearance over time. This often (but not always) refers to colour, and whether or not it has the potential to fade. If a Sapphire has been heat treated, it can be said that this treatment is ‘stable’, meaning the slightly enhanced colour will not change on exposure to direct sunlight, or chemicals in standard household cleaning products for example.
Sapphire Treatments - What are heat treated Sapphires?
There are many different gemstone treatments that exist on the market. Some of which are very commonplace and widely considered to be acceptable, whereas others are not. Treatments exist to cater to all needs and budgets, and make certain gemstones a little more acceptable to a wider market.
With Sapphires, the only treatment which we at Fenton will accept is heat treatment. This involves heating Sapphires to recreate the conditions within the earth that were present during the formation of the Sapphire crystals.
Trapped gasses can be released, improving clarity and dark inclusions become lighter or are fully resolved. Trace elements become more evenly distributed and improve the colour saturation. Generally speaking, heat treatments improve the colour and clarity of the gemstone and are permanent and irreversible.
How much do Sapphires cost?
Sapphires will vary in cost, depending on the colour, clarity, treatment, locality, and provenance.
When sourcing loose Sapphires, they are typically priced per carat. Certain colours will have a higher price per carat, as they enjoy more demand from the consumer than others. This is independent of the ‘quality’ of colour.
The clarity is another important factor which influences the price of a Sapphire - the higher the clarity, the more it will cost.
The treatments a Sapphire has undergone, are another aspect which will influence the cost. Unheated Sapphires, especially the blue one, will demand a higher price than a heated Blue Sapphire. That’s not to say that a heated Sapphire will be cheap, just that a good quality unheated Sapphire is more rare.
Locality can also play a role in Sapphire price, but much like the colour, this is mostly superficial, unless a Sapphire has been sourced from a particular mine which is no longer in operation.
And finally, weight. Alongside the colour and clarity, weight is one of the most influential factors determining Sapphire cost. If a Sapphire is priced per carat, then the higher the carat weight, the more expensive it will be.
But what this can mean is that if there are two Sapphires, both the exact same length and width dimensions, then the Sapphire that is deeper will be more expensive. The problem with this is that when you set a gemstone, you often don’t see the depth, and are therefore paying more for an aspect that you will not see. At Fenton, we look more at spread (surface area) rather than the depth, as although a shallower gemstone will weigh a little less, we don’t want half the carat weight to be wasted in something you won’t see!
This is why you will see our gemstone sizes depicted in mm x mm for each of our rings!
For every natural gemstone, there is a synthetic gemstone counterpart.
True synthetic Sapphires are made in a lab, and have the exact same chemical composition as a natural Sapphire (so Aluminium Oxide).
One of the most common ways to create synthetic Sapphires is the verneuil method. This involves passing a powdered form of aluminium oxide through an open flame, liquifying the powder to form droplets, which collect on a spindle and then solidify. The end result of this process is a Sapphire boule, which can then be cut and polished like a natural Sapphire crystal.
Whilst synthetic Sapphires may be made from the same stuff, this doesn’t mean they will look the same as their natural counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, synthetic Sapphires do still have inclusions, it is just that they are different in nature from natural Sapphires.
Their colour may be a little more consistent than natural Sapphires, but they have an overall glassy feel, which is why they are great for costume jewellery. They also miss one of the main factors attributed to a gemstone: rarity. Synthetic Sapphires can and are made in bulk, making each stone a little less special and more widely available than a unique natural Sapphire.
Sapphire Care and Cleaning
As Sapphires are pretty durable stones, caring for them is relatively straight forward. However, you should always remember they are still precious gemstones, and should be treated as such - they can still be scratched or chipped if not treated with the right amount of care.
Your Sapphire jewellery will get dirty from time to time, with things like soap collecting under the stone. The best way to clean it is to soak it for a short while in some warm, soapy water (a normal washing up liquid or hand soap is fine to use!).
This will dislodge any dirt, and then all you will need to do is gently scrub behind the gemstone with a soft toothbrush (ideally a child’s), and this should bring your Sapphire back to it’s sparkly former glory!
Find out more about caring for your gemstone ring here.
Learn more about Sapphires and see our favourite Sapphire jewellery selection. with our expert concierge and FGA certified gemmologist, Susannah.