In earlier times, some people believed that the firmament was an enormous blue sapphire in which the Earth was embedded. Could there be a more apt image to describe the beauty of an immaculate sapphire? And yet this gem comes not in one but in all the blue shades of that firmament, from the deep blue of the evening sky to the shining mid-blue of a lovely summer's day which casts its spell over us. However, this magnificent gemstone also comes in many other colours: not only in the transparent greyish-blue of a distant horizon but also in the gloriously colourful play of light in a sunset – in yellow, pink, orange and purple. Sapphires really are gems of the sky, although they are found in the hard ground of our 'blue planet'.
Blue is the main colour of the sapphire. Blue is also the favourite colour of some 50 per cent of all people, men and women alike. We associate this colour, strongly linked to the sapphire as it is, with feelings of sympathy and harmony, friendship and loyalty: feelings which belong to qualities that prove their worth in the long term – feelings in which it is not so much effervescent passion that is to the fore, but rather composure, mutual understanding and indestructible trust. Thus the blue of the sapphire has become a colour which fits in with everything that is constant and reliable. That is one of the reasons why women in many countries wish for a sapphire ring on their engagement. The sapphire symbolises loyalty, but at the same time it gives expression to people's love and longing. Perhaps the most famous example of this blue is to be found in music, in George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". And the blue of the sapphire even appears where nothing at all counts except clear-sightedness and concentrated mental effort. The first computer which succeeded in defeating a world chess champion bore the remarkable name 'Deep Blue'.
What makes the sapphire so fancy?
Its beauty, its magnificent colours, its transparency, but also its constancy and durability are qualities associated with this gemstone by gemstone lovers and specialists alike. (This does not only apply to the blue sapphire, but more of that later on). The sapphire belongs to the corundum group, the members of which are characterised by their excellent hardness (9 on the Mohs scale). Indeed their hardness is exceeded only by that of the diamond – and the diamond is the hardest mineral on Earth! Thanks to that hardness, sapphires are easy to look after, requiring no more than the usual care on the part of the wearer.
The gemstones in the corundum group consist of pure aluminium oxide which crystallised into wonderful gemstones a long time ago as a result of pressure and heat at a great depth. The presence of small amounts of other elements, especially iron and chrome, are responsible for the colouring, turning a crystal that was basically white into a blue, red, yellow, pink or greenish sapphire. However, this does not mean that every corundum is also a sapphire. For centuries there were differences of opinion among the specialists as to which stones deserved to be called sapphires. Finally, it was agreed that the ruby-red ones, coloured by chrome, should be called 'rubies' and all those which were not ruby-red 'sapphires'.
If there is talk of the sapphire, most gemstone aficionados think immediately of a velvety blue. It's a versatile colour that becomes many wearers. A blue sapphire fits in best with a well balanced lifestyle in which reliability and temperament run together and there is always a readiness to encounter things new – as with the woman who wears it. The fact that this magnificent gemstone also comes in a large number of other colours was known for a long time almost only to insiders. In the trade, sapphires which are not blue are referred to as 'fancies'. In order to make it easier to differentiate between them, they are referred to not only by their gemstone name but also by a description of their colour. In other words, fancy sapphires are described as yellow, purple, pink, green or white sapphires. Fancy sapphires are pure individualism and are just made for lovers of individualistic coloured stone jewellery. They are currently available in a positively enchanting variety of designs - as ring stones, necklace pendants or ear jewellery, as solitaires, strung elegantly together or as sparkling pavée.
However, the sapphire has yet more surprises in store. For example there is an orange variety with a fine pink undertone which bears the poetic name 'padparadscha', which means something like 'lotus flower'. The star sapphires are another rarity, half-dome-cut sapphires with a starlike light effect which seems to glide across the surface of the stone when it is moved. There are said to have been gemstone lovers who fell in love with these sapphire rarities for all time. And indeed the permanence of relationships is one of the features that are said to belong to this gemstone.
Top-quality sapphires are rare
Sapphires, call them gemstones of the sky though we may, lie well hidden in just a few places, and first have to be brought to light through hard work. Sapphires are found in India, Burma, Ceylon, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Brazil and Africa. From the gemstone mines, the raw crystals are first taken to the cutting-centres where they are turned into sparkling gemstones by skilled hands. When cutting a sapphire, indeed, the cutter has to muster all his skill, for these gemstones are not only hard. Depending on the angle from which you look at them they also have different colours and intensities of colour. So it is the job of the cutter to orientate the raw crystals in such a way that the colour is brought out to its best advantage.
Depending on where they were found, the colour intensity and hue of the cut stones vary, which means, later on, that the wearer is rather spoilt for choice. Should she perhaps go for a mid-blue stone which will remind her even on rainy days of that shining summer sky? Or should she prefer a lighter blue because it will continue to sparkle vivaciously when evening falls? The bright light of day makes most sapphires shine more vividly than the more subdued artificial light of evening. So in fact it is not, as is often claimed, the darkest tone that is the most coveted colour of the blue sapphire, but an intense, rich, full blue which still looks blue in poor artificial light.
Specialists and connoisseurs regard the Kashmir colour with its velvety shine as the most beautiful and most valuable blue. These magnificent gemstones from Kashmir, found in 1880 after a landslide at an altitude of 16,000 feet and mined intensively over a period of eight years, were to have a lasting influence on people's idea of the colour of a first-class sapphire. Typical of the Kashmir colour is a pure, intense blue with a very subtle violet undertone, which is intensified yet more by a fine, silky shine. It is said that this hue does not change in artificial light. But the Burmese colour is also regarded as particularly valuable. It ranges from a rich, full royal blue to a deep cornflower blue.
The oldest sapphire finds are in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it is known today. There, people were already digging for gemstones in ancient times. The specialist recognises Ceylon sapphires by the luminosity of their light to mid-blue colours. Having said that, most blue sapphires come either from Australia or from Thailand.
Their value depends on their size, colour and transparency. With stones of very fine quality, these are, however, not the only main criteria, the origin of the gem also playing a major role. Neither is the colour itself necessarily a function of the geographical origin of a sapphire, which explains the great differences in price between the various qualities. The most valuable are genuine Kashmir stones. Burmese sapphires are valued almost as highly, and then come the sapphires from Ceylon. The possibility of the gemstone's having undergone some treatment or other is also a factor in determining the price, since gemstones which can be guaranteed untreated are becoming more and more sought-after in this age of gemstone cosmetics. And if the stone selected then also happens to be a genuine, certificated Kashmir or Burmese, the price will probably reflect the enthusiasm of the true gemstone lover.
It is not often that daring pioneers discover gemstones on a scale such as was the case on Madagascar a few years ago, when a gemstone deposit covering an area of several miles was found in the south-east of the island. Since then, not only have there been enough blue sapphires in the trade, but also some splendid pink and yellow sapphires of great beauty and transparency. Meanwhile, experts in Tanzania have also found initial evidence of two large-scale gemstone deposits in the form of some good, if not very large sapphire crystals coloured blue, green, yellow and orange. And the third country to register new finds recently was Brazil, where sapphires ranging from blue to purple and pink have been discovered. So lovers of the sapphire need not worry: there will, in future, be enough of these 'heavenly' gems with the fine colour spectrum. Top-quality sapphires, however, remain extremely rare in all the gemstone mines of the world.