Famous for their beautiful blue shades, sapphires, from the corundum family, actually come in various colors including purple, pink, green, orange, and even yellow. Red corundum, though quite like a sapphire in other respects, is deemed a ruby. Like rubies, sapphires are among the most prized gems in the world and have been since ancient times. They were particularly popular during the Middle Ages; yet kings and queens–royal courts in various parts of the world–have coveted sapphires since the ancient era.
Sapphires get their telltale colors because of the presence of some trace material like copper or chromium. Dark blue sapphires are particularly sought after historically and today. Some sapphires might depict asterism; these have been dubbed ‘star sapphires.’ Like many other precious gems, sapphires are assessed for quality in terms of their cut, clarity, color, and carat. As one of the hardest gems (they score 9 on the Mohs scale of hardness), they are particularly ideal for use in jewelry or to adorn precious objects such as ceremonial items.
Sapphires have been found in many parts of the world; however, the finest quality examples are rare. Nations like Myanmar (Burma), Australia, East Africa, Thailand, and the U.S. are noted as locations where sapphires are found. Sometimes sapphires are found along with rubies. During the Middle Ages, sapphires were regarded as powerful stones that could protect against harm. Monks and other clergy of this period believed that sapphires could induce thoughts of the divine.
Medieval royal crowns in both Europe and Asia are noted for their sapphires. In India, Padparadsha sapphires (yellow-orange sapphires) have been particularly prized. Jewelry designers have long favored the use of sapphires in their most revered designs as these gems have a reputation for royalty. In recent history, Princess Diana’s famous sapphire ring and choker made news headlines; her son recently presented this ring as an engagement ring to Kate Middleton. In fact, the British Royal Jewels are particularly noted for their many large sapphires–their blue indicative of the sea surrounding the British Isles and later the empire they would build with their navy.
Today sapphires are typically cut and faceted for use in jewels such as rings, earrings, necklaces, and many more. While jewelers the world over sell sapphire jewelry at prices in accordance with their quality, the best quality examples are among the most expensive gems. Many of the most precious sapphire jewels remain in royal as well as museum collections.