Most of us recognise a sapphire as a gemstone that is beautiful deep blue colour and the alluring stone gleams in a pair of earrings or as a centrepiece in a ring.
While this describes some sapphires, it is by no means true for all. Sapphires come in several colours, ranging from the palest of pinks to the deepest of blacks and the colour has nothing to do with what denotes a sapphire.
The scientific name for sapphire is corundum, which is an aluminium oxide mineral. The different colours come from trace elements within the crystal; blue is caused by titanium, pink is caused by chromium. Different combinations cause different colours, and several trace elements in the same crystal can cause fun colours like lime-green or purple.
Sapphires have been sought-after for thousands of years. Ancient Persians believed that the sky was blue because it reflected the blue of sapphires. Kings believed sapphires worn around the neck would protect them from envy and attract favour from God. They also protected people from witchcraft, and brought about good luck.
Diamonds are known to be the hardest of all crystals and sapphires take second place, which makes it possible to crush sapphires. In Russia stones were ground down for medicine – thought to strengthen the heart and increase courage. They were also used as an antidote for poison, improved eyesight, brought down fevers, helped with mental illness, cured boils and helped with a bloody nose! It seems sapphires didn’t cost as much back then.
The most famous sapphire is the Star of India, massive at 563 carats. It is now housed at the Museum of Natural History in New York. The Star has lines of rutile running through it, making a natural star shape.
In 1962, enterprising thieves climbed through a bathroom window of the museum and stole the Star. It was protected by an alarm, but the battery was dead. The thieves were caught two days later, but they had already passed on the massive sapphire. Three years later the Star was recovered from a bus locker in Miami, where it had been all along – uninsured.
Today, sapphires are sourced from throughout the world with the main suppliers in Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon sapphires), Madagascar, Myanmar and Australia, and they are recognised as an ethical gem.
Sri Lanka uses traditional methods where miners work in groups and each member owns a share of the mine, with profits divided between them. Also, child labour was outlawed in Sri Lanka in 1992.
As a developed country, Australia has good working conditions and a strong trade union. Miners are well-treated and well-paid.
Sapphires are the birth stone for September, symbolising purity and wisdom. To plan a perfect sapphire surprise for a loved one pop into Village Jeweller in Howick to see the current selection.
Alternatively, talk to Chris Schweder from Schweder Bespoke to enjoy a full consultation and create an original piece that will be treasured forever.
Just don’t grind up the stone next time you have a bloody nose.