Gemstones & Birthstones: Smokin’ Sapphires, Just the Facts

Next to diamonds (and probably opal), sapphires are possibly the most widely known gemstones. With good reason. They’re hard, durable, gorgeous, and come in an array of colors. Some can change color and others can exhibit stars. Yes, if this is your birthstone, you have bragging rights.


ABOVE: This 11.67 ct. blue sapphire from Ceylon is what everyone thinks of when they think of “sapphire blue.” Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.

In fact, sapphires are so special, until the late 20th century, when the term semi-precious was phased out, sapphires were listed as one of only five gems considered “precious”: diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls. Sapphires even managed to take two of the top spots, as rubies are simply red sapphires.

Indestructibility is the sapphire hallmark. In fact sapphires, the beauty queens of the mineral family corundum, are best known for their hardness. Corundum, or sapphire, is next to diamond on the Mohs Hardness Scale — a 9 to diamond’s 10. Tons of sapphires are used in industry for grinding, cutting, sanding, and polishing.

And frankly, in head to head combat between diamond and sapphire (like Superman vs. Batman), my money would be on sapphires. Yes, the advertising folks would have you believe diamonds are forever, but diamonds have one direction of weakness called cleavage, along which the stones can split, chip, break. It’s a characteristic cutters exploit when splitting big pieces of diamond rough. While it’s not easy to break a diamond in this direction, it happens. Ask just about any diamond setter.

This striking 14k white gold pendant features a radiant-cut 2.07 ct. blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Photo courtesy Joseph Jewelry, Bellevue WA.

Sapphires, on the other hand, well. They’ll abrade. They’ll even chip. They’ll might even break with strong enough force or a stress-inducing inclusion inside. But chances are, if worn every day for decades, they may avoid the breakage that can haunt a diamond. I have seen countless chipped engagement diamonds. But in July I wrote about having seen a wedding ring set with three large sapphires. After decades of wear, the sapphires were so abraded it was impossible to see into the stones from the crown side. But they were not chipped or broken. Recut by a skilled cutter, they would have been ready for another six decades. That’s durability.

When Prince Charles chose a sapphire for Princess Diana, it was meant to symbolize strength and durability. Blue sapphires have also been associated in the past with countries of the British Empire, such as Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Charles’ choice set off a realization that engagement ring stones don’t have to be diamonds. They can be any colored stone with properties you want to be associated with.

And isn’t sapphire the kind of birthstone you want to be associated with? Strong, beautiful, and indestructible? Kind of like Wonder Woman. Kind of like you.

For more on sapphires, see these other articles by Sharon:
Gemstones and Birthstones: Star Sapphires, a Gem with Stars for the Stars
Gemstones and Birthstones: Sapphire — Beautiful Blue and All Colors of the Rainbow


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing on gemstone and jewelry topics for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of Birthstone Romances under the name Liz Hartley.


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