by Elizabeth Andrews
Sapphire, whether from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Thailand, Africa, or Montana US, all have the same chemical composition - they’re all corundums. The difference lies in their growing environments and the trace elements present during their formation.
Quality characteristics such as color and saturation, sparkle or “life”, cut and color modifiers help us determine a sapphire’s country of origin. Traveling to the source, like we have done in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Madagascar, and Africa, has allowed us to understand the sapphire markets intimately and learn from the dealers themselves where these stones come from.
The Value of Trace Elements
All gemstones form in environments where small amounts of trace elements are present. Trace elements provide gemologists with clues to determine both general body-color of a gemstone and its country of origin.
On a basic level, trace elements are what sets apart a chunk of clear corundum from an blue sapphire, from a purple sapphire, or a pink sapphire. I like to think of them as gemstone dyes, coloring the main clear body-color of the gemstone. Blue sapphires, for instance, are colored by the trace elements iron and titanium.
Though essential in color formation, through what gemologists call color centers, this isn't the only clue trace elements give us. They also give us insight into where a gemstone formed, or its country of origin. Specific trace elements, in certain quantities or concentrations, are only present in specific countries or even specific mines within those countries. Kashmir sapphires, for instance will have very different trace elements than a sapphire from Thailand, even if they are the same general body-color.
Ceylon, Sri Lankan, Sapphires
The finest Ceylon sapphires are the finest quality sapphire that is available in the market today. The stones come in a light blue to dark blue, where the darker the color, the finer the stone is. There is very rarely a Ceylon stone that is considered too dark, unlike a Thai, Australian or African stone. Ceylon stones have a true cobalt blue color, unlike an Australian or Thai stone that has more of a black-blue color.
Because Ceylon sapphires tend to be on the lighter side of the color spectrum, and they are generally cut very deep in order to bring out the saturation of color. We look for stones with a medium depth. A stone that is too shallow will causing windowing and lower saturation of color, while a stone that is too deep loses value because it “faces up” smaller than its actual carat weight.
We have been traveling to Sri Lanka for over 25 years and travel there almost annually to purchase their high quality sapphires and other rare gemstones. In Sri Lanka we are able to buy directly from the gemstone miners, who often cut and facet the gemstone, and sell the gemstone, seeing the whole process through. The country has not allowed any mechanised mining, or large businesses to come in with large equipment, which has allowed for the gemstone natural resource to be preserved for future generations. From our first trip to the island off the coast of India, sapphire prices have risen dramatically and what we considered our “secret fishing hole” has been opened up to many gemstone buyers from around the world!
Though we primarily seek out blue sapphire from the marketplace to pair with our antique and vintage mountings, we have also come home with beautiful purples, pinks, yellows and greens. These stones have the same crystal structure and chemical composition as blues, though they were exposed to different trace elements during growth. Through the process of heat treating, treaters can sometimes turn a light blue, yellow or brown stone into a blue stone, increasing its value and marketability.
Ceylon sapphires are considered the finest available sapphires in the world. Kashmir stones are known to be the finest material, but those mines have been shut down for decades and there is no reliable flow of gems from this region.
We are fortunate to have a large selection of Ceylon sapphire gemstones paired with our antique and vintage mountings for you to purchase. Whether you are looking for the perfect sapphire engagement ring, a Victorian era sapphire everyday ring, or an exquisite sapphire cocktail ring, please do not hesitate to send us a message with any questions!
The current sapphire mined in Australia is more plentiful than Ceylon stones. These sapphires are a navy blue color and are much less expensive than some of the others we have discussed, making Australian stones affordable and beautiful!
The vast majority of what we see in commercial modern jewelry is sourced from Australia. These stones are mined, often shipped to Bangkok to be cut, where mining costs are much less expensive, and sold to large jewelry manufacturers.
Australian sapphires work perfectly for the commercial market because they are relatively uniform in color and are plentiful so they can be mass produced in jewelry. Sapphires sourced from Australia can be seen in antique jewelry because they are more of a modern discovery.
Australian sapphire is typically a dark navy blue, with green undertones. This is what most people think of sapphire color; it is rich and dark and looks great on a variety of skin tones. As the gemstones become too dark or black, they lose value dramatically. These blue/black stones are sometimes called “onyx” sapphire.
Also called Yogo sapphires, Montana sapphires are mined from the Yogo Gulch. They tend to be light in color (blue, yellow and brown) with grey undertones.
Our friend Lonnie, who starred in our documentary “RockMen”, has mined and faceted these gemstones for 20 years. We first met him because he contacted us to sell his faceted stones. He then became an international traveling partner and gemstone buyer for us, traveling to places like Colombia, Brazil, Thailand, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and India.
Montana sapphires are usually small in size and faceted as a round brilliant. They do not command nearly the value that Ceylon stones do, but many can have a bright and lively sparkle that is similar to the sparkle of a Ceylon!
We especially love these sapphires because they were mined, cut and fashioned, and sold to us all in the United States. For someone interested in sapphire and who wants to support US products, this is a great option! They’re quite beautiful too!
Kashmir sapphires were mined from the Kashmir region of northern India (at 14,500 ft)! They are considered the finest sapphires in the world. Mined for about 40 years, between 1880-1920s, these stones are not available in the modern markets. Because we work with antiques, we do see these stones in Victorian and early Deco jewelry from time to time. If we can confirm that the stone is a Kashmir, through a trace element test from the GIA, the price of the gem increases dramatically.
The GIA can sometimes identify whether a stone is from the Kashmir region by looking at the trace elements found in the gemstone, though sometimes even this test can come back inconclusive. Because each region has trace elements that are unique to the region, the GIA can conclude where the stone came from.
Kashmir sapphires are known for their velvety blue color, caused by parallel lines of silk running through the stone. They are also considered the finest color, a corn-flower medium blue color. Though the finest Ceylons can rival a Kashmir stone in color, it is inaccurate to call a Ceylon stone corn-flower blue color. This color distinction is reserved only for Kashmir stones.
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