Sunday, June 28, 2009


Sapphire (Greek: sappheiros) refers to gem varieties of the mineral corundum, an aluminium oxide (α-Al2O3), when it is a color other than red, in which case the gem would instead be a ruby. Trace amounts of other elements such as iron, titanium, or chromium can give corundum blue, yellow, pink, purple, orange, or greenish color. Pink-orange corundum are also sapphires, but are instead called padparadscha.
Because it is a gemstone, sapphire is commonly worn as jewelry. Sapphire can be found naturally, or manufactured in large crystal boules. Because of its remarkable hardness, sapphire is used in many applications, including infrared optical components, watch crystals, high-durability windows, and wafers for the deposition of semiconductors.

Sapphire from Madagascar

Natural sapphires
Sapphire is one of the two gem varieties of corundum, the other being the red ruby. Although blue is the most well known hue, sapphire is any color of corundum except red. Sapphire may also be colorless, and it also occurs in the non-spectral shades gray and black. Pinkish-orange sapphire is known as padparadscha.
The cost of natural sapphire varies depending on their color, clarity, size, cut, and overall quality as well as geographic origin. Significant sapphire deposits are found in Eastern Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, East Africa and in the United States at various locations (Gem Mountain) and in the Missouri River near Helena, Montana. Sapphire and rubies are often found together in the same area, but one gem is usually more abundant.

Blue sapphire
Color in gemstones breaks down into three components: hue, saturation, and tone. Hue is most commonly understood as the "color" of the gemstone. Saturation refers to the vividness or brightness or "colorfulness" of the hue, and tone is the lightness to darkness of the hue. Blue sapphire exists in various mixtures of its primary and secondary hues, various tonal levels (shades) and at various levels of saturation (brightness): the primary hue must, of course, be blue.
Blue sapphires are evaluated based upon the purity of their primary hue. Purple, violet and green are the normal secondary hues found in blue sapphires. Violet and purple can contribute to the overall beauty of the color, while green is considered a distinct negative. Blue sapphires with no more than 15% violet or purple are generally said to be of fine quality. Blue sapphires with any amount of green as a secondary hue are not considered to be fine quality. Gray is the normal saturation modifier or mask found in blue sapphires. Gray reduces the saturation or brightness of the hue and therefore has a distinctly negative effect.
The color of fine blue sapphires can be described as a vivid medium dark violet to purplish blue where the primary blue hue is at least 85% and the secondary hue no more than 15% without the least admixture of a green secondary hue or a gray mask. The 422.99 carats (84.60 g) Logan sapphire in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C. is one of the largest faceted gem-quality blue sapphires in the world.

The 422.99 carats (84.60 g) blue Logan sapphire

Color change sapphire
A rare variety of sapphire, known as color change sapphire, exhibits different colors in different light. Color change sapphires are blue in outdoor light and purple under incandescent indoor light. Color changes may also be pink in daylight to greenish under fluorescent light. Some stones shift color well and others only partially, in that some stones go from blue to bluish purple. While color change sapphires come from a variety of locations, the gem gravels of Tanzania is the main source.
Certain synthetic color-change sapphires are sold as “lab” or “synthetic” alexandrite, which is accurately called an alexandrite simulant (also called alexandrium) since the latter is actually a type of chrysoberyl---an entirely different substance whose pleochroism is different and much more pronounced than color-change corundum (sapphire).


Sapphires may be treated by several methods to enhance and improve their clarity and color. It is common practice to heat natural sapphires to improve or enhance color. This is done by heating the sapphires to temperatures between 500 and 1800 °C for several hours, or by heating in a nitrogen-deficient atmosphere oven for seven days or more. Low Tube heating is where the stone is placed in a ceramic pot over charcoal, in which a man blows air through a bamboo tube to the charcoal creating more heat. The stone becomes a more blue in color but loses some of the silk. When high heat temperatures are used, the stone loses all of the silk and becomes clear under magnification. Evidence of sapphire and other gemstones being subjected to heating goes back to, at least, Roman times. Un-heated stones are quite rare and will often be sold accompanied by a certificate from an independent gemological laboratory attesting to "no evidence of heat treatment".
Diffusion treatments are somewhat more controversial as they are used to add elements to the sapphire for the purpose of improving colors. Typically beryllium (Be) is diffused into a sapphire with very high heat, just below the melting point of the sapphire. Initially (c. 2000) orange sapphires were created with this process, although now the process has been advanced and many colors of sapphire are often treated with beryllium. It is unethical to sell beryllium-treated sapphires without disclosure, and the price should be much lower than a natural gem or one that has been enhanced by heat alone.
Treating stones with surface diffusion is generally frowned upon; as stones chip or are repolished/refaceted the 'padparadscha' colored layer can be removed. (There are some diffusion treated stones in which the color goes much deeper than the surface, however.) The problem lies in the fact that treated padparadschas are at times very difficult to detect, and they are the reason that getting a certificate from a reputable gemological lab (e.g. Gubelin, SSEF, AGTA, etc.) is recommended before investing in a padparadscha.
According to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, in the United States, disclosure is required of any mode of enhancement that has a significant effect on the gem's value

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