Complete Guide to Burma SapphiresJuly 11, 2022 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog
Burma sapphires have a gorgeous deep blue color known as “royal” blue. Having been used in jewelry since ancient times, they continue to be revered for their beauty even today. Often paired with diamonds, sapphire engagement rings are characteristic of the Art Deco era, as they’re the number one choice of many brides-to-be.
In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about Burma sapphires and what makes them so special.
What Are Burma Sapphires?
This gemstone is a form of the mineral corundum, which contains aluminum oxide, iron, vanadium, magnesium, chromium, and titanium. Sapphires can actually be found in a variety of colors, including green, yellow, purple, pink, orange, and brown. However, blue sapphires have always been the most popular and desired.
The most valuable sapphires of today are Kashmir sapphires, found deep in the Himalayan mines of India. Apart from those, Burma (or Burmese) sapphires are also considered valuable, famous for their deep blue color. Sapphires are found all over the world: Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Australia, Cambodia, Nepal, Pakistan, and more. However, Burma sapphires belong in a special rank, as they are very rare.
Sapphires, as well as the majority of other gems, have different appearances depending on the deposit. To be more precise, Burma sapphires have a slightly more intense blue hue, commonly known as “royal” or “midnight” blue.
What also sets them apart from other sapphires is the chemical impurity concentrations. These inclusions are quite unique, formed before, during, and after the crystallization process. While some can be seen by the naked eye, most of them are microscopic. Most commonly, Burma sapphires contain needle or silk inclusions that can only be spotted under a microscope or a jeweler’s loupe.
Since most sapphires go through some form of treatment, whether it’s heat treatment or color enhancement, it’s rather challenging to find Burma sapphires with inclusions today. As a result, untreated Burma sapphires are even more valuable and expensive than treated ones. In general, jewelers must disclose whether the sapphires in their collection have previously undergone any type of enhancement.
History of Burma Sapphires
Several mines in Burma, today’s Myanmar, have been producing sapphires for over a thousand years. The most famous is the Mogok Stone Tract in Upper Burma, which has not only sapphires but rubies as well. In fact, the same mine produced 90% of the world’s rubies. Although the Mogok mine hasn’t produced as many sapphires as the Kashmir mine, the Mogok mine has been known to yield the world’s most beautiful “royal” blue sapphires. What’s interesting about this mine is that the same deposits are known to produce both rubies and sapphires.
The gem trade in Myanmar is highly intertwined with the country’s political landscape. It’s not known with certainty when mining in these areas began, but up to the 19th century, these mines were limited to only the Burmese people and no one else. That was until Great Britain annexed Upper Burma and changed the gem trade by introducing Burma sapphires all over the world. Today, most gem mining operations are controlled by the Myanmar government, where the Mogok valley can’t be accessed without government authorization.
Due to the unrelenting conditions that most of the miners have gone through in the past couple of centuries, a number of European and American jewelry companies, Cartier, Tiffany, and Bulgari included, have declined to import sapphires and other gems obtained from these mines. What’s more, Human Rights Watch holds the position that Burmese gems should be banned from all trades.
Today, sapphire mining in Myanmar is not as fruitful as it once was, a result of the complex political upheavals that have plagued the country to this day. All of that only makes Burma sapphires even more rare and valuable.
What Makes Burma Sapphires So Expensive?
The sapphire is one of the big three in the world of gemstones, alongside the emerald and the ruby. Out of all types of sapphires, Burma sapphires command next to the highest price, trailing only Kashmir sapphires. As mentioned before, untreated natural Burma sapphires could be far more expensive than treated sapphires.
What makes Burma sapphires so expensive is their rarity. Given the fact that the main source of Burma sapphires, the Mogok valley, is almost off-limits nowadays, it’s incredibly difficult to find them. Is there any wonder that Burma sapphires have long been the symbol of royalty and prosperity, reserved for those of the highest status?
There are many factors other than the geographical origin that affect the value of sapphires. When shopping for a Burma sapphire, the four Cs (color, clarity, cut, and carat) are among the most dominant determinants.
The price of a 1-carat blue sapphire can vary from $450 to $1,200, depending on the four Cs. Stepping up to Burma sapphires, the price is much higher at $800 to 1,600 per carat. Burma sapphires are at least twice as expensive as those from Madagascar or Ceylon. However, they’re still relatively affordable compared to diamonds, which may make sapphire engagement rings preferable to many.
What makes sapphires so desirable is how no two sapphires are the same. This applies to Burma sapphires as well. While they can be replaced with other gemstones, they probably won’t be as striking as a sapphire.
One of the most famous examples of the Burma sapphire is the Bismarck Sapphire necklace, designed by Cartier in 1935. The centerpiece Burma sapphire weighs approximately 98.56 carats and is valued at $5 million today. It’s on display at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Tips for Shopping for Burma Sapphires
If you’ve decided to purchase a Burma sapphire, there are several factors to take into consideration. The most relevant are the four Cs: color, clarity, cut, and carat.
Color of Burma Sapphires
When shopping for any type of colored gemstone, color is always the most important quality-determining factor. As mentioned, Burma sapphires are famous for their intense “royal” blue color, as opposed to Kashmir sapphires which have a “velvet” blue hue. Just like with any gemstone, the more saturated the color, the higher the price.
Inspecting the color of a Burma sapphire involves the hue, saturation, and tone. Even though sapphires can come in a variety of colors, such as green, yellow, pink, purple, and orange, blue sapphires have always held the most value. In any case, Burma sapphires are darker than other types of sapphires, but they might also display a slight violet undertone. If the blue hue is too dark, then the sapphire could be considered less valuable.
Some sapphires, including the Burmese variety, have the ability to change colors under different light conditions. These are otherwise known as color-changing sapphires, with their “alexandrite effect.” Under daylight, these gemstones can display an intense blue color. On the other hand, when exposed to incandescent indoor light, these types of sapphires can have a purplish/reddish undertone.
Burma sapphires that have this color-changing ability are exceptionally rare.
Clarity of Burma Sapphires
Just like color, the higher the clarity, the more valuable the gemstone. Burma sapphires are almost always found with some form of inclusions, whether noticeable or unnoticeable. These inclusions typically take the form of needle-like silky patterns and can reduce the gem’s transparency. Other types of inclusions can take the form of minute fingerprints, color zoning, or color banding.
Burma sapphires with extremely high clarity are very hard to find these days and would command a high price. However, these inclusions are very important in assessing the origin of sapphires. If you come across a Burma sapphire with absolutely no inclusions, it’s probably synthetic.
Cut of Burma Sapphires
The cut of a Burma sapphire is also essential when determining its quality. Skillfully faceted and polished, the cut of a gemstone can really make it sparkle. In short, a sapphire must be symmetrical to reflect light properly.
When it comes to Burma sapphires, there are plenty of options for the cut. The most popular cuts for Burma sapphires are brilliant, oval, round, pear, baguette, and many more. When cutting Burma sapphires, various methods are used to preserve its color zoning and reflection of light within the gemstone.
With the special type of sapphires called Star sapphires, the cabochon cut is always used. That’s so the sapphires can exhibit the star-like effect (formally called asterism). It’s called the star effect because the inclusions inside the sapphire cause it to reflect light in the shape of a six-rayed star. Some Star sapphires have a 12-rayed star, even though these are very rare.
At the end of the day, the choice of cut comes down to personal preferences.
Carat of Burma Sapphires
Burma sapphires can be found in all kinds of carat weights. Typically, Burma sapphires weigh less than 5 carats, although it’s easier to find larger blue sapphires than rubies. It’s also possible to find large clusters of Burma sapphires, but they often have much less value. The most widely available Burma sapphires on the market usually have less than one carat.
Keep in mind that Burma sapphires tend to be heavier than other gems. Therefore, a Burma sapphire that weighs 1 carat is likely to be smaller than a one-carat diamond. Burma sapphires are also the third hardest mineral on the Mohs scale. With a hardness grade of 9, it’s behind only moissanite and diamonds.
While the four Cs are important in determining the value of the Burma sapphire, your final decision should always depend on your preference and budget. Whether you’re searching for a Burma sapphire engagement ring for yourself or your significant other, make sure it meets all of your requirements before committing.
Shop Burma Sapphires
Here are some of the stunning sapphire jewelry that we have in our collection.
Arezza Ring. Circa 1965 (Vintage)RESERVED
Cannes Ring. Circa 1925 (Antique, Art Deco Era)$6,800
Queensboro Ring. Circa 1935 (Vintage, Art Deco Era)$3,500
Manetto Band. 2.6mm$1,200
When shopping for a Burma sapphire, to avoid purchasing a synthetic gemstone, always ask for a certificate of origin. All of the natural Burma sapphires come from the Mogok Stone Tract in Myanmar.
With modern technology, gemological laboratories can now accurately determine the source of sapphires. While it could be harder to tell Kashmir sapphires apart from Sri Lanka and Madagascar, Burma sapphires are easier to identify. That’s because Burma sapphires have an unmistakable deep blue hue and chemical impurity concentrations.
Not only will a gem identification report be able to tell you where your sapphire came from, but it will also prove its authenticity. Any gem can be imitated, which is why this certificate is so significant. Other details like the sapphire’s quality, color, transparency, weight, and dimensions will also be disclosed in the lab report.
These certificates also state whether the Burma sapphire has undergone any form of treatment, such as heat treatment, lattice diffusion, and color enhancement. If you’re wondering which companies offer these types of certificates, these are some of the most reputable ones:
- AGL (American Gemological Labs)
- GIA (Gemological Institute of America)
- SSEF (Swiss Gemological Institute)
- AGTA (American Gem Trade Association)
- Gübelin (Gübelin Gem Lab)
- UGL (United Gemological Laboratory) (Note: UGL are only for antique stones)
If you decide to shop with Estate Diamond Jewelry, you’ll find that the majority of our sapphire engagement rings are certified.
Sapphire Heat Treatments
Treating sapphires is unfortunately very typical, and even so, it is expected for traders and jewelers to disclose this information. This would also apply to Burma sapphires.
The most common is heat treatment. To improve the sapphire’s color and quality, these gemstones are exposed to extreme temperatures (from 800 to 1,800 degrees Celsius or 1,470 to 3,270 degrees Fahrenheit). The goal of heat treatment is to intensify the saturation.
Heat treatment is also a good method for smoothening the silk-like inclusions within sapphires, in effect making them more transparent. This type of enhancement is common for Star sapphires, as the recrystallization of silk inclusions can generate asterism, aka the star effect.
Another form of gem treatment is called lattice diffusion. It’s used to alter the sapphire’s color by making it more intense and saturated. Lattice diffusion is most commonly performed on rubies and sapphires.
If you happen to stumble on an untreated Burma sapphire, as rare as it is, you will find in the gemological lab report “no evidence of heat treatment.” Some prefer untreated Burma sapphires, as “too perfect” may be synonymous with fake. Any treatment can affect a Burma sapphire’s value. As mentioned earlier, high-quality untreated Burma sapphires are actually more valuable than treated ones.
Where to Buy Burma Sapphires?
Burma sapphires are very hard to find nowadays. Your jeweler of choice should be reputable, preferably with high knowledge and experience in the gem trade. Here at Estate Diamond Jewelry, our experts are happy to answer any questions you might have about Burma sapphires.
Keep in mind that you should always ask for photos of the Burma sapphire before you go ahead. If possible, request to see the gemstone in person first.
The jeweler should also possess official certificates that prove its jewelry’s authenticity. Estate Diamond Jewelry also carries sapphire engagement rings that are GIA certified for your peace of mind.
If you’d like to inspect some of our other sapphire engagement rings, you can view the entire collection here.
Talk to a Sapphire Expert
After diamonds, sapphire engagement rings are the most popular choice for brides-to-be all over the world. Burma sapphires are among the rarest and most valuable types of sapphires, courtesy of their stunning royal blue color. For those looking for a sophisticated and beautiful engagement ring, Burma sapphires are definitely worth considering.
At Estate Diamond Jewelry, we offer a stunning collection of Burma sapphire engagement rings any bride-to-be would fall in love with. If you have any questions about Burma sapphires, whether engagement rings or any other type of Burma sapphire jewelry, you can contact us here.
And if you prefer to see our collection of Burma engagement rings in person, you can also schedule an appointment.