Professional Jeweler Archive: Sapphire: Gemstone of the Year

January 2004

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Sapphire: Gemstone of the Year

An array of affordable colors and challenging treatments keep this appealing gem in the news

Jewelers who sell sapphires know they live in interesting times. The gems are attractively priced thanks to unprecedented availability. In addition, a palette of highly appealing colors is suddenly available, surprising and delighting even the most seasoned colored gemstone veterans.

Heartbeats quicken with each account of a new sapphire find. Then they skip a beat as mysterious new treatments are uncovered. But in 2004, we predict, the issues surrounding sapphire treatments will be manageable, allowing the gems’ natural beauty and value to be the main focus for jewelers.

Because of sapphire’s extraordinarily broad range and the treatment challenges that have kept it in the news, Professional Jeweler names it our first Gemstone of the Year.

Sapphire Power

Sheer availability has allowed designers and manufacturers to introduce hundreds of lines containing magnificent center-stone sapphires and superb melee accented-jewelry, such as those seen on the cover. Peach. Lavender. Lemon. Burnt rose and cinnamon. Hungry yet?

Rare, phenomenal sapphires also engage gem connoisseurs. Nor should jewelers forget the splendor of star sapphires or the riddle of those whose color changes like a chameleon. These all engage customers yearning for color.

“Sapphires have been attractive to buyers for a decade,” says Stuart Robertson, research director for The Guide, published by Gemworld International Inc., Northbrook, IL. “Sapphires were frozen out for decades due to lack of availability. Now, with significant finds at Ilakaka in Madagascar and elsewhere, that situation has changed dramatically. New sources have expanded the marketplace for attractive blues and other colors, all at equally attractive prices. No doubt sapphires are the most popular colored gem today.”

There’s a clear marketing advantage to designing jewelry that maximizes sapphire’s color range. From multicolored pieces to ones that feature graduated shades of the same color, jewelry featuring sapphires capitalizes on designers’ focus on color.

Sapphire Challenges

For the past two years, news stories about sapphire have focused on new treatments, including lattice diffusion with beryllium. For a time, this treatment affected prices of certain sapphires and undermined market confidence. Now a new treatment for blue sapphires is in the news, with researchers working diligently to determine how it’s accomplished (First Run, p. 12).

The good news is the immediate drama surrounding beryllium lattice diffusion is largely over. These gems can be identified and priced appropriately thanks to research by many experts working collaboratively. Wholesalers and retailers are also being more careful to ask their suppliers about treatments. And almost everyone agrees the treatments are perfectly acceptable as long as they are fully disclosed.

Blue Sapphire Buying Tips

Gem supplier Joe Kast of Joe Kast Co., Albuquerque, NM, suggests jewelers look for “bright and happy” sapphires. “There’s a misconception among some jewelers that dark, inky sapphires are best because, for a long time, that’s all that was available.

Another rule of thumb: the stone should look blue at arm’s length. “I look at cut critically, says Kast. “I like proportional 65% depth percentages” (the stone’s table to culet measured as a ratio against the stone’s average diameter). “Look at the gem face-up. Color zoning, typical of some Sri Lankan material, should not be visible looking from above. Rotate the gem as you look at it in even lighting. In the field, it’s best to do so between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Lab certificates that determine whether a gem has been treated in any way are essential in carat-plus sizes. It gives you and your customer peace of mind.”

Retailer Selling Tips

“Sapphires are a great store of value, for retailers and their customers,” says Alger. “A sapphire’s durability means it can be enjoyed for generations. It requires no apologies such as: ‘Sorry the facets got so abraded.’”

They also are presold because of name recognition, he says. Ninety-nine percent of people know what sapphires are, he says, though most don’t know they come in exotic colors. “I show the exotics with a portfolio of certificates so customers learn about the color ranges,” he says.

Adds Evan Caplan of Omi Gems, Los Angeles, CA, “I like to romance sapphires, so I often show customers the fantastic, rare padparadscha – it’s the rarest and most valuable sapphire. Some say a 50/50 ratio between pink and orange is the only true padparadscha, but I believe the color can favor either orange or pink as long as both colors are present. It’s just like the lotus flower after which the gem was named. Some are more orangy and some are more pink.”

Dealer Jack Abraham of Precious Gem Resources, New York City, asks his customers to gaze at the sapphire at length. If the stone is “right” for the person, she or he will feel a sense of serenity mingled with excitement. “It’s like diving into mysterious, inviting blue waters: “Once you get in, how could you ever come out?”

– by Robert Weldon. G.G.


Superb 10.66-ct. cornflower blue sapphire is courtesy of James Alger Co., Bedford, NH; (800) 446 1556.

Right: The cornflower for which the most desired blue sapphire colors are named.

An array of colored sapphires from Madagascar. Stuller Inc., Lafayette, LA; (800) 877-7777.
Padparadscha sapphire and the lotus flower for which it’s named. Radiance International, San Diego, CA; (858) 350-1900.
Rings featuring graduated color sapphires matched to the color of the gold setting. Raico, Great Neck, NY; (800) 362-5866.
Blue sapphire ring from Precious Gem Resources Inc., New York City; (800) 688-0006.
Star sapphire. Radiance International, San Diego, CA; (858) 350-1900.

Color-change sapphire (left: in incandescent light; right: in fluorescent light). Bear Essentials, Jefferson City, MO; (800) 753-4367.

Pink and blue sapphire pendant necklace. Elaine Cooper & Co., Chestnut Hill, PA.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications