Scintillating Sapphires You've Never Heard Of!
For a basic guide to the history and origins of Sapphire, see our blog post here.
Sapphires are amazing, durable stones. They come in every color of the rainbow, although most don't realize that they can be anything but blue. Traditionally, Sapphire is valued for a deep blue hue, but it can actually be found in all colors (including clear or 'white') and all shades of blue. A surprising fact about Sapphire is that it is the exact same mineral as Ruby (called Corundum). Ruby simply is what this mineral is called when the color is the perfect shade of red. Certain colors occur only in certain areas of the world, while others are more common.
Sometimes also called bi-color or polychrome Sapphires, the uncommon Parti Sapphire, like its name implies, is fun and festive -- showcasing two or more colors in an obvious fashion. Typically, these Sapphires will be a combination of blue, yellow, and/or green -- however other color combinations can also be found (albeit even more rarely). Parti sapphires often have a striated or 'striped' look to them, or a kaleidoscopic effect. These stones are truly mesmerizing, and 100% unique. No two ever look the same, as nature intended.
Most of the mined Sapphires we see today are from Australia. Many Parti Sapphires today originate in The Gemfields, and are ethically sourced.
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Star sapphires have a mysteriousness and glamour to them, with good reason. They are highly unique and have a history of being prized for what is technically called an asterism, or special star-like feature created by tiny inclusions of rutile (also known as 'silk'). Hematite is the inclusion that causes the same effect when talking about a black star sapphire, specifically.
A good number of the largest and most famous sapphires found have been star sapphires, and many a star sapphire has been used to create large statement jewels worn by the elite and famous. Star Sapphire is a favorite of 'Old Hollywood' glamour, being coveted by some of hollywood's legends.
Clarity is noticeably different in star sapphires, as they're all a bit opaque as a result of the 'silk' in them. As a result, they don't follow normal rules of 'good' or 'bad' clarity. Cut is a bit different as well, but is still important to ensure a well-defined, properly oriented star. Buyer beware: a totally perfect star might be too good to be true -- and might mean a man-made stone. Most natural star sapphires are unheated.
A perfect blend of pink and orange, the elusive Padparadscha is one of the rarest gemstones on Earth. This Sri Lankan stone's color is like no other gemstone on earth, and it's uniqueness and rarity (not to mention hardness) make it a very appealing choice. Still relatively unknown to the general public, the Padparadscha is a coveted treasure to the gemstone connoisseur.
For years, experts have argued over standards of what elicits value from this color range -- and as a result none have been fully embraced. Many industry experts agree that these stones straddle the boundary between pink and orange, however some of these sapphires are not evenly salmon colored at all, but actually exhibit color zoning of yellow and pink. Arguments still exist on exactly how pink or how orange these sapphires can be as well as whether or not certain stones are in a range that makes them too dark to qualify.
Because Padparadscha is so extremely rare, it's not uncommon that cut stones will be shaped in a way that conserves as much material as possible, meaning they may be found in unusual and/or asymmetrical cuts. While the color of this stone does tend to show inclusions quite easily, it's worth noting that the rarity may make it difficult to find an ideal stone without inclusions. It is not uncommon to have to sacrifice a high clarity grade in order to find a stone with ideal color.
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A favorite in recent years, the Montana sapphire, is both ethically sourced and unique. Mined within the US, as the name suggests -- Montana Sapphires are much less common in the market than other types of Sapphires because there are fewer overall mines providing them. These are most commonly known for their shades of blue and green, with teal being the most popular color. They do, however, also come in many other beautiful colors, from purple to orange and yellow. Most of the blue and greens are from the Yogo region of Montana, while other fancy colors often come from other areas, such as Rock Creek, Dry Cottonwood Creek, and along the Missouri River near Helena.
Because of the fact that these stones are mined in the states, they are as transparent as you can get when it comes to origin. They are easily traceable, making them a dream stone for those looking to stay natural but ensure that their stone was sourced ethically, without gross environmental harm, child labor or wage issues, or any other human rights abuses.
Interestingly, Montana Sapphires were not discovered until the 1860's, where they were commonly discarded by gold miners as worthless blue and green pebbles. When a miner named Ed 'Sapphire' Collins sent some examples of this mystery material to Tiffany & Co in 1985 they offered to purchase the entire lot. After the discovery of the material's value, prospectors turned their attention to mining the Sapphires, as they were far more common and thus lucrative than the tiny specks and nuggets of gold they'd been after.
Montana Sapphire rough is typically small, so it's quite rare to find a gem quality stone that is over 2 Carats. Larger sized stones will command a high price because of their rarity.
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Color Change Sapphires
A rare form of gemstone, color change sapphires are not specific to any one region. They do, however, come from from small deposits primarily in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon), Tanzania, Thailand, and Madagascar. As a general rule, the value of a color change sapphire will be determined first by the strength of the stone's color change, followed by the color of the stone. The 4 C's (cut, clarity, color, carat weight) can make quite a difference as well.
Color change sapphires do exactly what you might think -- they change color based on lighting conditions. In daylight, the stone will appear one shade, and inside under incandescent light (think: bulbs or candle light), another. The most basic type of color change is from blue to violet. Some stones change from violet to a very strong reddish purple. Other more rare stones may change from green to purple. In any case, the effect that is seen is a result of how wavelengths of light pass through the stone and which mineral traces or impurities exist within the stone. The presence of chromium and vanadium, for example, can result in color change.
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This particular type of sapphire is from the Umba River region in the Umba Valley of Tanzania - containing an approximately 2 mile area of sapphire deposit. This region produces all colors, but is known for earthy tones and colors that are not commonly found in other parts of the world, such as vibrant oranges, yellows, and some shades of purple. Recently, pinkish-orange shades from this area (described as anything from ‘salmon” to ‘sunset”) have begun to gain in popularity.
What makes Umba sapphires unique is the fact that Umba has provided the world with sapphires of unique hues and color changes that we don't find anywhere else on earth. Some rare stones (primarily purple stones) even display a color change similar to that of Alexandrite depending on the source of light. Stones that look green to grayish blue in sunlight often turn a lovely violet to violet-red in incandescent light. These color-change sapphires are hard to come by, and as a result are a hot collector’s item.
The most famous Tanzanian fancy colored sapphires are orange. Originally called 'Padparadscha' by the firm that cornered the market on the gems, the sapphire was instantly a controversial topic, as Sri Lanka had previously been the only producer of such prized color. Gemstone purists that stand by the belief that Padparadscha can only be of Sri Lankan origin were so upset with the firm calling these stones 'Padparadscha,' that the firm changed the name to 'African Padparadscha.' While some claim the colors from Africa are a hint more brown or earthy, others claim the region produces colors that rival the Asian varieties and deserve to share the name.
Umba Sapphires were only discovered in 1962, and have primarily been purchased and brought to market by one family, with most of the existing rough still residing in their possession. Therefore, they're less common on the international market and can be priced accordingly.
Umba Sapphires are virtually never treated, making them unique and rare. For example, most yellow sapphires from Sri Lanka must be heated to achieve vibrancy, whereas east African stones often achieve comparable, intense colors naturally, without treating. It is worth noting that Sapphires from the Umba region commonly have tiny tube-like inclusions, and are not always as 'eye clean' as they may be from other areas.