Sapphires are fabulous precious gemstones!
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It is also a member of the corundum mineral family, which is a form of aluminum oxide. Pure natural corundum is a colorless mineral, and as with many other gems, the color of a specific stone is determined by the presence of impurities. The ring at left is set with a colorless, or white sapphire.
Rubies are red because the material is "contaminated" with chromium, and sapphires are colored by the presence of titanium and iron along with the chromium.
This can result in a virtual rainbow of colors - pink, golden yellow, purple, green - and the most valuable cornflower blue color. Blue sapphires have little or no chromium present - iron and titanium is what gives them their brilliant blue color.
To illustrate the color range of sapphire gemstones, take a look at the beautiful cuff bracelet at right, made by Terry. She wire wrapped it with an amazing variety of naturally colored sapphire beads!
Most sapphires on today's market are heat treated to enhance their color. This is an accepted treatment. What this does is rapidly "age and cure" the crystal, cleaning up cloudy areas and creating beautiful, clear sapphire. Heat treatment also intensifies the color of sapphire. This process would happen naturally over thousands of years but can be done rapidly with intense heat - if you know how. Unheated naturally colored blue sapphires can cost many thousands of dollars; heat treatment makes sapphire affordable. Any treatment of gemstones should be disclosed - customers need to be told what they're about to purchase before they buy. The sapphire in the ring at left is a beautiful blue, clean stone - and it is heat treated.
Fine quality sapphires come from many areas - Australia, Thailand, several African nations and the Americas. Some of the best quality American sapphire gemstones are found in Montana.
Sapphire is a very hard gem. It is a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale, which means that it is harder than many metals and can be scratched only with diamond. When a lapidary (stonecutter) cuts and polishes a sapphire, he or she must use diamond tools and abrasive compounds.
Many corundum gems contain fine needle like inclusions, which are similar in structure to the inclusions in cats eyes or moonstones. When this occurs, gems that are cut correctly can display a very striking "star" effect. Star sapphires can also be created in labs, and the synthetic stones are quite affordable.
Synthetic sapphires have been on the market for decades now. They are pure corundum, just like their natural counterparts. The average person can't tell the difference between a natural sapphire and a lab grown, or created sapphire gemstone. Even a gemologist can't tell without a microscope. But under strong magnification - to a trained eye - the difference can be seen.
Natural corundum gems have unordered crystal growth patterns that can vary somewhat, because the crystals form in an uncontrolled, natural environment with many variables - temperatures can change, external pressure can go up or down, and trace elements affecting color etc. are present.
In a lab where corundum crystals are grown, every step of the process is controlled. The results are very predictable. And when examined under a microscope the gemologist can easily tell a stone is synthetic - because they're just too perfect. The crystals grow in an orderly fashion, something that just doesn't happen naturally. I made the pendant above with a 6mm round faceted synthetic sapphire and a 10mm x 8mm oval synthetic sapphire cabochon. These created gems are clear and clean, and the intense blue color is amazing. They're just TOO perfect to be natural!
Sapphires are considered by many to be a strong influence on spiritual qualities, and are used by many people to promote wisdom, friendship, generosity and love. These beautiful gems are the September birthstone.
Sapphire Care Tips
Sapphire is one of the hardest materials known. Because of this it is very hard to damage. But it does look its best when it is sparkling clean. Sapphire jewelry made with sterling silver or gold can be cleaned in a dip solution - available in most supermarkets - to remove tarnish and dirt without harming the stone. Like anything else we wear, jewelry set with sapphire does require a cleaning once in a while. You can use a toothbrush and some dish soap to keep the stones clean, and then polish the rings, earrings,or other jewelry it's set into with a rouge impregnated jewelry polishing cloth - which is also sold in most supermarkets. Sapphire jewelry can be steam cleaned, and many people use ultrasonic machines to clean their jewelry.
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