Are you a bride-to-be who feel a diamond just isn’t your style?
Here are 4 reasons why sapphires make great engagement rings:
1. Sapphires belong to the mineral species corundum. Corundum is the second hardest mineral on Earth next to diamond.
2. Sapphires come in all colors of the rainbow so there’s bound to be a shade that will set your heart a flutter.
3. You’ll be the girl that went her own way . . . having a ring that is different than 99% of what’s out there . . . well now, that’s unique!
4. The methods of mining sapphires (in most cases) are less intrusive and damaging to the environment.McTeigue & McClelland ‘Blossom’ ring, Cathy Waterman purple sapphire ring, The Natural Sapphire Company pink sapphire ring
– Considerations when shopping for a sapphire –
Color is the single most important factor when choosing a sapphire. You could go with a traditional blue sapphire or choose something pretty like a light pink or bold like a golden yellow because the color choices are virtually endless. Or how about a ruby? Belonging to the corundum family, a ruby is basically a red sapphire.
The most desirable shade of blue in sapphire is given the moniker cornflower blue because of its resemblance to the brightly hued flower. Or, for something exotic, there is a rare shade of orange-pink known as the padparadscha sapphire (Sanskrit word for the lotus flower); this warm glowing color is extremely unique and totally unmistakable. If red is your thing, then, the best shade for ruby is known in the trade as pigeon blood (yuck! who came up with that name?) but it refers to a special shade of deeply saturated red that has a slight tint of a violet/blue fluorescence.Padparadscha sapphire and diamond ring courtesy of Bonham’s, Kamofie yellow sapphire solitaire, at clay-pot.com, NIXIN ruby and gold ring on Etsy.
Unlike diamonds, sapphires do not have a standardized clarity grading system. Although a totally clean, superb color rare sapphire or ruby can command as much as a diamond or more in terms of price per carat, the clarity of most sapphires and rubies are seen as a distant second in comparison to color when evaluating them. In fact, some inclusions are seen as a ‘good’ thing – some inclusions indicate that the stone is natural (not man-made or treated to improve its appearance.)
Case in point, very fine silk-like rutile inclusions give sapphires and rubies a velvety appearance. This, combined with a saturated/bright color, is very desirable and can command high prices. The presence of ‘silk’ indicates that the sapphire or ruby in question is completely natural – without even heat treatment – because when heated, the ‘silk’ will disappear.Bulgari 19.27 carat sugarloaf sapphire ring.
When cutting sapphires from rough material, the first consideration is how to release the beauty of its color. Because sapphires are doubly refractive (different colors are displayed from different viewing angles), the cutter’s first decision is from which angle the stone should be viewed and then he/she will cut accordingly so that the stone can put its proverbial ‘best foot forward.’
The thought process is totally different from that of cutting diamonds. In diamond cutting, often, the first priority is to save weight. The bigger the resulting diamond, the more money the cutter can command. Next, a diamond cutter will consider the inclusions – trying to strike a perfect balance between quality, size and proportion. Often, he/she has to do this within the confines of producing a round brilliant cut stone, as this is the most popular shape and hence the most sellable.
Because inclusions are not viewed as necessarily bad in sapphires, sapphire cutters are more free to experiment with shapes and faceting styles. When it comes to transparent sapphires, the most common cut is referred to as ‘native cut.’ This is a loose term – many stones with slight variations in faceting can all be called ‘native cut.’ Native cut can be round, oval, cushion, or even freeform shaped. Often, these stones have a shallow crown and 4-sided rectangular facets on the pavilion.
While having a deep pavilion is seen as a bad thing in diamonds (due to the entrapment of light), it is often necessary in sapphires. Having the depth at the bottom of the stone helps give the sapphire a more even and saturated color.
Cabochons with a high dome will often have a much more saturated color as in the sugarloaf sapphire above.
The specific color and types of inclusions present in a sapphire or ruby can be a really good indicator of its origin. Historically, certain locales are known to produce the best quality sapphires and rubies (i.e. Kashmir sapphires and Burmese rubies) and having the provenance can raise the price of a stone tremendously. Today, there are many high quality sapphires that come out of Africa and Madagascar. Thailand was a large source a few decades ago but is now mainly a trading hub.
Unlike the diamond industry, the sapphire trade isn’t tightly controlled and dominated by large corporations, meaning there are lots of small businesses, mom-and-pops and even individuals all over the world that participate in the process of bringing the stones to market from gathering rough material (often from alluvial deposits) to cutting and polishing to trading. The entire industry has more of a ‘cottage’ feel to it compared to that of diamonds and semi-precious stones which are often cut and manufactured in large factories all over the world.
If treatments are disclosed and the sapphires or rubies properly priced, treated stones can be a wonderful option for buyers.
Less waste. Materials that would have been discarded can now be used. Think of treatments as upcycling . . . the processes take previously unusable material and make them usable. From a waste and environment point of view, this is great news.
Great value. With treated sapphires and rubies, you get good color and clarity for a fraction of the price.
Creativity. Because they’re not as highly priced as natural sapphires, designers and fabricators can be more creative with their uses and feel more free with designs and settings.
In reality, only a tiny fraction of sapphires on the market today are completely 100% natural without any treatment. 99% have at least been heated.
Heat – The most basic and common treatment is by heat. The color of a sapphire can be improved greatly by simple heating. This treatment is done to almost all sapphires on the market and the results are harmless and permanent. Unless otherwise specifically stated, you should assume your sapphire has been heated.
Flux – Flux healing is a treatment that improves the clarity of sapphires and rubies. Fractures and surface reaching inclusions can be ‘healed’ by applying a slurry (known as ‘flux’) along with heat that lowers the natural melting point of corundum whereby the fractures self-heal and re-crystalize after cooling. Sometimes filling agents with a similar refractive index to corundum is added to the slurry to aid the process and provide material.
Glass Filled – This is a treatment that is usually only done to rubies. Fractures and surface reaching inclusions are ‘filled’ with a material that has a similar refractive index to corundum, most commonly, lead glass. Glass in powder form is heated with the stone; the glass powder becomes molten and flows into the fractures thus filling them in and improving clarity.
Diffusion – This is a process in which sapphires are heated to near its melting point while introducing color-inducing elements (titanium or beryllium) which penetrate or diffuse some distance into the stones. Previously, this treatment only affected a thin layer on the surface of the stone. So, if the stone is chipped or re-polished, the original color is seen.
With the use of beryllium, color can now go deep into the stone. Beryllium atoms can squeeze in between the aluminum and oxygen atoms (chemical composition of corundum: Al2O3) and penetrate quite deeply. This is different than other treatments because it has more to do with actually changing the chemical composition of the stone rather than simply ‘filling’ or ‘healing’. Sapphires that were too dark or too pale, after undergoing diffusion, can be a bright orange, yellow, red, green and blue.
Diffusion is a safe and permanent treatment. The color does not fade over time and is not affected when working with the stone (e.g. heat from the torch or ultrasonic cleaning.)
Some sapphires exhibit unusual phenomenons such as asterism and color-change.
Asterism (i.e. star sapphire) occurs when extremely fine internal rutile needles line up perpendicularly inside the stone. If the stone is cut properly (only cabochons can show asterism), a star on the surface is displayed. Asterism can only be seen when the sapphire has had no heat. Although there are synthetics (most well-known are Linde Stars) and also diffusion treated star sapphires.
Sapphires can also ‘color-change’, meaning, they can go from one color to another when viewed under different lighting conditions.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest in the wonderful world of sapphires . . . truly, they are a fascinating gemstone and their beauty and variety is unmatched. If you’re looking for an alternative to a diamond, a sapphire should be top on your list!