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  Sapphire Education

 

From time immemorial the allure of sapphires has made them the most popular of all colored gemstones. Even today, sapphires remain America’s #1 selling colored gem. Their beauty and mystique continues to enchant buyers from the four corners of the globe. While not as expensive as rubies, the prices for fine quality large sapphires can be higher than diamonds. The highest price ever attained for a sapphire is $48,871 per Carat paid for the 62.02 Carat Rockefeller Sapphire in 2001.

Understanding where the value lies in sapphires is essential to making a rewarding purchase. Not all sapphires are the same, and as with all other gemstones, quality always equals value. Consequently, there are numerous attributes to consider when selecting this most popular of gems.

Color Is The Most Important Factor In Determining A Sapphire’s Value

Sapphires are identical in every attribute to ruby, except for one key component - their color. Found in a kaleidoscopic assortment of colors that range the entire spectrum, sapphires are broadly split into two named groups:

 
 

Sapphires - Blue sapphires only.

Fancy Sapphires - Sapphires of all other colors. The word sapphire, stated without a prefix, implies blue sapphires only. Sapphires of all other colors are assigned a color prefix (e.g. pink sapphires, yellow sapphires, purple sapphires etc.) or are collectively termed “Fancy Sapphires.”
Blue Sapphires

This enduring and most popular color hue of the sapphire family comes in a wide range of blue colors. With the exception of the rare and collectable padparadscha sapphires, blue sapphires are thought of as the most desirable and expensive of the entire sapphire family.

Graduating in color from light pastel blues all the way through to the depths of midnight blue, the most beautiful blue sapphire colors and the highest values sit in the middle of the blue-color range. While the pale blues and darker midnight blues offer the purchaser the best value, the rare and captivating cornflower blues offer the consumer unbeatable color with a captivating beauty – but at a premium.

Sapphires
     
 

Padparadsha Sapphires

Sapphires that combine the three colors of pink, purple and orange in one gem can resemble the famed and beautiful lotus flower known to the Ceylonese as “padparadsha”. Taking its name from the flower, padparadscha sapphires are so rare and beautiful that they are highly prized and valued by collectors and connoisseurs. Widely regarded as the most valuable of all sapphires, prices can reach many thousands of dollars per Carat.

Pink Sapphires

After the seductive tones of padparadsha and blue sapphire, the next most highly valued member of the family is pink sapphire. Ambiguously sharing a color border with ruby, many pink sapphires are so close to this boundary they are termed as “hot pink” with prices being at a premium.

For those pink sapphire that remain firmly within the color realms of pink, consumers are offered a color range from good value pastel pink shades to the more expensive but vivacious colors that approach the hot pinks. Perennially the fancy sapphire favorite, pinks sapphires are often used in tandem with blue sapphires to make interesting alternatives to accent diamonds displaying bright, colorful but harmonious contrasts within a single piece of jewelry.

     
 

Yellow Sapphires

Ranging from pleasing butter like colors to intensely beautiful canary yellows, yellow sapphires provide both beauty and value within the same gem. Often under appreciated, yellow sapphires are frequently found in large crystal sizes that can be obtained for surprisingly low prices. Arguably, yellow sapphires offer the best value of the entire sapphire family.

Purple Sapphires

At their best, purple sapphires display rich purple-pink colors reminiscent of orchids. Prized by collectors, purple sapphires offer the consumer excellent value when compared to blue, pink and padparadscha sapphires.

Green Sapphires

Displaying a range of green hues, from colors reminiscent of olives through to wine bottle like greens, green sapphires are the least demanded of the sapphire family. As if to capitalize upon this under appreciation, green sapphires offer the best bargains of the sapphire family.

     
  Star Sapphires
 
Star sapphires have long been coveted for their beautiful and mysterious optical effects. Glance at a star sapphire and you will see six or even twelve rayed stars silently gliding across the gemstone’s surface. With their very bright and lustrous star formations, star sapphires have traditionally been the most popular of all star gemstones. Click here to learn more about star gemstones.
Star Sapphire
     
 

Color Change Sapphires

Hailing from the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma and the gem gravels of Africa, color change sapphires present gem lovers with an opportunity to own the rare and stunning alexandrite effect in a gem as rare and valuable as sapphire.

Controversial Sapphires

A product of the ingenuity of the gem heaters of Thailand, these sapphires sometimes appear identical to the rare, costly and beautiful padparadscha sapphires. Relatively new to the gem world, these lustrous sapphires exploded onto the market in October 2001 resulting in a “padparadsha frenzy”. Created by the addition of a catalyst at extremely high temperatures, these sapphires are still blanketed in controversy (click here to learn more). Regardless of their color origin, these gems exhibit rare and beautiful colors similar to the padparadsha lotus flowers, with pinks, purples and oranges radiating from the body of a single jewel. These controversial sapphires are beautiful within their own right, excellent value and offer buyers a fantastic opportunity to own all the beauty of a padparadsha jewel at a fraction of the price.

     
 

The Carat Weight Of Sapphires Greatly Affects Per Carat Prices

Large sapphires of high quality are rare and highly prized. Although not as valuable as large rubies, any high quality piece above fifteen Carats is considered extremely rare. As the Carat weight of a sapphire increases, so does its price per Carat. Large sapphires are many times rarer than smaller sapphires, meaning Carat prices increase disproportionately - a five Carat sapphire is worth many times more than five one Carat sapphires of a comparable quality.

Prices for sapphires increase in stair-like steps when in excess of certain significant Carat weights. For example, a 2.02 Carat sapphire commands a higher per Carat price than a 1.98 Carat sapphire, despite a negligible difference in actual size. Sapphire pricing, like that of nearly all other gems, suffers from a “non-linear-scale of increments”.

Freedom From Inclusions

Ideally, a sapphire should allow the free transmission of light throughout its body without hindrance. Quite literally, the ideal is “crystal clear”. However, in reality the clarity found in sapphires tends to be less than that found in many other gemstones such as diamonds.

Shape & Cut
Faceted sapphires (those with flat polished faces) are found in a variety of shapes and styles. While ovals and cushion cuts are most commonly seen, other shapes such as emerald cuts and hearts are not uncommon.

Slight premiums are levied upon round cut sapphires due to the higher carat weight loss of expensive rough crystal during cutting. Conversely, discounts are often applied to the value of both pear and marquise cuts.

A perfectly cut sapphire should exhibit good symmetry and polish conditions, facets should be aligned straight in relation to the gem’s girdle and also to each other, polish condition should be good with no visible surface pits or polishing lines.

It could be argued that cabochons are the most common form of cut seen in sapphire. Often used to develop and display asterism in star sapphires, cabochon cuts are most regularly applied to those sapphires whose clarity is not ideal for faceting. Well-cut proportioned cabochons with good symmetry that are semi-transparent with smooth un-cracked domes are the ideal.

Classical & Modern Sources of Sapphire

The classical sources of quality sapphires throughout history have been the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma and the gem fields of Sri Lanka. So synonymous are these locales with fine sapphires that some people are prepared to pay a premium for Burmese and Ceylon sapphires over sapphires from all other sources. Frequently noted for their cornflower blues, sapphires of a Burmese provenance are thought of as slightly more desirable than those from Ceylon.

However, a historical blip occurred in the quality sapphire market that temporarily pushed Burmese and Ceylon sapphires back into second and third places – sapphires from the Kudi Valley in Kashmir, India. Discovered around 1880 after landslides revealed the valley’s treasures, Kashmir sapphires quickly found fame. Exhibiting intensely captivating colors, their reign at the top was but short-lived. Intensive mining lasted only thirty years, with all commercial production stopping some fifty years ago. Kashmir sapphires are almost never seen in today’s market and private collectors jealously guard known specimens.

With Kashmir sapphires all but non-existent, Burmese and Ceylon sapphires now command the top prices, with gem connoisseurs keenly vying for their beauty and pedigree. With history and pedigree aside, sapphires as every bit as beautiful have been found as widely as Australia, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam. Nowadays, Madagascar’s prolific Ilakaka gem fields account for some 20% of total global sapphire production.

     
 

The Use Of Heat

Most sapphires seen on the market today have been subjected to high temperatures in an age-old practice that is said to have originated in Sri Lanka some 2,000 years ago.

Sapphires are heated at high temperatures to improve their clarity and to intensify their colors. Without this practice, we would see fewer sapphires on the market today, at far higher carat prices due to restricted and narrowed supplies. Heating sapphires makes otherwise expensive gems, more accessible and more affordable.

The proportion of unheated sapphires on the market is small and is widely thought to be less than 1%. Although no more beautiful, their rarity makes them highly collectable and prices are set at a premium, sometimes fetching triple the price paid for an equivalent heated sapphire. When purchasing unheated sapphires, please be aware that unheated material is rare, as a result, always purchase from a reliable supplier who guarantees their gemstones or have the seller’s claim verified by a qualified expert.

     
 
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