September Birthstone: Sapphire
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What is the birthstone for September?
The birthstone for September is sapphire. Sapphires are members of the gem species corundum. Depending on the exact chemistry of individual stones, sapphires may present a whole spectrum of colors with the exception of red. This is because red sapphires are put into their own category and called "rubies."
The blue variety of sapphire is a tremendously popular gemstone worldwide. It is part of the group called the Big 3 which also includes rubies and emeralds. Luckily for those born in September, blue sapphire is the most abundant and affordable option of the Big 3, making it widely accessible.
What Color is Sapphire?
If you were born in September, you are very fortunate to have a birthstone that occurs in many different colors (just not red). Sapphires that have a predominately blue color are simply called "sapphire" with no other description required. All other colors of sapphire are considered "fancy colored" and these gems will be explicitly referred to by their hue. Examples of this are "purple sapphire" or "green sapphire." Like most colored gemstones, a sapphire's color is evaluated based on its hue, tone, and saturation.
Corundum is inherently a colorless gemstone. For gems to take on a particular hue, trace elements must be present in the crystal lattice. From a technical perspective, the color of sapphires is caused primarily by the combination of three elements: iron, titanium, and chromium. Different concentrations of these elements in relation to each other result in varying hues. Below is a breakdown of what causes color expression in sapphire, and which are the most highly desired.
- Blue sapphires contain iron and titanium but lack chromium. If these sapphires have relatively high levels of iron present, they will have darker colors. It is acceptable for blue sapphire to have green or violet undertones. The most prized and valuable sapphires of any color are those which are pure blue or are blue with a violet component. Vividly saturated colors are best, especially when accompanied by medium to medium-dark tones. Thanks to the popularity of this gem, there are many trade names for the different variations of blue that you may encounter.
- Yellow and orange sapphires are colored by iron, possibly some chromium, and they lack titanium. Yellow sapphires can have some green or orange present in them while orange sapphires can have some hints of yellow or red. These sapphires can be light or dark and stronger color saturations are most desired.
- Green sapphires have a slightly more complicated reason for their color that involves the trace elements coupled with an intervalence charge transfer between atoms. They can show some yellow or blue in their color. Green sapphires are not the most popular of the fancy-colored sapphires because their green hue is rarely as pure or strong as other green gems like emeralds or tourmalines. Due to low demand, they are often reasonably priced.
- Pink sapphires get their color from high levels of chromium while a purple color results from several different combinations of the three trace elements. Both colors can present some red as long as it is not their dominant hue (which would make them rubies rather than sapphires). Pink and purple sapphires can be light or dark in tone and their saturation similarly ranges from weak to strong. Both of these fancy-colored sapphires are popular, with pink being especially sought-after for its romantic rosy color, but neither commands the same price-per-carat costs of fine blue sapphires.
- Black sapphires may be truly black or might be a really dark shade of blue resulting from lots of iron. There is not a huge demand for black gemstones in general, which makes this one of the most cost-effective sapphire colors.
- The magnificent padparadscha sapphire earns an honorary mention on this list because it can command the highest price-per-carat values of the fancy-colored sapphires. The term "padparadscha" is a trade name used to describe sapphires whose color is similar to the lotus flower, featuring a combination of pink and orange. Being a trade term rather than a specific color, the definition of padparadscha is not completely standardized. However, most professionals agree that stones must exhibit intense saturation of color with a light to medium tone to be called by that name. These sapphires usually come from Sri Lanka.
- Remember that corundum is a naturally colorless gem unless it has at least a few of those important trace elements. Without them, white sapphire is very similar in appearance to a colorless diamond. Because the durability of sapphire is quite high (more on this in a moment) white sapphire can actually be used as an affordable substitute for diamond.
- Finally, there are rare varieties of corundum that have what are called "phenomenal" effects. Sapphires with the element vanadium in their crystal lattice display a color change effect under different lighting conditions. These gems alternate between cool blues and violets in daylight, to a warm reddish-purple in incandescent light. Also, corundum is one of the few gemstone species which may display "asterism", a phenomenon caused by rutile inclusions, rather than trace elements, within the crystal. Rutile can align so that a four, six, or twelve-rayed star appears in the stone. Star sapphires (as these gems are commonly referred to) are usually cut into a smooth, domed cabochon to highlight the star effect.
Sapphires have captivated the imaginations of people for thousands of years. Thanks to this deep history, coupled with the fact that they occur in a whole rainbow of colors, rich cultural symbolism surrounding this special stone has developed in many cultures. This is especially true of blue sapphires because they are found in so many locations and have sometimes been considered the most beautiful of the blue gemstones. Here is just a sampling of the many myths linked with blue sapphires.
In ancient Greece, sapphires were associated with Zeus, god of the blue sky, and his son Apollo, god of the sun and prophecy. Oracles wore the blue variety of the September birthstone to enhance their ability to see into the future. A similar mythical association with the gem continued into the Middle Ages and sapphires were worn to help tap individuals into their intuitive "third eye".
The ancient Persians also connected the pure blue of sapphires with the sky. They thought that the heavens were blue because the air reflected the hue of a massive sapphire that held up the Earth.
From a religious perspective, the sapphire was an important gemstone. It is specifically referred to in the Bible twelve times. Some believed that the Ten Commandments were inscribed on a tablet made of the blue gem. During the Middle Ages, sapphires were worn by Christian religious leaders including Popes, Cardinals and Bishops to both reflect and strengthen their religious purity.
Continuing along this theme of purity, it was thought that the sapphire could act as a test of a woman's fidelity toward her husband. If a woman held the stone and it changed color, that meant that she had been unfaithful.
You can see that lore surrounding the blue variety of sapphires is ample. However, there are special meanings associated with the other colors as well. One of the themes which you will see repeated across the various colors - including blue - is a connection with the mind, wisdom, and protection. Here is a quick overview of some meanings associated with fancy-colored sapphires.
Yellow sapphire is thought to have a calming effect and help to strengthen marital relationships. Pink sapphire, like many of the red and pink gemstones, has romantic connotations. This gem reflects the loyalty of the wearer and is also believed to bring luck. Green sapphires are connected to spirituality and keeping one close is thought to improve mental clarity. Orange stones are believed to improve intuition and insight. Just as purple was often associated with royalty, the purple variety is affiliated with nobility and strength. Finally, many consider black sapphires helpful in grounding and centering one's mind and body.
Lastly, six-rayed star sapphires are especially important to Christians who associate the three crossbars with the principles of faith, hope, and destiny. These gems have been referred to as a "stone of destiny". They protect the wearer from both the Evil Eye and devils and are a favorite of travelers who wear them for extra protection.
Where Does Sapphire Come From?
Fortunately, there are many sapphire deposits spread out on different continents. From locations in Africa like Nigeria and Madagascar to Australia to Asian locales like China and Thailand, and even sources in the USA, sapphire mines are everywhere. This abundance is the driving factor that keeps sapphires the most affordable option of the Big 3. While there are many sources, many of the most famously beautiful blue sapphires come from Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The mines from these locations are so renowned that gems which are confirmed to have originated from there may be slightly more valuable than stones from other places.
Most sapphires on the market weigh under five carats. However, sapphires have been found weighing hundreds of carats in total! As with other gems, the value of individual sapphires is greatly dependent on their overall size coupled with the quality of their color and transparency rating.
All colors of sapphire are ranked as a 9 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. This is second only to diamond which has a perfect score of 10. This high score means that sapphire is exceptionally tough and resistant to both scratching and fracturing. In fact, sapphire is so strong that it may scratch other types of softer gemstones if stored improperly and allowed to rub against them. Since it is a highly stable gem, sapphires may be cleaned in ultrasonic devices as long as they do not have significant fractures or have undergone usual treatments. Like most gems, you can clean your sapphire jewelry whenever needed using a soft brush with soapy water or a specialized jewelry cleaning solution.
As sapphire is such a durable gemstone, it can be used in all types of jewelry, including engagement rings that see daily wear. Whether you are shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store, you will easily find a wide selection of sapphire necklaces, earrings, pendants, bracelets, rings, and more. Moreover, sapphire is readily available in all sizes and at many price points. Blue sapphire in particular is extremely popular. Statistically, more jewelry featuring this blue gem sells than items that showcase any other colored gemstone.
When shopping for sapphire jewelry, here are a few factors to keep in mind. First, the best sapphires have "eye-clean" clarity, which means that they are perfectly transparent and have no internal inclusions or fractures that are visible to the naked eye. Secondly, the color distribution of some sapphires may not be perfectly even. Sapphires may have "color zoning" patterns, which describe a striped or blotchy appearance. If this zoning is obvious and distracting, it is considered a negative trait that lessens overall value.
If you are searching for trendy sapphire jewelry, look for round and oval brilliant cuts. These shapes have remained popular with both designers and consumers because they have beautiful sparkle patterns, and their shape complements many aesthetics.
The last point to address regarding sapphire jewelry is in regard to the synthetic stones available on the market. First synthesized over a hundred years ago, lab-grown sapphires, or synthetic sapphires, have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as natural sapphires. The only difference is the way they form - synthetic sapphires are created in a lab while natural sapphires grow in the earth. Synthetic sapphires are usually grown with vivid colors and fewer imperfections than most natural sapphires. However, the difference in price between comparable lab-grown and natural sapphires can be thousands of dollars per carat! While the resale value of synthetic sapphires is not nearly as strong as the natural option, lab-grown sapphires can be an economical choice if you want a bigger, brighter gem, or are seeking jewelry featuring many individual stones.
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