What to Look for When Buying Sapphires

Sapphire has been gaining popularity as a gemstone in recent years, both for casual jewelry as well as for engagement rings and wedding bands. It is a great choice for those who are looking for something different from the mainstream choice of diamond but still want a precious gemstone.

When people think of sapphire, they usually think of a gemstone with a sparkling, vivid deep blue color. It is true that sapphires are typically blue, but you can also find natural “fancy” sapphires in many other colors such as violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, and purple. There are also “parti sapphires” – sapphires that show two or more colors.

An interesting tidbit that many gemstone shoppers might not know: sapphire and ruby are actually different varieties of the same crystal corundum (aluminum oxide). Pure corundum is colorless, but corundum with trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, chromium, vanadium, or magnesium is colored. Sapphire and ruby are corundum of different colors due to the presence of different trace elements.

Corundum that is colored red is classified as ruby. Corundum that is colored violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, or multi-colored is classified as sapphire. Pink colored corundum is usually classified as ruby. But in the United States, a minimum degree of saturation of color must be met for a corundum to be classified as a ruby; otherwise, the stone will be classified as a pink sapphire. Very often, where ruby ends and where pink sapphire begins is not clear and can be quite subjective.

There are 4 main types of sapphires: untreated natural, treated natural, synthetic, and imitation sapphires. They differ wildly in value, with prices range from $1 to $20,000+ per carat. You can tell them apart based on inclusions, growth lines, the scratch test, and the breath test.

Other factors that impact the value of sapphires are the 4 C’s: Color, Clarity, Carat, and Cut. The most prized sapphires are vivid medium blue in color, “Eye Clean” in clarity, large in carat, and cut in a faceting style at the proper critical angles to maximize appearance and brilliance.

For the rest of this article, we will look into the detail and nuances of untreated natural, treated natural, synthetic, and imitation sapphires. We will show you how to use inclusions, growth lines, the scratch test, and the breath test to tell whether a sapphire is natural or synthetic, treated or untreated, real or fake. We will also dig deeper into the 4 C’s of sapphires and talk about how to choose high quality sapphires. Last but not the least, we will go over the best ways to wear sapphire.

By the end of this article, you will be knowledgeable enough to make informed choices in shopping for sapphires. You will also know how to wear sapphires in a way that makes you look the best. Ready? Let’s get started.

How to Determine the Value of Sapphires

Different types of sapphires have wildly different prices:

  • Natural Untreated Sapphires: As you may have expected, this is by far the most expensive type of sapphires. It is the rarest (less than 1 percent of the market). This kind of sapphires can go for $2,000 to $20,000+ per carat depending on color, carat, clarity, and cut. The world record is $242,000 per carat for a Kashmir sapphire.
  • Natural Heat Only Sapphires: These sapphires have not undergone any treatments other than heating. They cost $200 to $2,000+ per carat.
  • Composite (Fissure Filled) Sapphires: These are pretty worthless because they are simply not salable in their natural state. They cost less than $1 per carat.
  • Diffusion Treated Sapphire: Natural sapphires that have been diffusion treated can cost between $20 to $200 per carat.
  • Synthetic Sapphires from the Verneuil Process: These are very cheap, going for $1 to $5 per carat.
  • Synthetic Sapphires from the Czochralski Process: These are about 1 order of magnitude more expensive than those from the Verneuil process, costing $10 to $50 per carat.
  • Synthetic Sapphires from Hydrothermal Synthesis: These are even more expensive. They cost about $50 to $200 per carat
  • Fake Sapphires: These are usually just colored glass or cubic zirconia. They are pretty much worthless, costing less than $1 per carat.

How to Determine Sapphire Quality

As we have seen, different types of sapphires have very different values. An untreated natural sapphire can cost more than $20,000 per carat while a glass-filled composite sapphire is worth less than $1 per carat.

However, even within the same sapphire type, the value of a sapphire can vary a lot depending on its quality. Just like diamonds, the quality of sapphires are generally determined by the “Four C’s”: Color, Clarity, Carat, Cut.

Color

For a colored gemstone such as sapphire, color is far more important than the other 3 C’s. A sapphire in a great color has a much higher value than a similar sapphire in a less desirable color.

What is a great color for sapphire? Typically, you are looking at a few things:

  • Hue: Hue refers to the basic color. The basic hues are blue, red, orange, green, yellow, violet, and purple. Black, white, gray, and brown refer to tones and saturation, not hues. For sapphires, the most valuable hue is blue. The second most valuable hue is Padparadscha, which is a pink-orange color. Bright pink is the third most prized hue. Sapphires also come in other hues but they are less sought after.
  • Saturation: Saturation refers to the intensity of color. It ranges from light, to strong, to vivid. The highest quality sapphires have a vivid, very saturated color. Saturation also refers to color purity – how much the sapphire is free from brown or gray. High quality sapphires have high color purity – they are saturated with a single vivid color throughout the stone without any brown or gray spots.
  • Tone: Tone refers to how light or dark a sapphire is. It is described as “light,” “medium-light,” “medium,” “medium-dark,” and “dark.” Sapphires with medium to medium-dark tones are considered the highest quality. Sapphires that are too light or too dark are less prized.

Based on the above factors, the most valuable sapphire color is a medium-dark, vivid, pure blue color without any gray or brown spots.

Clarity

Clarity refers to the presence (or lack) of inclusions in a gemstone.

Unlike diamonds, sapphires do not have a “Flawless” grade of clarity. The highest clarity grade for sapphire is “Eye Clean” – no visible inclusions to the naked eyes from 10 to 12 inches away but minor inclusions can be seen under 10x magnification.

In general, high quality sapphires have fewer inclusions and is more transparent to the eyes.

Carat

For sapphires, just like for other gemstones, bigger is better. Large sapphires are rarer than smaller ones. Per carat prices increase with overall carat weight.

Exactly how carat affects price depends on the color of the sapphire. Yellow sapphires above 5 carats can be found quite frequently. Blue sapphires at that weight are much harder to find. Padparadscha sapphires weighing more than 5 carats are extremely hard to come by.

Cut

A good cut for sapphire highlights its color, maximizes its brilliance, minimizes its inclusions, and showcases good overall symmetry.

What is a great cut for a sapphire? Pay attention to these 4 things:

  • Symmetry: This affects the overall look of the sapphire. A well cut sapphire with good symmetry should not be lopsided. Look for sapphires that offer well balanced proportion, precise bilateral mirror images, and well-formed length-to-width ratio
  • Window: A window occurs in a sapphire when the sapphire is cut in such a way that light leaks right through it instead of being reflected back. If you can read a book through a sapphire then it has a window. Look for sapphires that have no window.
  • Brilliance: A good cut maximizes the amount of light reflected by a sapphire to create the effect of brightness. Look for sapphires that are sparkling under a light.
  • Extinction: Extinction is areas of darkness visible on a sapphire. These dark spots remain dark no matter what angle you turn the stone. They exist as a result of a bad cut. Look for sapphires with no extinction.

Best Cut for Sapphires

Sapphires are available in many different cuts. What is the best cut for a sapphire is largely a question of personal preference.

In general, faceted cuts are used on higher quality sapphires that are transparent to maximize their brilliance.

On the other hand, a cabochon cut with no faceting is used for translucent sapphires that are lower quality and less expensive.

The most popular faceted sapphire cuts are cushion, round, and oval. They are commonly used for all types of jewelry such as engagement rings, pendants, bracelets, and earrings.

  • Cushion: A rectangular or square shape with curved edges and rounded corners. This cut has larger facets and gives a vintage feel.
  • Round: This is a classic cut with a symmetrical round shape and 58 facets. Also known as the “round brilliant” cut, this cut maximizes the brilliance of a gemstone and is the most popular cut for diamonds and sapphires alike.
  • Oval: This is an elongated version of the round cut. It offers the brilliance of the round cut but at a more unusual shape. Oval cut can also make a sapphire look larger when compared to a round cut.

Different Ways to Wear Blue Sapphires

Blue sapphires are striking attention grabbers. Some may get intimidated by that vivid blue color and shy away from blue sapphires because they do not know how to wear them. So here are some tips to help you find your way around them.

  • Jewelry: Blue sapphire is versatile. It works well on all types of jewelry such as rings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. You can put blue sapphires on both men’s and women’s jewelry and get great results.
  • Metal: Blue sapphire looks equally good on yellow or white metals. Pair blue sapphire with white metals such as platinum, white gold, or silver for a more modern look. Go with yellow gold or rose gold for a warmer palette. For the more adventurous, put blue sapphire on titanium for a more mysterious look.
  • Color: Blue looks particularly good with these colors
    • Black: Black and blue are a classic color pairing. For women, try wearing a blue sapphire platinum pendant with a little black dress. For men, go with a black suit, a gray blue tie, and a blue sapphire titanium ring.
    • Blue: Blue on blue will always look stylish. For women, wear a pair of blue sapphire yellow gold earrings with a baby blue empire waist dress for a vintage look. For men, a blue sapphire white gold bracelet worn with a navy blue jacket will always look dashing.
    • White: The blue and white combination is the ultimate carefree summer combo. For women, try a blue sapphire silver ring with a white cotton sundress. For men, try a blue sapphire platinum signet ring, a white button down shirt, and white chino shorts.

Key Takeaways

In this article, we have covered a lot of information about sapphires. By now, you are well equipped to make informed decisions about how to choose and wear sapphires. Before you go off to do your shopping, let’s do a quick recap.

  • There are 4 main types of sapphires: untreated natural, treated natural, synthetic, and imitation sapphires. They vary wildly in values with prices range from $1 per carat to $20,000 per carat.
  • You can tell those 4 types apart based on inclusions, growth lines, the scratch test, and the breath test. But the safest way to make sure is to get a test certificate from a reputable gemological lab.
  • The quality and price of sapphire is also determined by the 4 C’s: Color, Clarity, Carat, Cut. The most prized sapphires are medium-dark vivid pure blue in color, “Eye Clean” in clarity, large in carat, and cut in a faceting style at the proper critical angles to maximize appearance and brilliance.
  • The best cuts for sapphires are faceted cuts such as cushion, round, and oval.
  • Blue sapphires work well on all types of jewelry for both men and women: rings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, or earrings.
  • You can pair blue sapphires with platinum, white gold, silver, yellow gold, and titanium.
  • Three of the best colors to pair blue sapphires with are black, blue, and white.

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