In folklore, sapphires are the gem of 'soul and autumn' which makes the the stone appropriate for September. Sapphire is said to preserve the wearer from envy and to attract divine favor which gave them the power to influence spirits. It is believed that "fraud was banished from its presence" and the stone enabled the ancient sages to hear and understand the most obscure of oracles. This may be the reason why the Bishop of Rennes used sapphires in ecclesiastical rings as late as the twelfth century. The star sapphire was called the 'stone of destiny' because the three crossed lines (which are small beams of light reflected from the stone) represented faith, hope and destiny. Some also refrence the star sapphire as referring to the lights from the Star of Bethlehem.
The oldest sapphire jewelry found dates back to the 7th century worn by the Etruscans. The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans later adopted the stone in jewelry. The mining of sapphires themselves in Sri Lanka is known to have been before the time of Buddha in 544 B.C. Marco Polo's travels took him to the 'Island of Serendb', or known as Sri Lanka, where he describes the beautiful stones. In the writings of DeBoot in 1609, the Germans revered the sapphire as a 'victory stone'.
The Hindus, Burmese and Sinhalese recognized that ruby and sapphire were of the same mineral long before the Europeans did. It wasn't until 1800 it was documented that ruby and sapphire are both gem varieties of the mineral corundum. This mineral is found in many different colors which are due to the traces of different metallic oxides incorporated in the stone as impurities. Sapphires can be yellow, pink, violet, green, brown and orange in addition to the classic varieties of blues. Padparadscha, a true orange sapphire, is named from the Sinhalese word for 'lotus flower' and are incredibly vibrant and rare.
Derived from the Greek word sapphirus, the word sapphire actually means blue. In the Middle Ages this term was applied to the blue stone lapis lazuli, which caused confusion between the two stones. It is said that the Ten Commandments were written on a sapphirus stone, which refers to the lapis lazuli.
The American Museum of Natural History houses one of the largest finest quality star sapphires including a 536 carat. example called the Star of India. One of the largest known rough sapphires is a 2,302 carat which Norman Maness spent 1800 hours carving the form of the head of Abraham Lincoln.
The most valuable blue sapphires have the color of an intense blue without color zoning and internal flaws. Color zoning refers to variation of intensity within the stone, exhibiting deeper blue hues while other areas in the stone may appear lighter. Many sapphires are too dark in color, especially those from Thailand and Australia. These are generally the least expensive. Sapphires which are too light in color are also inexpensive. The most valuable sapphires are well cut, intense but even color blue stones. A blue sapphire can often be confused with stones similar in color such as benitoite, iolite, kyanite, spinel, tanzanite, tourmaline, and irradiated blue topaz (originally white).
Since the early 1900's synthetic sapphires have been produced with properties identical to the natural mineral corundum and in 1947 synthetic star sapphires became all the rage and very popular especially for men's rings. Please refer to my earlier post on synthetic gems
Sapphires are formed in a syenite and pegmatite secondary deposits such as in the alluvial deposits from the weathering of the parent rocks which is called byon. Sapphire grows in the form of a hexagonal bi-pyramid of twelve triangular faces. With a hardness on the Mohs scale of a 9, the sapphire is quite durable. However, a sapphire should be handled with care because they are slightly brittle and if dropped on a hard surface they will develop internal cracks.
The most famous locality for fine sapphires is the district around Mogok in upper Myanmar. Other important sources for the stone have been Thailand and Cambodia. Gem deposits in this area are derived from basalt, an iron rich rock. Recently in 1980, gold miners found gem quality rubies and sapphires northwest of Hanoi in Vietnam. Sapphires of the magnificent fine 'cornflower blue' color come from India near the district of Kashmir. Sometimes this blue color is referred to as 'Ceylon Sapphire', but that may not be the source of the stone, rather a term used to identify the specific light violet blue color. Sapphires of many colors ranging from blue, violet, purple, yellow, orange, white, pink are found in Sir Lanka no other mine to date produces a greater variety of colorful hues. Sources of sapphires are found practically around the globe including: China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Australia, United States, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi and Zimbabwe, Brazil, Colombia, Norway, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Romania and Borneo.
Mining sapphires in Mogok, Myanmar
Sapphires may be faceted cut in many different styles. For fine stones the step cut, oval and round is mostly used. Flawed, poorer quality sapphires are often cut into beads or used for carving. An ancient practice originally from Sri Lanka, is setting the stone in a closed setting with the back of the stone covered with the blue part of a peacock's feather to make the pale blue sapphire stones look more even and intense
In 1894 sapphire deposits were discovered in Yogo Gulch Montana, USA. This soon became an important source until the end of the 1920's. The color of the Montana sapphires vary from pale blue, steel blue to a pale violet blue. Tiffany Jewelers was one of the first jewelers to use Montana Sapphires. The mixture of the blue hues is striking when used together in a monochromatic design. An example of this is the incredible butterfly pin created by JAR which was exhibited in the French Masters Jewelry exhibit.
Jean Toussaint, nicknamed 'The Panther', worked with Peter Lemarchand at Cartier in the design department and created the collection called 'Great Cat Jewels.' In 1949 the Duchess of Windsor acquired one of the most famous diamond and sapphire panther pins which she frequently wore. Envy from other famous jewelry collectors, Barbara Hutton being one of the first, prompted orders for the magnificent panthers in varying poses from Cartier. The panther is crouched in a life like pose on a large perfect round cabochon star sapphire weighing 152.35 carats. The Panther image has since become one of Cartier's most iconic designs and has been incorportated into jewelry and watches ever since.
One of the most famous art deco sapphire and diamond necklaces was owned and worn frequently by the owner of Palm Beach's Mar-A-Lago, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Called the "Blue Necklace", this Art Deco style piece was created by Cartier in 1936 and made with hundreds of square, round, and baguette cut sapphires and diamonds. The large and perfectly blue cushion shape central sapphire is set in a diamond deco motif. The necklace can be unclipped to two seperate bracelets and the center sapphire deco motif can be worn separately as a brooch. Mrs. Merriweather Post was known to have worn at least one of these pieces or the entire necklace everyday.
One of the most creative cabochon necklaces mixed with an interesting design and color combination was by Bulgari. Created to commemorate the exhibition of Tutankhamen treasures in 1972, this Egyptian style necklace is unlike any other sapphire jewelry. Using large cabochon cut blue sapphires, black onyx and salmon pink coral with sprinkles of diamonds this necklace is designed using the lotus flower motifs. I think it represents Egyptian art form both in colors and in the mantle style jewelry worn by the royalty. This is a fitting piece, with the Tutankhamen exhibit once again on display in 2009 at the de Young museum in San Francisco.
An interesting jeweled sapphire necklace was designed in 2005 by Bulgari for the movie
"My Super Ex-Girlfriend" Set with 169 natural different colored sapphires weighing a total
of 395.89 carats and small bars paved in diamonds at different angles.
Daisy ring: Alex Deleuse 2009
Cut sapphires: Gems and Crystals, From the American Museum of Natural History, Anna S. Sofianides and George E. Harlow. Photographs by Erica and Harold Van Pelt
Simon and Schuster, 1990 New York
Mogok mine: Mogok, Myanmar. Ein Reise durch Burma zu den schonsten Rubinen und Saphiren der Welt
Roland Schlussel. Photographs by Roland Schlussel. Germany 2002.
Sapphire Butterfly: Masterpieces of French Jewelry, Judith Price. Running Press 2006
Cartier Panther: The Jewels of The Duchess of Windsor, Johne Culme and Nicholas Rayner, Vendome Press 1987
Art Deco Necklace: Masterpieces of French Jewelry, Judith Price. Running Press 2006
Egyptian and jeweled sapphire necklaces: Bulgari, Amanda Triossi and Daniela Mascetti, Mondadori Electa 2007
Sapphire Briollet necklace: Alex Deleuse 2009
Additional Information Credit:
Gems, Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification, R. Webster 1962 Oxford
The National Gem Collection, Jeffry E. Post, Smithsonian Institution 1997
Famous Jewelry Collectors, Stefano Papi and Alexandra Rhodes, 1999 Thames & Hudson, London