Versatile and popular sapphires are used in many types of jewelry. Sapphire pendants, earrings, rings, bracelets and mixed-gem pieces are all available in various styles, settings, and price points. Take a look at how you can identify the best quality sapphire stones to ensure you purchase a gem worthy of wearing.
Facts About Sapphires
Sapphires are actually the single-crystal form of aluminum oxide, also known as corundum. They're mined in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Australia, as well as several nations in Africa and a couple of states in the United States. They're a level 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, making them prized for their durability. Being quite strong, they require very little care or special attention from the wearer to keep them glittering and gleaming. Hardy and robust, sapphire jewelry provides a lifetime of great value.
Selecting and Caring for Sapphire Jewelry
If you're buying a sapphire for the first time, it's important to understand the terminology that jewelers use to describe aspects of each individual stone. Knowing a stone's cut, whether it has any inclusions, its color/hue, and its carat weight are all important factors that jewelers use when determining a gemstone's cost. So, familiarizing yourself with these characteristics can help you get the best bang for your buck.
Cut and Inclusions
The cut of the stone, as well as any inclusions it may have, can greatly affect its price:
- The star sapphire is a sapphire with a desirable inclusion, usually cut in a dome shape. They display a star-shaped inclusion when held up to the light, and the better defined the 'star', the more expensive the sapphire will be. Look for a star sapphire with clear and well-defined arms. An ideal star sapphire will display six equidistant and clear arms. Since these star sapphires are quite rare, they end up being very expensive.
- Sapphires are often cut in oval or round shapes. Round shapes are sometimes more expensive than ovals, so keep that in mind when shopping.
- Always ask to see the sapphire under a microscope or jeweler's loupe. This will enable you to clearly see the minor deposits or inclusions that are in the stone. Avoid stones with deep inclusions that reach all the way to the surface. Such stones may split open on hard impact.
Grade and Size
Sapphires also come in several sizes, as well as grades. Learn what to look for, and what to avoid, to get a quality stone.
- Sapphires are graded by carat weight, just like diamonds.
- If you come across a sapphire that is labeled "created" or "cultured," that means the sapphire was created in a lab and is not natural. Also, if the sapphire looks has a glass-like sheen, it probably is glass that's been cut to mimic the real stone.
- Sapphires typically available at jewelers are usually smaller stones. It is exceedingly uncommon for a non-collector to see a really stunning rare sapphire of exceptional beauty outside of a museum.
- If you want a large sapphire, it is often better to purchase it as a loose stone rather than already set in a piece of jewelry. That way you can get a good look at the stone from all angles and make sure you're getting a high-quality gem.
While sapphires are well known for their deep blue color, depending on the different minerals that are included in the stone, they can appear other in other colors such as purple, yellow, pink, orange, green, clear, or red.
- Blue - Clear, deep blue sapphires are the most prized and also the most expensive. A coveted and expensive variety is the Kashmir sapphire. These sapphires display an intense blue color that has become the benchmark for color grading among sapphires.
- Padparadscha - These orange-pink stones are one of the rarest naturally occurring sapphires and get their name from a Sinhalise word describing a salmon-colored lotus bloom.
- Red - Many people don't realize that red sapphires are actually synonymous with rubies and are one of the most popular choices of gemstones around the world.
- Yellow - The ideal yellow sapphire has a rich medium-toned 'canary' yellow huge, though they can range from greenish-yellows to orange-yellows. Yellow sapphires have been on the rise for the past few years because of the growing popularity of yellow diamonds in the engagement ring market as yellow sapphires make a great, and cheaper, substitute.
Sapphire prices are dictated by a number of factors, from origin, size, color, cut and clarity of stone. There is a wide range of prices, beginning with cabochons that sell between $50 and $500 a carat, to unheated, cut and polished sapphires that sell for between $800 and $1,200 a carat. Heated sapphires are typically less, and they sell for around $200 to $600 a carat.
As with many gemstones, color is one of the predominate factors in determining its prices. Cornflower/Kashmir sapphires are widely considered to be the most valuable of the blue sapphire varieties, while padparadscha sapphires are the most coveted of the non-blue varieties. Yet, because blue sapphires are the most abundantly sold color, you can also find lower quality stones for much cheaper than more rare colors. Take this one carat blue oval sapphire from James Allen that's listed for $320 and this one carat pink oval sapphire that's also listed at James Allen for $530, for example. This doesn't mean that blue sapphires can't be worth a lot of money, though, and in fact, With Clarity reports that the most expensive sapphire sold on record cost $135,000 per carat.
Caring for Sapphire Jewelry
As with all jewelry, you want to treat your sapphire jewelry with the utmost care.
- Do not subject it to extreme heat or cold.
- Try to avoid sudden impacts and abrasions as much as possible.
- Clean your sapphire jewelry with an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner or have your pieces professionally cleaned.
Where to Buy
Sapphire jewelry can be quite an investment, and photos on the internet just can't do a piece justice. If you do decide to buy sapphire jewelry online, make sure that the company you buy from has a good return policy in case you don't like the setting or the quality of the stone when you get it home. Therefore, you want to purchase your sapphire jewelry from a local jewelry store whenever possible. This will give you an opportunity to look at the gems under a microscope and learn more about where the gem came from and how it was produced. Developing a relationship with a local jeweler will help ensure you get quality materials, something you may have difficulty with when shopping online.
If you don't have a local store you trust, try these sources for a good selection and range of offers:
- My Jewelry Source has a wide range of sapphire jewelry, broken down by color. They sell sapphires in blue, pink, yellow, orange and rainbow, all in a wide range of settings, cuts, and jewelry pieces. This store offers a 30-day return policy, but you must contact them to a receive a Return Merchandise Authorization number that you will need in order to complete your return. Shipping is also free in the Continental US if you select UPS Ground delivery.
- Brilliant Earth sells ethically sourced gemstone jewelry, including sapphires. They offer earrings, pendants and rings, as well as custom settings that allow you to design your own piece. All sapphires display their country of origin, as well as information about cut, clarity, and color. The company offers a 30-day return policy, free shipping via FedEx, and a free lifetime warranty on their jewelry.
- The Natural Sapphire Company specializes in sapphires and sapphire jewelry. They sell earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets and custom settings. In addition to standard stones, they offer star sapphires and rubies. None of their stones have been heat or chemically treated, and each stone sold comes with a certificate of origin. The company offers several options for free shipping, and a 5-day inspection period in which you can return a piece if you're not satisfied.
Invest in a Good Stone
Good quality, well cared for sapphire jewelry can last a lifetime. Purchasing the best quality sapphires you can afford can also be an investment in your future. If you're careful when you're picking out pieces that you love, you can enjoy their beauty for years to come.