Who can resist the royal blue hue of a brilliant blue sapphire? Or the multidimensional magic of a bi-color sapphire? Or the fuchsia fabulosity of a hot pink sapphire? The most popular colored gemstone around, sapphires are beloved by us buy-it-yourselfers and engagement ring buyers alike. Keep reading for everything you need to know about our blue crush:
- What are sapphires made of?
- Why we love them
- How to choose your sapphire
- Treatment of sapphires
- Symbolism of sapphires
What are sapphires made of?
Ok let’s revisit middle school chemistry and that beloved periodic table. All gemstones are made from those naturally-occurring elements your prof made you memorize, but what’s interesting about sapphires is that a tiiiiny dose of an extra element can create a completely different colored gem!
Sapphires are made mostly of the mineral corundum. When corundum is mixed with small doses of other elements, it morphs into almost every color sapphire under the rainbow.
Fun fact: rubies are actually just red corundum - the name 'ruby' just refers to its red color. Keep reading for how every color of sapphire comes to be:
Blue sapphires get their bright blue hue from trace amounts of titanium and iron mixed into the corundum.
Pink sapphires are born because of small amounts of chromium.
Yellow sapphires get their golden warm hue from small amounts of iron.
Orange sapphires are created from a mixture of iron and chromium.
Padparadscha sapphiresare pinkish-orange sunset-inspired sapphires made of a just-right mix of chromium and iron.
Purple sapphires come from a combination of chromium, iron, and titanium.
Green sapphires in shades from teal to yellowish green are created with varying levels of iron and titanium.
White sapphires are pure corundum without any impurities. They look colorless and can almost be mistaken for a diamond.
For more on the colors of sapphires - see this blog!
Opalescent Sapphire From Misfit Diamonds
Rubies while not technically considered a sapphire, rubies are chemically identical to sapphires. Trace amounts of chromium create that ruby red hue.
What are OPALESCENT SAPPHIRES?
More opaque than translucent, these are the unicorns of sapphires - filled with silky, ethereal threads of opalescence. The simple definition is sapphires that exhibit the qualities of an opal - aka that iridescent look! Found in every color of the rainbow, their hazy inclusions create a cosmic, iridescent glow. We call them jellybeans for their milky, candy-like color and extremely extra personality.
What causes opalescence?
Opalescence is caused by microscopic particles (smaller than the wavelength of light) which interact with different colors of light. Red/orange light has long wavelengths and so isn't very affected by the tiny particles in a stone. Blue light, on the other hand, has the smallest wavelengths, and is more affected by these microscopic particles - bouncing off them in random directions. This bouncing of light is what creates the glowy, opalescent look, and is why opalescent gemstones often glow blueish.
What are Color-shifting sapphires?
Remember the mood rings from the 90s? Color shifting sapphires are mood rings - but fine jewelry edition. Rare to find but drop-dead gorgeous to behold, color-change sapphires shift shades in different light conditions. The color shift can range from a different shade of the same color to a completely different color altogether! You'll see the change most when you move from fluorescent light to incandescent light and vice versa. It's like two stones in one, and who doesn't love that?
The stronger the color change, the more rare and valuable the gem.
What are bi-color sapphires?
Bi-color sapphires (or parti sapphires) have two distinct colors visible at all times. The two colors can be dramatically different or just a slight variation in hues – almost an Ombré effect! Unlike color-shifting sapphires, the tones don't change in different light. You'll never find two identical bi-color sapphires - every stone is a one-of-a-kind creation of nature.
When you see one you know you have something special, because the bi-color effect cannot be recreated in a lab.
What are flourescent sapphires?
Maybe the most magical of sapphires, fluorescent sapphires emit visible colored light after absorbing radiation from UV light. Only sapphires that contains an activator mineral like chromium (pink sapphires and rubies) or titanium (green, blue, and purple sapphires) are able to fluoresce. There are also "quencher minerals" that can prevent a stone from fluorescing - usually iron or nickel. A perfect balance of activator and quencher minerals must be present naturally to create the just-right environment for fluoresence.
How to tell if a stone is fluorescent?Put it under a UV lamp - if it's there, the fluorescence will show up right up away! The stronger the flourescence under a UV lamp, the more likely it will fluoresce in the weaker daylight UV rays.
Something to keep in mind: many synthetic stones or stones that have been treated with filler to hide inclusions, may have a lot of fluorescence. When you purchase gems from a trusted jeweler however, treatments (and whether it's natural or synethtic) will be disclosed to you.
Why We Love Sapphires
Rainbow of hues
When most people think sapphire, that Princess Di, heart-of-the-ocean royal blue color comes to mind. But as you can see, sapphires run the range of the rainbow – blue, purple, green, yellow, orange, purple, grey, black, brown, and even clear. The only color you won’t find in a sapphire is red – a red corundum is considered a ruby.
Durable for Everday wear
Sapphires are rated a 9 out of 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale – the hardest of all colored gemstones (only diamonds are harder). The high rating means they’re extremely durable and not easily scratched or chipped. The fact that they’re durable enough for constant everyday wear makes them a fabulous alternative engagement ring stone!
Of course, regardless of hardness, we always recommend taking off your rings (diamonds included) at night and during strenuous or abrasive activities. For more on caring for your fine jewels, read our blog.
Easier to source ethically & less harmful to the environment
Like most colored stones, it’s much easier to source sapphires mine-to-market. Around 80% of colored stones are mined artisanally or by small scale miners, so it’s more possible to have a direct connection to a producer and understand the stone’s journey from mine to maker.
And, artisanal mining operations are much less disruptive to the environment than the mechanized mining used to extract diamonds.
At Gem Breakfast, we only purchase sapphires from companies and dealers that directly support artisanal miners. Many of our suppliers own a piece of the mine or source directly from the mine. This means better traceability in every stone's journey to us.
White Sapphires are a LESS EXPENSIVE diamond ALTERNATIVE
More and more, white sapphires are being used in place of diamonds. They can be a gorgeous, unique, and less expensive alternative for the gem gal that craves something different and distinctive.
The difference: diamonds have more brilliance than sapphires. Why? On the refractive index (which measures brilliance), diamonds score a 2.42, whereas sapphires score lower at a 1.77.
Basically, a high score on the refractive index means that the gem is more effective at sending light (and sparkle) back to the observer. Lower values mean that more light will pass through the stone and escape out the backside, creating less sparkle.
Unlike diamonds which are revered for their disco-ball sparkle effect, white sapphires are beloved for their subtler, lit-by-candlelight feel.
Also, many people are looking for a more ethical, sustainable alternative to diamonds, and white sapphires are a close lookalike with a much more transparent sourcing process and less environmental impact.
How to Choose Your Sapphire
Color is the most important quality factor for a sapphire. Velvet blue to violet blue are the most coveted colors, but no matter the color, the highly saturated tones get the most attention.
Then again, we don’t believe in one strict standard of beauty. Our vision of beauty is always expanding and evolving, and truthfully, we’re a sucker for a gorgeous pastel sapphire – a soft minty green, a delectable teal, an ethereal lavender, or a baby petal pink.
Just like our other favourite gemstone, spinel, sapphires don’t have the same strict grading system that diamonds have. It’s more a matter of personal preference – we can each honor our own vision of beauty without getting caught up in grades and rankings.
Whereas diamonds are examined for inclusions at 10x magnification, sapphires are held to a different standard. Because they’re formed alongside many trace minerals that easily get trapped inside the stone, it’s accepted that most sapphires will have slight flaws and inclusions.
The ultimate goal for sapphire clarity is ‘eye-clean’ (meaning no inclusions to the naked eye) rather than clean through the lens of a loupe. Plus, inclusions and flaws are much less noticeable in sapphires thanks to their depth and color.
If you do find a completely flawless sapphire, it’s most likely lab-created. Sapphires with near perfect clarity are extremely rare and staggeringly pricey.
Unlike diamonds, there’s no standard cut or proportions to maximize every sapphire’s sparkle. Instead, each sapphire is custom cut to showcase its unique blend of color, brilliance, and clarity. Darker stones are often cut shallower to brighten the color, and lighter stones may be cut deeper to create extra dimension and intensity.
So, what do you look for? A well-cut sapphire will have symmetrical facets with angles that enhance its sparkle. The topmost facet should be centered so the gem looks even from every angle. When the gem is tilted and spun, it should give off bright flashes of color with no dull spots.
Remember, ‘carat’ refers to the weight rather than size of a stone. Sapphires are a bit heavier than diamonds, so usually a one carat sapphire will look slightly smaller than a one carat diamond. A one carat round sapphire measures around 6mm, whereas a one carat round brilliant diamond is about 6.5 mm across.
So, if you’re looking for a certain amount of finger coverage, look for the mm measurement rather than the carat value!
Natural vs Synthetic
In shopping around, you’ll find a mixture of natural and lab-created sapphires. So, what’s the difference? Natural-sapphires are mined from the earth while man-made stones are grown in a lab.
Lab created stones are much less valuable and come with a lower price tag.
If it’s in your budget, definitely invest in a genuine stone – it’s a magical piece of the earth’s history.
Treatment of Sapphires
Heat Treatment Of Sapphires
Most sapphires have been heat-treated (heated at extremely high temperatures) to intensify their color, remove color-zoning, and improve their clarity. This can be mechanized for large-scale sapphire productions, or as simple (when it was discovered hundreds of year ago) as holding a sapphire to a fire to improve its appearance.
In fact, when shopping, you can assume all sapphires have been heat-treated unless they're specifically called out as 'unheated'.
Heat treatments are very common in gemstones and nothing to be concerned about as it is generally accepted safe practice.
Why? Only about 1% of all sapphires found are of gem quality without heat treatment.
If we only used the 1% of sapphires that were naturally of gem-quality, 99% of the gems mined would be discarded. That would not be nearly enough to meet the World's demand. Not to mention, that would be an incredible waste of Earth's precious resources.
So, while gem collectors love the untouched, natural beauty of an unheated sapphire, we also celebrate this natural treatment that allows more gems to be loved and worn.
Read our definitive guide for Heated and Untreated Sapphires to learn more.
In this less common treatment, corundum is heated alongside another material like beryllium or titanium. Basically, the heat causes the corundum lattice to expand, and the beryllium or titanium atoms fill in the spaces. Once the stone is cooled, it’ll transmit light differently, and the color will be changed or intensified.
Sapphires diffused with beryllium will be pink, orange, or yellow, and titanium-diffused stones become a bright blue color. Sapphires treated with lattice diffusion usually cost less than heat treated sapphires as there’s more processing involved.
Lattice diffusion must be disclosed to the buyer before purchase.
We can all agree that sapphires are mesmerizingly gorgeous, but what about their metaphysical meaning? Each color has its own unique energy:
Blue Sapphire helps shine a light on the deepest, highest truth for you and gives you the confidence and clarity to express it.
Green Sapphire inspires a new level of understanding and compassion for others, deepening the connections in your life.
Pink Sapphire brings the wisdom of acceptance, forgiveness, and release. It helps us accept and let go of the past, freeing us from past emotions and stories.
White Sapphire gives us the fortitude to overcome obstacles in our life. It’s the gift of clarity, of a greater intelligence to guide us through difficult times.
Purple Sapphire brings the deepest kind of wisdom – it helps us see our oneness with all others, gifting us the peace that comes with connection.
For more on the meanings behind all your favorite gemstones, read our blog!