How to Buy a Sapphire - Part 1

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Buying a sapphire is a complicated process. How would you know if you are getting a good deal? What important factors should you look at when choosing a sapphire? What questions should you ask when buying a sapphire. In this article we will cover:

  • History of Sapphires
  • Understand the substance from which sapphires originate; the corundum
  • Learn how to choose the perfect sapphire colour to suit your style
  • Locations where the best sapphires are mined
  • Cut, clarity and what treatments are accepted in the trade for sapphires


History of the Sapphire

Sapphires have an affluent history. Tradition holds that the tablets containing the Ten Commandments were composed of sapphires, so the strong hammer swung to crush the commandments would be smashed to pieces. The ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire and its reflection coloured the sky. Many other cultures have believed that sapphires imparted healing and calming properties.

Sapphires have been worn by royalty throughout the ages as a symbol of good fortune, virtue, wisdom and holiness. Princess Diana and Princess Anne both received sapphire engagement rings and the British Crown Jewels are full of large blue sapphires, the symbol of pure and wise rulers. Sapphires are the birthstone of September. Since the sapphire symbolizes sincerity and faithfulness, it is an excellent choice for an engagement ring. It is also the traditional wedding anniversary gift for a couple’s 5th and 45th year.

Properties of a Sapphire

Sapphires are one of the hardest gemstones. It belongs to the class of minerals called Corundum – second only to diamond in its hardness. When it is red, it is called ruby, but sapphires are also available in other colours, although blue is the most popular. Unlike diamond, which is made of carbon, sapphire is a combination of aluminum and oxygen.

Sapphires are so rare and expensive that cutters tend to shape them into ovals or cushions instead of round shapes (more popular in diamonds). Ovals and cushions preserve most of the original rough stone. Round sapphires are also popular, but their final shape involves removing a lot of rough –from the stone - and they therefore tend to be more expensive than ovals and cushions. The following styles are the most popular:

Step Cut/Emerald Cut

Rows of facets are cut parallel to the sapphire’s edge resembling the steps of a staircase. When the corners of the sapphire are clipped, the shape is referred to as an ‘emerald’ cut. ‘Emerald’ cuts protect the corners of the sapphire.

Brilliant Cut

The facets on brilliant cut gems are triangular, kite or lozenge shaped. A brilliant cut sapphire can have a varying number of facets, but when cut like a diamond, it will have 58 facets. This diamond-cut will not make the sapphire “sparkle” as much as other cuts, mostly because of the difference in light refraction and intensity of color between sapphires and diamonds.

Mixed Cut

The mixed cut combines step and brilliant cut facets and is the most common faceting style for sapphire. The crown is usually brilliant-cut to enhance sparkle. The pavilion is usually step-cut to save weight and enhance the stone’s colour.

Cabochon Cut

Antique jewelry often features cabochon (Kab-a-shon) sapphire, cut in a convex form (domes with a flat base) and highly polished but not faceted. Cabochon cuts are the simplest, and are therefore the least expensive of the sapphire cuts. Other cuts and carvings (designs cut into the sapphire) also exist, but they are less popular and are not dealt with here.

Shades of Sapphire

Sapphires and the colour blue tend to be synonymous. Although many sources claim that its name is of Greek derivation, its roots seem most likely to be from ancient Hebrew – which describes it as a deep blue stone. Sapphires are not just available in the blue variety for which they are named. They are also found in a colourless variety (which looks similar to diamond) and in other colours, called “fancy colours” – shades of orange, yellow, green, purple, and pink. Three terms are used to refer to the colour of sapphire:

  • Hue refers to the sapphire’s basic colour – blue, slight green, strong green, slight purple, and strong purple
  • Saturation (also called colour purity and intensity) is the extent to which the hue is masked by brown or gray
  • Tone refers to the amount of color in the sapphire ranging from very light to very dark.


On its own, the word “sapphire” refers only to the blue gemstone variety. The term cornflower blue is often associated with the best quality sapphires. But this term carries with it a perceived difference in colour for different people. Most experts agree, that medium-to-dark vivid-blue (or violet-blue) sapphires are the best.

Padparadscha Sapphires

These extremely rare and prized sapphires are medium-toned orange-pink stones found in Sri Lanka. This beautiful variety of sapphire may be priced at over $20,000 per carat.

Pink Sapphire

Other than Padparadscha, pink sapphires are the most valuable of the fancy sapphires. Found mostly in Burma or Sri Lanka, these gorgeous gems display a saturated hot pink colour.

Other sapphire colours also exist (orange, purple, yellow, green and colourless), but will not be covered in this article. Please contact us for further information.