The sapphire gemstone is a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). Corundum in its pure state is colourless but naturally formed specimens are usually coloured very dark blue, green or brown and almost opaque. The transparent gem varieties show a wide range of colours; titanium causes the typical blue colour of sapphire while varying amounts of iron and chromium result in yellow, green, pink or orange sapphires (see pictures below). Sapphire and ruby are both corundum; rubies are red, all other colours are called sapphire.
The hardness of the sapphire is second only to that of the diamond (9 on the Moh scale) making it a very durable and beautiful gemstone for everyday wear. Sapphires are traditionally given on 5th and 45th anniversaries. There is some variation in birthstone tables with some authorities stating they are the birthstone of September or those born under the sign of Virgo and others claiming sapphires as the birthstone of April. However you justify purchasing a piece of sapphire jewellery, you will know that you wear one of the most beautiful and prized gemstones available.
The word sapphire comes from the Greek word “sappherios” meaning blue. Since ancient times, sapphires have been sought after for their beauty and value. Consequently, there are many fascinating stories and legends surrounding sapphires. It is sometimes known as the “celestial gemstone” as the ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire with its blue reflection colouring the sky. It was also widely believed that sapphires had magical healing powers and were used as a poison antidote, to stop bleeding, and to cure eye problems and other ailments. It has been said that sapphires are a reflection of the soul of those who wear them.
It was also believed that the sapphire symbolised truth, sincerity and fidelity making it particularly appropriate for an engagement ring – in ancient times, lovers gave sapphires in the belief that the stone would not shine if the wearer had been unfaithful. Sapphires also have biblical significance with various sources suggesting that Moses was given the Ten Commandments on tablets of sapphire or that the Rod of Moses was set with a sapphire as a mark of authority. Symbolic of divine favour, large blue sapphires are prominent in the British Crown Jewels while sapphire rings are traditionally worn by Cardinals of the Catholic Church. Up until the late 17th century, sapphires were reserved for the use of royalty and high priests - anyone else caught wearing them would be punished.
In the New England field, sapphires are recovered largely from Tertiary alluvial and volcaniclastic deposits. A small number of larger high quality sapphires may be processed locally, but most of the lower grade sapphires (the bulk of production) are exported uncut to Thailand where they are processed, cut and marketed. Much of this sapphire loses its Australian identity during this process - the reputation of Australia as a producer of high quality sapphire has often been downplayed or not actively promoted. The practice of some within the industry to refer to Reddestone stone, in particular, as “Kanchanaburi’ or “Ceylon” colour after mining sites in Thailand and Sri Lanka with similar coloured stone can lead to confusion over the origin of this very rare blue sapphire from the New England region of NSW.