For a long time, engagement rings were all about diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. Nowadays brides are making much more diverse choices, and coloured gemstones in particular have shot up in popularity. There are a myriad of coloured choices out there, but there are only three that are considered to be ‘precious’ gems. They are sapphires, rubies and emeralds, all of which are almost as indestructible and equally as beautiful as diamonds. We’re going to take a detailed look at each, starting with sapphires…
A Brief History…
Sapphires hit the big time when a young lady by the name of Kate Middleton agreed to marry Prince William of the British royal family. William proposed with this late mother Princess Diana’s exquisite sapphire engagement ring, and ever since then women all over the world have sought to emulate its style. However, the history of sapphires and jewellery stretches back much further than that. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed it offered protection from envy and harm, and in the middle ages clergymen wore them to symbolise the heavens.
Facts and Figures…
Sapphire is the gem variety of a mineral called corundum. Although pure corundum is colourless, it’s very difficult to find. Trace elements present in it give it a range of different colours. Sapphires are typically a deep blue colour due to the presence of iron and titanium, but can also occur in pretty much any colour including yellow, purple, grey, black and orange. There are even some that change colour under different lighting conditions! Rubies are also formed from the same mineral, so a ruby is essentially a ‘red sapphire’. White sapphires can make a more cost effective alternative to diamonds, with little difference in the appearance to the untrained eye.
Sapphires sit at number 9 on the Mohs scale, making them the second hardest gemstone after diamonds and moissanite. Large sapphire deposits have been discovered in Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Madagascar, East Africa, East Australia, and in parts of the United States. The darker the hue of the sapphire, the more valuable it is. Blue sapphires with a dark purplish tint are highly valued, while ones with a dark green tint would be considered somewhat less valuable.
While blue is the most traditional and most popular colour, there are a few other extremely rare varieties of sapphire. Paparadscha sapphires have a very delicate, pink to orange tint (think coral), usually found in Sri Lanka. The name derives from the Sri Lankan word for ‘lotus flower’, as the colour matches the flower. There’s no telling how many have been found throughout history and how many are left to be found in the earth, but it’s safe to say that the number is very low.
The other is the Star sapphire (above), which is a sight to behold. Rather than the translucent quality ‘normal’ sapphires and other gemstones have – the reason why they bounce light and look so sparkly – star sapphires are opaque. They contain a needle-like pattern of inclusions so that when they are placed under a single overhead light source, they display an ethereal six-pointed star. It really has to be seen to be believed. They are also extremely rare finds, and are usually significantly bigger than the average sapphire too.
Sapphire is the birthstone for September and the gemstone for 4th and 5th anniversaries.
The Practical Details
Just like diamonds, the 4Cs apply to sapphires too, with the main difference being colour. They come in all cuts, shapes and carat sizes and at varying levels of clarity. As a general rule, if you had a sapphire and diamond of the same size and quality, the sapphire would be somewhere around 20% cheaper, although it very much depends on where you’re buying it from. Sapphires are often found on vintage pieces and increasingly in brand new engagement rings too.
Who Wears Sapphires?
Kate Middleton and Princess Diana aside, you’ll see plenty of famous faces sporting sapphires on their ring fingers including Elizabeth Hurley, Penelope Cruz, Jenny McCarthy (who has a yellow sapphire) and Chloe Malle.