by Linda Heaphy March 23, 2017 2 min read

The sapphire is one of the two gem varieties of the mineral corundum (the red ruby is the other). While deep blue stones are the best known and are considered the most desirable, sapphires may occur in almost any colour including colourless and shades of grey/black.

Possibly named after the Greek word sapphiros, meaning blue (although all blue gemstones were called sapphiros at that time), sapphires were unknown in the west before the Roman Empire; however in the east, stones were mined in India and Sri Lanka from at least the 1st Century BC onwards. They became associated with royalty via the legend that the Ten Commandments were inscribed upon tablets made of sapphire, and in the far east kings wore sapphires as protection from harm and as an amulet of luck and good fortune, while priests considered them symbolic of wisdom and purity. Sapphires were also believed to protect against envy and poisoning and when ground to a powder, the stone was believed to cure colic, rheumatism and mental illness, and to strengthen eyesight.

As with all of the precious gemstones, the value of a sapphire depends on its colour, clarity, size, cut and overall quality as well as its geographic origin. Most of the world's sapphire deposits are found in Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, East Africa and at various locations in the United States.

Famous sapphires include those in the British Crown Jewels and the Star of India (at 563 carats the largest sapphire in the world). Prince Charles chose a sapphire stone for the engagement ring he gave to HRH Princess Dianna.

Image of a ptolemaic princess carved on a sapphire cabochon

Sapphires and rubies are second only to diamonds in hardness, making them desirable gemstones for setting into jewelry. The 45th wedding anniversary is also known as the Sapphire Anniversary, representing sincerity and faithfulness.  But it is the striking deep blue ocean colour of a precious sapphire that strikes an elemental cord into the heart of many people, ensuring this stone's place in today's modern world.

Linda Heaphy
Linda Heaphy

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