Sapphire Classification and Internet Purchasing

By: Edward Bristol

Sapphire is commonly known as a blue gem and Sri Lanka holds a solid world market share. But the country's actual strength lies in the so-called fancy sapphire. In fact in 2005, for the first time ever, fancy sapphires overtook the ruby in world sales and are now in position two behind the blue sapphire. "Fancy" is any sapphire that is not red () or . Sri Lanka is the world champion for yellow, pink, purple, white, orange and any other color combination (except green). Some species, like Padparadscha or truly white (colorless) sapphire, are said to be found only on this little island.

The most famous of all is the Padparadscha. Pads (amongst friends) are one of the most sought-after gemstone varieties. They have a long tradition and come with an outstanding mystical image. Described as a color merger of the lotus flower and a tropical sunset, they are a famous topic of discourse amongst gem color specialists. However, anyone who knows how many colors the lotus flower shows (not to talk of a sunset), can imagine the confusion regarding the definition and usage of the term "Padparadscha". The color effect of a true Pad is easy to capture. But, given their extreme value, Pads are probably the most faked variety on the Internet. The combination of orange and pink is more a challenge to the photographer's honesty than to his skills. One will find anything from pinkish lavender to dull brown offered as Pads. Some sellers do not even go through the hassle of "photoshopping" their stones, but simply sell all off-colors holding any suggestion of pink or orange as Pads. To qualify as true Pad, a sapphire must show orange and pink at the same time. Here we may distinguish two forms of Padparadscha: The first is one with pink and orange merge throughout the stone. The eye is puzzled with the melting color equilibrium. Some might perceive more pink, while others see more orange. Even more fascinating are those that show more pinkish orange in tungsten light, while being crispy orange pink at day. The second type in one in which pink and orange are separated. An orange sapphire with pink areas also qualifies as a true Padaparadscha (and the other way around). Though Pads with thoroughly merging orange and pink are even higher priced than those with "simple" color zones, the latter can also make very beautiful gems. Additionally Pad connoisseurs distinguish between "pinkish orange" (orange is the more dominant color) and "orange pink" (pink being more dominant).
To summarize, we may define four types of Padparadschas:
1.Orange Pink (merging orange into pink)
2.Orange with Pink (pink zones in orange stone)
3.Pinkish Orange (merging pink into orange)
4.Pink with orange (orange zones in a pink stone)

In Sri Lanka the "Orange Pink" is the most valued variety of the four. Because of their value Pads have always been the object of gem treated fakery. Any good looking Pad that does not cost significant money is a fake. There are no exceptions to this rule. When buying true Pads on the web, make sure that the stone is graded as "pinkish orange" or "orange pink" by an independent lab.

Though, as mentioned before, sapphire comes in a myriad of colors, most people think of sapphire as being blue. Blue sapphire is the number one in sales of all colored gemstones. Famous are Cornflower, Velvet- and Sky-blue and the rarest Kashmir blue. The roots of the latter color lie, of course, in gemstones originating from Kashmir. However, since the mines there have run dry the term 'Kashmir' is commonly used for a specifically sleepy and hypnotic type of deep blue. Blues are routinely burned to create darker shades. Sri Lanka exports containers of an ugly whitish stone ("geuda") which turns into blue sapphire under ultra-high heat. An estimated 95% of all Sri Lanka sapphire is treated. Untreated blue Ceylons are considered a rarity. Blue sapphire in a photo could be called the chameleon of the gemstone world. Anybody who has tried to capture blue sapphire on photo will have realized that it is extremely sensitive to the light source. Far from understanding the color perception of the human eye versus that of a camera, we can only note that blue sapphire is a camera-chameleon. The slightest change to angles, distance to the light source, or the type of light itself result in tremendous change of the captured color. Blue sapphire can be photographed "into" many hues. Depending on the light source and angle the camera transmits different hues and shades. Hence, a "sell & run" trader could offer one stone as cornflower blue, purplish blue or even as a light Kashmir blue - resulting in very different prices. Yet, the "real" color is only the one which the eye perceives. However, deviation between reality and the photo are not always the result of bad intention or fraud. Especially light colored sky-, marine-, and steel-blue stones are in fact difficult to capture correctly. Therefore any photo should be accompanied by a straightforward grading and a written description taking up any issue that the photo might withhold from the buyer. The lesson to learn: When buying blue sapphire on the web, always carefully read and consider the seller's description and grading. When the "real" blue might be hard to capture, it is worthwhile to pay attention to all other information the seller gives.

In Sri Lanka, we also find particularly bright yellow sapphire. Though not strong in color they do excel in luster and crystal. A well cut light yellow sapphire is a delightful lively gemstone. Very often, these light yellow stones mark the border to white (colorless) sapphire. White sapphires with only an idea of yellow (or any other color) are here called "Tinted White". Such a yellow can be just as fascinating as a fancy diamond but will cost only a fraction. Intensely colored yellow sapphires of bigger size usually come with a tint of orange or green. Thus they can range from a rich canary yellow to an intense greenish lemon hue. However, flashy colors are extremely rare in natural and untreated yellow sapphire. In the past years, light yellow has been the favorite sapphire color amongst collectors, and their prices have soared. Nevertheless they are still affordable when compared to blue or pink. More than other lightly colored stones, yellow sapphires do not stomach inclusions very well. Even an only "lightly included" yellow may seem to be somehow dirty on a photo, though, in fact, the eye will not perceive any inclusions at all. In deeper colors even the lens would not reveal those fine inclusions, but in a yellow they seem to spoil the photo. A yellow sapphire free of inclusions on the other hand is a grateful gem to work with. They will shine and sparkle especially when exposed to a little bit of sunlight. Frequently however their luster is so strong that the camera captures them just as a blurred light source. In this case, the photographer has the choice to either show the stone as a somewhat fuzzy shining star, or he has to sacrifice the luster and show the stone from the side only. Frequently, we also experience that the greenish character of a stone becomes strongly exaggerated by the camera. Some stones in fact turn so green that they are hardly recognizable as yellows anymore. This presents one of the rare cases in which it might be legitimate to manually decrease the amount of green captured by the lens. Again, the primary goal of any photo is to present the stone as close to reality as possible, yet the additional description ought to mention any potential deviation between photo and eye perception.

Regarding purple sapphire, some cultures and languages use the term "purple" differently. As most North Americans and Europeans, we take purple as a color on its own. Violet, also a mixture of blue and red, lies closer to the blue and is therefore counted into the blue gemstones. Purple sapphires are far undervalued given the strong color sensation they offer. A good purple is as thrilling to the eye as a good blue or violet. Nevertheless they have not been getting much attention until the quest for untreated sapphire made many people consider other colors than the classical pink and blue. Yet, besides the terrific but rare electric purple, collectors seem to prefer stones with an undertone rather than fully saturated purple ones. This looks like an exception to the rule "the higher the saturation the higher the price". A reason for this exception may be found in the way pure purple defies the camera. When looking at images of purple sapphire on the web one quickly realizes that they can not compete with the dazzling presentation of good blue or pink. Whenever you see a breathtaking image of a purple sapphire it is mostly the secondary hue that gives it the "bang". Pinkish purple, reddish purple or violet/bluish purple are great models, but purple on its own does not perform well in front of the camera. Fully saturated purple shows somewhat dull or lifeless in front of the camera. Add a tint of secondary color, and the tone changes dramatically. Thus, when buying purple sapphires on the web: Give them some credit! You might well be surprised how reasonably you have obtained a fully colored untreated sapphire. Though prices shall not be a function of the photogenic capabilities of a variety, they do influence the market situation. Hence, purples are sold relatively more expensive in the traditional channels than they are sold on the web. This is true for all gems, but especially for the camera-shy purple.

Pink, being a lightly colored form of red sapphire or ruby, has become popular in recent years. Its colors range from a light lavender rose to the so-called "hot pink", which resembles a vivid bubble-gum hue. Aside from padparadscha, which is partly orange, pink sapphires have become the most expensive variety within the fancies. Prices of pinks vary greatly with size and color intensity. However, untreated hot pinks of several carats have buyers lined up at the mines. In the wake of this popularity, prices of pink spinel have increased as well. The fact that heart shapes are much more frequent in pink sapphires than in any other color points to the emotional occasions they like to be used for. Especially the Japanese market has an almost insatiable demand for big pink hearts. Hot pink was once a unique offer from Sri Lanka, but we do not see that continued. Madagascar has taken a dominant position for pinks, but most stones are heat treated. Though Madagascan stones are sometimes heated at lower temperatures (600?C), we feel that "treatment is treatment". To distinguish between low and high temperature heating does not help at all, but further complicates the situation for the buyer and increases the confusion in the market. Either a stone has been artificially pampered with, or not. If there was no change, then why was it heated in the first place? Hence, if you want a truly natural pink you will have to search longer and, no doubt, pay more. Light pinks are notoriously difficult to capture on film. Like yellow they suffer from exaggerated display of inclusions, re-pay good luster with fuzzy images and pretend to have windows where the eye sees none. In fact, light pinks are known to have made photographers quit their jobs. Strongly colored pinks on the other hand are more than robust. Hot pinks jump straight into the camera without problems. As a rule, the more color in a pink the more critical you should be about any flaw you can see on the image. Be wary with hot pinks that look too included or windowed, they probably are. Unless the price reflects the visible flaw and the seller names it for what is it, you might have a bad awakening. On the other side you can make a good catch if you find a fine, but lightly colored, pink that is undervalued due to its bad photo manners.

Truly colorless sapphires are called white and are said to be found exclusively in Sri Lanka. Fine white sapphires have become rare since they can be turned blue, orange or yellow with high heat, irradiation and various other treatments. White sapphire rivals diamond. Thus, they were often used as a substitute. However, many people have become aware that they do have their own charm, and, since then, they have become valued far above cheaper diamond substitutes. Most whites, like the pinks, are heated, even if on lower temperatures. Some like to conceal this as "only blow-heat". Many whites do have light hues - pink, purple or a tint of blue. The border between a pale blue and a white sapphire with a blue tint is not clearly set. From the point of view of untreated stones, the description should fall in favor of color, calling a white sapphire that shows some, say, blue "tinted white", rather than white. Such a tint may be imagined as the lightest of all tones. Clear water in a glass bottle for example may sometimes leave an impression of being bluish, or white marble might shine yellowish. However, we wouldn't call this blue or yellow straight away. The tints in white are in fact often so fine that professional graders can not agree on them. Some labs define such a stone as "faint blue" some tend to call it "colorless". At the end of the day it comes down to your personal perception and taste. In any case, even the faintest idea of color should be mentioned in the stone's description. All whites do exhibit color when in colored light of course, but that does not count as a tint. When choosing a tinted white sapphire on the web, make sure that the stone does not only show colors resulting from an external light effect. Ask the seller and look at the color definition of the lab certificate if you are not sure. If there is a tint, and you like it, you might have the chance for a bargain in your color of choice. At any rate, white sapphires are thankful photogenic models. They sparkle and shine with all might. Surprisingly they are not as sensitive to inclusions as one would expect from the experience with yellow or light pink. The only difficulty one encounters with whites is to rightly capture their luster. Some well cut whites are so good in throwing back light (which is somehow the life-purpose of any gem) that they can't be photographed from the front. Those stones you will find to be shot from a side angle. Though not satisfying this is often the only way of capturing the stone without simply having a fuzzy light in, say, oval shape on the picture. That of course does not mean every white with a frontal photograph are dull. Buy them before prices go up.

As so often in gem photography, one can not show all qualities (or flaws) in one shot. Examining a row of photos is probably the best way to overcome this issue. A seller should be willing to provide you with a written statement or additional photos if you have doubts about certain features like color or are worried about a flaw.

Jewelry
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Jewelry
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles