While all combinations have their own charm and legitimacy, a pure, saturated blue colour, also referred to by the trade as royal blue, is the most coveted. The Gübelin Gem Lab defines a sapphire as ‘royal blue’ based on a range of strict colour and quality criteria.
The root of the word ‘sapphire’ most likely comes from the Hebrew word ‘saffir’, meaning ‘most beautiful’, or ‘perfect’.
In history, the sapphire has often been given a noble, eminent, even heavenly position by different cultures. Many mystical connections and spiritual properties have been ascribed to the mesmerizing blue gemstones.
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Little known to the wider public, but highly coveted by gemstone connoisseurs due to their rarity around the world, are the Padparadscha sapphires; they come in a pinkish orange or orangey pink colour and are named after the colour of a Lotus blossom.
The island of Ceylon was the world’s first source of sapphires. Over time, the number of sapphire sources has increased significantly. Kashmir is the most famous source for intensely and brightly blue coloured sapphires with a velvety transparency, which are of exquisite quality.
True Kashmir sapphires rank amongst the rarest and most scarcely mined gemstones on earth. They often display a blue colour that is both deeply saturated and bright at the same time. Located at the northern tip of India, amidst the Himalayan mountains between Pakistan and China, in the Padar region of Kashmir, lies a remote valley. Near the tiny village of Sumjam, and at an elevation of 4,500 m, the small Kudi Valley is home to the sapphires of Kashmir.
Sold for a record price per carat of US$ 242,145, the famous 27.68 carat sapphire named ‘Jewel of Kashmir’ was auctioned in 2015 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. The Gübelin Gem Lab characterized the rich saturated and homogenous colour and high degree of transparency of this mesmerizing gemstone as very rare in natural sapphires from Kashmir of this size.
As not all sapphires are naturally provided with such characteristics, it is a common technique to treat them, mostly to deepen and improve their colour. Heat treatment, including the traditional art of blowpipe heating, which has been perfected for centuries, is often applied to create the optimum colour. An average of 90 per cent of sapphires available in the trade have undergone such treatments.