Sapphires

Sapphire is a hard crystallized substance known as corundum. Sapphires come in a variety of colors (blue, pink, yellow and white), but are famous for their rich, deep royal blue color. Found in several regions around the world, Sapphires have become the most popular precious gemstone, behind diamonds. Sapphires get their blue color from trace elements of titanium. Sapphires are mined from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Kashmir, Thailand and Australia. Each region is known to produce a variety of colors. Sapphires derive their value from size and quality. While no standard grading methodology exists, color tends to be the most important factor. The focal points of sapphire quality examination include hue, tone and saturation. As the size and quality increase, so does the price. Sapphires are available in many shapes and sizes.

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Sapphire Shapes

Sapphires are cut in various shapes. Sapphires have gained a lot of popularity in engagement rings (especially as an alternative to diamonds), and round cuts and oval cut sapphires seem to be most popular. Princess Diana was credited with making the oval cut sapphire famous with her engagement ring. High quality sapphire has a glow and sparkle due to high refraction. The faceting of round and oval shapes gives them reflective and sparkling qualities. Other shapes such as cushion, princess/square, octagon and marquise are popular as well. Round and oval sapphires are the most premium due to popularity and rough wastage as they are being cut. Cushion cut sapphires are more rare than other shapes, but more common in larger sizes above 5mm. Princess cuts are generally available in smaller sizes about 4mm and below.

Here is a sampling of all the popular Sapphire shapes:

round high quality natural sapphire shape
cushion high quality natural sapphire shape
pear high quality natural sapphire shape
emerald high quality natural sapphire shape

Sapphire Sizes

Sapphires are cut in a variety of calibrated sizes based on what looks best in jewelry. Sapphire size is measured in millimeters, not carat weight. Carat weight is often a guide. However, every sapphire is cut slightly differently. As sapphires have more depth than diamonds, carat weight isn't an entirely reliable size indicator. Like with all gemstones, the larger the sapphire, the rarer and more expensive. The prices change exponentially, not in a linear fashion. Always evaluate the sapphire's size based on the measurements.

Below are the measurements and approximate carat weights of popular shapes and sizes:

chart of round sapphires and the corresponding carat weights and millimeter sizes

Sapphire Color

With sapphires, color is the most important quality attribute. Color is examined by the Sapphire's hue, tone and saturation. Hue is the type of color in the sapphire. For example, if the gemstone is a blue sapphire, than the hue is blue. The tone is the depth of color. Sapphires should have a deep (not dark), vivid royal blue hue, with sparkles are dark purple. Lastly, the saturation is the evenness of color hue and tone. If the sapphire looks to have light spots or areas where the color gets too dark or fades, then the saturation may be uneven.

Sapphires can have different tones and still be high quality or low quality. For example, a single A quality sapphire may be very dark blue (almost black) or very light blue, almost sky blue. Likewise, icy blue sapphire can be valuable as well.

Sapphire color is examined without magnification. It is best to hold the sapphire between two fingers or on a white surface face up. Then rock and tilt the gemstone to examine the color and how it interacts with light. Human eyes are very good as identifying color. You have an innate ability to appreciate good quality versus lower quality. Your eyes will do the work and be able to identify if the sapphire is AAA or A quality.

AAA quality natural sapphire color
AA quality natural sapphire color
A quality natural sapphire color
B quality natural sapphire color

Sapphire pricing varies based on color. It is important to note that color (apart) from size, is the single biggest price factor. All three major color factors, hue, tone and saturation, must be evaluated simultaneously when pricing a sapphire and assigning a quality grade. Below is a sample sapphire pricing chart based on the color grades. Please keep in mind that these are just examples and pricing may vary based on other factors as well.


Sapphire Clarity

Sapphires form under the Earth's surface and become a hardened crystal known as corundum. As different trace elements enter the crystal structure, the color is transformed. For example, titanium yields a blue color; however, chromium yields a pink color. During the formation process, the sapphire structure can be obstructed and tiny imperfections known as inclusions can form. These inclusions include feathers, crystals, clouds, pinpoints, cavities, etc. Color often helps mask these inclusions, especially in sapphires. In higher qualities, you can expect to see fewer inclusions. Inclusions can make a sapphire look dull, opaque or lifeless. Four Mine selects sapphires with minimally visible inclusions, hence our AAA quality.

Inclusions are graded face up without magnification, similar to how color is examined. The inclusions are mostly measured by their impact on color so it isn't necessary to magnify and look for them. Their pricing is also similar to the way color is graded. The higher the clarity and color combination, the more valuable the sapphire becomes.

AAA quality natural sapphire color with perfect hue, tone and saturation of blue color
AA quality natural sapphire color with a small impact on blue depth of color
A quality natural sapphire color with inclusions that reduces depth of color
B quality natural sapphire clarity makes the sapphire look opaque and whitish

Sapphire Sourcing

Sapphire is mined and harvested from countries mostly in the eastern hemisphere. Sapphires do require special conditions for mining, unlike diamonds which have been found in warm, cold, wet, dry and many other climates. Four Mine sapphires are sourced from Sri Lanka, Australia, Madagascar and Thailand. While sapphire can be found in other countries as well, we work with suppliers and mines from these nations because of their commitment to supporting no conflict mining and community development practices.

Sapphires are a rare mineral and sapphire mining helps create jobs, infrastructure and it also funds hospitals, schools and community centers. Our sapphires come from no conflict zones. We work closely with suppliers to ensure that best environmental practices are followed. We do this by verifying the Mine locations and have visited many of our sources. Our Sapphire is manufactured locally in New York, which also supports our local economy and gives us extra control of the quality process.

Sapphire are an optimal choice in engagement rings and other jewelry for anyone concerned about conflict minerals. They have been the number one alternative to diamonds and are less expensive, which provides more value for those considering a non diamond option.


Sapphire Certification

Often times, sapphires are not certified by a laboratory. Because there are no standardized grading practices, consistency is difficult to achieve. Sapphire examination is more of an art than a science and beauty is often in the eye of the beholder (some prefer a light color, and some a darker color). The science purely lies in the identification of treatments and whether it is a natural corundum or lab created.

All Four Mine sapphires are 100% natural gemstones. We do not work with labs to create any of our gemstones and we independently test every sapphire with tools in our gemologist offices. That's our promise. No matter which jeweler you choose, you need to be confident about how they examine their sapphires and how they source them.

For large or rare sapphires, there are labs that specialize in colored gemstone grading. This labs include GIA, AGS, and AGL, among others. We recommend certifying sapphires above 2.50cts. Often times, a more cost effective route will be to have a certified appraiser verify the gemstone. The appraiser will most likely identify the same things the lab will. The one thing though that the lab can tell you is the country of origin. For some, this is important and can actually affect the value of the sapphire. For example, Sri Lankan Sapphire has a more royal blue color than African sapphire, which has a darker blue color.

In general, we always recommend natural gemstone as jewelry is a meaningful and emotionally driven purchase. Synthetic gemstones also never look visually as appealing as natural gemstones. Even inclusions, up to a certain extent, also add to the appeal of a sapphire.


Sapphire Treatments

Almost every gem quality sapphire will undergo basic or standard treatments that will slightly improve their quality. Such treatments include heating, oiling, diffusion. Four Mine will never use oiling, irradiation or diffusion treated sapphire. We believe these are temporary treatments to mask inclusions and can create structural problems in the long term. Untreated natural sapphire can be more than 10 times more expensive than treated sapphire, in larger sizes such as 5ct or higher.

Heating is literally exposing the sapphire to high temperature, which can improve the depth of color. This is a permanent treatment that is required for many sapphires, otherwise the colors would look far too light.

Other treatments include oiling, dyeing, bleaching, waxing, irradiating and laser drilling. Four mine does not source gemstones that undergo these treatments. Our gemologist examine every sapphire with a microscope and other testing equipment to check for treatments other than heating.


Sapphire Buying Guide

Buying a Sapphire requires guidance because there is no standard certification process. Without a standard certification process, you may not be able to easily price compare gemstones. Even photographs of gemstones don't always paint the correct picture as lighting can make gemstones appear better than they actually look in natural light. Consider these steps when choosing a sapphire for your jewelry.

1. Budget: Always start by setting a budget and try not to exceed the budget. Focus on the quality of the sapphire. Otherwise you may end up spending your budget on something that doesn't even look like a genuine sapphire. Remember that sapphires are a premium precious gemstone so they're not inexpensive like semi precious gemstones.

2. Shape: To choose a sapphire, first select the shape. Sapphires come in all shapes, but some shapes are more popular because of the sparkle or the way they bring out the deep blue sapphire color. Round sapphires have the highest value because they result in the most rough wastage and are the most popular shape. Consider round sapphires for engagement rings, bands, earrings and necklaces. Ovals are also very popular for rings and necklaces.

3. Size: Sapphires are measured by millimeter size, which allows one to approximate the carat weight. When sapphires are manufactured, the cutter focuses on cutting to specific size dimensions. If you're looking to buy a sapphire online, compare the measurements to a small object for a better understanding and if buying in store, use our millimeter charts as guidance for size. The price of sapphire increases exponentially with larger sizes.

4. Quality: It is ideal to purchase higher quality (AAA). Lower quality Sapphire (Single A or Single B) will look lackluster, dull, too dark or light and washed out and/or opaque. The color (and clarity) is one of the largest factors in Sapphire pricing. By selecting AAA or at least AA, you will balance your goal of minimal inclusions and vivid blue color.

5. Natural vs. Nonnatural: We recommend purchasing natural Sapphire. The difference between natural and synthetic sapphire can be very visible and lab created sapphires have treatments to which the gemstones don't always react well. Natural sapphire has a fascinating visual appeal and is a lifelong piece of jewelry. Sapphire color is one of the best among gemstones and has minimal inclusions often masked by its color.

6. Online or Store: You can purchase a sapphire online or in store. Be sure that both your online and in store jewelers have a great return policy. Online jewelers prefer to avoid returns as they typically may not hold all the inventory and so you can often expect higher quality. The perk about in store shopping is physically seeing the sapphire first so there are no surprises. The compromise is often selection limitations for the in store jeweler. That is where your online jeweler may have extra selection or flexibility. When choosing a jeweler, make sure they have a good reputation for gemstone jewelry. Be sure they have positive reviews from legitimate sources and review sites. Ensure their return policy is flexible without restocking fees. Don't be afraid to ask questions about sourcing, color, treatments, origin, inclusions, and see pictures of the stones. If the jeweler is truly an expert in the space, they should have no problem providing all the information you require.

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