How to Buy a Sapphire Engagement Ring May 15, 2019 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog
Written by Benjamin Khordipour
Here’s the EDJ guide on how to buy a Sapphire Engagement Ring in 2019. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop us questions in the comments below.
Thanks to some brilliantly inventive marketing in the 1930s, diamonds have been associated with engagement rings for the best part of a century. But, over the years, sapphires have increased in popularity, often with huge leaps thanks to a particular ring. An example was the ring given by Prince Charles of England to the then Lady Diana Spencer. On the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, his mother’s ring again became huge news and prompted a massive rise in requests for a sapphire engagement ring.
But, where most serious jewelry buyers know a little about what to look for in a diamond, the same rules can’t always be applied to sapphires. Here, we take a look at what you need to know before during and after buying a sapphire engagement ring.
Sapphires In History
We know, thanks to the chroniclers of history through the millennia, that precious stones have been used as both currency and decoration for as long as people and cultures have interacted.
What we know as precious stones today may not be the same as those known by previous civilizations. As new discoveries of certain stones come to light, the value of any individual gemstone can increase or decrease according to availability.
In the 21st century, we now have a settled definition of what is a precious stone. In fact, of all the gemstones we now know, only 4 are classed as precious stones; diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald. The rest, regardless of value or rarity, are semi-precious stones.
Sapphires have been used as decoration in jewelry, clothing and battle dress since ancient times, and the stone was known to both Roman and Greek cultures. Depending on the era and the culture, sapphires can bring favor or protect the wearer from blindness or melancholy.
Even in the modern day, a sapphire is a stone of wisdom and spiritual protection.
Sapphire Vs Diamond in Engagement Rings
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s no big surprise to hear that sales of diamond engagement rings outdo all other stone types, and by some distance. But sapphire has eaten into the diamond market share considerably in the last 20 years. Oval cuts are also gaining popularity, up from a 1% market share in 2010, to nearly 10% in 2018. An oval cut suits sapphires perfectly, so it’s probably logical that we have seen their popularity rise in partnership. The round cut still dominates of course, but it does show that buyers are much more enthusiastic about breaking from the norm than used to be the case.
Contrast stones in engagement rings look stunning. A sapphire center stone with diamond accents, for example, make for a wonderful combination. Yes, diamonds are beautiful, but there’s something special about sapphires. Where you need a diamond to be of a reasonable size for high impact, you get a lot more visual effect from sapphire for a comparable weight.
Diamonds, if we’re honest, are probably more flexible in the metal choice. A white diamond sits well in just about any metal, from platinum to yellow gold. Some diamonds with a visible yellow tint do work better in yellow gold, but just about anything goes. It should be said that sapphires can also be used with any metal color. The difference is that a sapphire in yellow gold is likely to be much more a choice of personal taste that may not suit everyone.
Finding the Best Sapphire
Ask any expert what makes a sapphire, the answer will always be the same; color. Sapphires actually come in a wide range of colors, but blue is the color we always associate with the stone. The base mineral of sapphire is corundum, with the color being defined by the presence of one or more rogue elements in minute quantities. For blue sapphires, this will usually be iron and titanium. For red corundum, which we know better as ruby, it will be chromium.
The “problem” with blue sapphire is that it comes in many different tones.
The perfect shade of blue is, of course, very subjective. Even though the jewelry industry generally has a preferred tone which affects the value of any stone, it is up to the person doing the evaluation to decide whether the color is right or not.
To most of us, there will be little difference across quite a wide range of blue tones, but that doesn’t mean that the prices won’t be very different. Consequently, laying down a set of rule for finding the best sapphires is very difficult. To even have a chance, we need to break sapphire quality down further.
Color: Hue and Saturation
The hue of an object is the color, and the saturation is how much of that color is present. The tone is, in its simplest terms, the overall level color our eyes see. The unbreakable bond between the three is one of the most misunderstood aspects of gemstone color.
As an example, if you put a single drop of red food coloring into a glass of water, you get a very pale red color. If you put 20 drops in, you get a very deep red. Put enough in, and it will start to look black. However, the hue is the same, as the red coloring added is identical. It is the amount of coloring which changes the saturation level and the final tone.
It is common for a blue sapphire to have two hues present. Blue is always the dominant color, but a secondary hue may be violet or green. In the best sapphires, there will actually be no secondary hue, but these are very rare stones. The key is to find a stone with the least intrusive secondary hue possible. In terms of saturation, we look for moderate to strong levels. But what, exactly, is moderate to strong? And therein lies the problem with colored gemstones. We rely on an expert being expert enough to grade the stone accurately. It is one reason why only buying from reputable dealers is essential. A squarely moderate sapphire falsely graded as moderate to strong can add thousands of dollars to the price. It is one of the best examples of why you must trust your dealer.
So, we have a pure blue hue, with moderate to strong saturation. The resulting tone will be medium to medium dark. This is the optimal tone for a sapphire. Any secondary hue or varying saturation level will make the sapphire tone lighter or darker, depending on all the present factors. As a final point to note, a tone that is too light is better than one which is too dark.
As a sapphire gets darker, it starts to look black very quickly. Lower saturation may not be ideal, but the stone will at least retain its wonderful blue color. Too light, though, and the effect becomes more grey than blue.
Geography and Origin
As with many things, sapphires from one region of the earth may be more desirable than a similar looking stone from another.
Although sapphires come from several regions, such as Australia, Vietnam, the USA and more, it is sapphires from Burma, Madagascar and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) which command the highest prices.
Kashmir was another desirable location, but the mines there are no longer productive, so few if any new stones ever appear for sale. You can get sapphires from anywhere which may match the very best from Burma, but the very fact a sapphire comes from Burma will add greatly to its value.
What this means is that you can get better value by finding a comparable stone from elsewhere. However, should you ever come to sell it, the resale value will also be lower than a Burmese or Ceylon sapphire.
With diamonds, clarity is a huge part of what makes a great diamond. As a result, all diamond graders use 20x magnification. With sapphires, a stone need only be eye-clean. This means that inclusions, of which there will be some, are invisible without magnification. The inclusions are usually of the needle type. These are inclusions which start as pinprick sized foreign bodies in the young crystal. They then get stretched as the crystal grows, creating a very fine needle effect. So rare are sapphires without any inclusions of this type, that any perfect stones will be assumed to be synthetic unless proved otherwise.
In extremely rare cases, needle inclusions will intersect. This causes a star effect when viewed at the right angle. Although technically a flaw, star sapphires command very high prices and are very desirable.
Star effect aside, as with any precious stone, the fewer visible inclusions, they higher the price. In fact, so important sapphire clarity, that a poor color, heavily included sapphire of even very large size will cost a lot less than a small sapphire of good color and clarity.
Sapphire Cuts and Shapes
It helps, again, if we first take a quick look at diamond cuts. The vast majority of diamonds today are of the round brilliant shape. Although sapphire cuts very often mirror trends in diamond cuts, there is more flexibility to choose a cut which may better suit your personality. Although some diamond cuts such as hearts or other “celebrity” shapes might affect the resale value, sapphires are not subject to such negative judgements. As such, whether the cut is an oval, a marquise, a pear or anything else, the value of your sapphire should not diminish.
The quality of the cut, however, is as important for a sapphire as anything else. Because of the inclusions present, a skilled cutter will work around them as far as is possible. It is possible to hide some inclusions under mounting pins or in the pavilion. For every inclusions that remains in the heart of the sapphire, the light reflecting properties reduce. This makes the quality of the cut also very important to the grade of the polished stone.
Sapphire Engagement Ring Styles
We’ve already mentioned several times that sapphires are very accommodating stones. The variety of suitable cuts means that the styles of ring in which they appear also have few limitations. Solitaire sapphire rings do exist, but most will have contrasting stones. These are usually diamonds, so that the blue of the sapphire is enhanced by the whiteness of the diamonds.
Diamond halos with a center sapphire are very popular, but just about any color combination works well with a sapphire at its heart. It truly is the most flexible of precious stones. It’s vibrancy and uniqueness means a sapphire is a bold and individual choice.
Alternative Sapphire Colors
Blue is the color we all look for, and the color we all mean when we use the word sapphire. Apart from red sapphires, which have their own name – ruby – all non-blue sapphires have the secondary color as a prefix eg green sapphire, yellow sapphire etc.
The range of colors available is actually wider than most people expect, such as the ubiquity of the blue sapphire in the public consciousness. The most common colors of sapphire, other than blue, are yellow, green and purple.
Pink sapphires also occur, but these are increasingly sold as pink rubies, despite this not being an accurate description. Rubies are red, and any other shade is a sapphire. An oddity of the sapphire world is white sapphire. Because color is caused by impurities, it should follow that a sapphire without any impurities at all should be the most desirable, but this isn’t the case. Although incredibly rare, a white sapphire doesn’t come close to the price of a good blue sapphire or ruby.
Parti sapphires also occur. This is when different impurities occur within the crystal along very defined lines. Instead of creating a single color determined by a combination of trace elements, parti sapphires have a distinct two-tone appearance. Although very striking, the market for parti sapphires isn’t actually very large. This is because such sapphires have more novelty value than actual dollar value.
Treatments to Improve Color
Regardless of the color, almost all sapphires undergo some form of treatment. This is often heat treatment to improve the depth of color, but can be an irradiation or diffusion process. During diffusion, the stone is heated to near-melting point, and the elements which create color such as iron or titanium are introduced. Irradiation is a form of heat treatment which also improves color. The issue with irradiation is that it is light-sensitive. Over time, the improved sapphire will start to fade back to its natural state.
Sapphires which have not undergone any form of treatment are very rare and very expensive. Collectors prize such stones highly.
Looking After a Sapphire Engagement Ring
First, the good news. Sapphires are a very hard stone, rating at 9 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. This is second only to the 10 rating of diamonds. Sapphires also have no cleavage lines, unlike diamonds. A cleavage line is a natural weakness within the stone. This is very useful when cutting diamonds, but means any present after polishing is complete can leave the diamond prone to splitting if hit in the right place with enough force. A sapphire, therefore, is not only hard, but tough as well. It doesn’t mean it’s indestructible, of course, but it is durable enough to last a lifetime and beyond.
All it needs to keep your sapphire engagement ring looking its very best is some warm water, mild dish soap and a baby toothbrush.
Simply wet the toothbrush in the soapy water, and gently work the soft bristles around the setting. Take care not to get over-enthusiastic, as it won’t actually take too much to spring your sapphire right out of the setting. Rinse with clean, warm water, and repeat if necessary. If you do this just once a month, the build up of dirt from make-up, body lotions and even natural skin oils should be easy to remove. If you are nervous about cleaning your ring, almost all jewelry stores offer the service at reasonable cost.
What you must never do is use harsh chemicals on your jewelry. Precious stones are natural objects. Chemicals and harsh detergents can cause dulling on the surface of the stones, and are a bad idea.
Some Shopping Ideas for Sapphire Engagement Rings
Vintage Sapphire Engagement Ring c. 1920
This very rare art deco sapphire ring also contains strong influences from the are nouveau period with its almost floral design. It is also an excellent example of when sapphires and diamonds interact perfectly.
With a 0.93ct sapphire in a platinum setting, the center stone as a double halo of diamonds and French cut sapphires.
Atlantic Sapphire Engagement Ring
It is very unusual to see a sapphire solitaire engagement ring.The Atlantic ring is a great example of something which comes very close, and is a very popular style. The 1.50ct sapphire is square cut and set in 4 prongs for added security. On each shoulder are two baguette diamonds leading down to the platinum band.
Pear Shape Ceylon Sapphire Ring
This incredible ring shows perfectly how “fancy” cuts can enhance the beauty of a sapphire. With a rare 9.59ct, pear cut, Ceylon sapphire, this ring is one of a kind. Half carat diamonds sit at either side to add to the mesmerizing effect of the setting. MAde c.1930, the platinum setting is the perfect accompaniment for a unique sapphire in a unique ring.
Art Deco Diamond and Sapphire Ring
Although they Denmark Ring has a diamond at its center rather than a sapphire, it is a good example of the flexibility sapphires bring when cutting. Around the 1.03ct diamond are French cut calibré sapphires. This effect could never be achieved if the roles of diamond and sapphires were reversed. It shows how well sapphires lend themselves to unusual and ingenious designs.
The Cannes Ring shows off a 1.07ct sapphire in yellow gold perfectly. In a dual platinum/yellow gold setting, the sapphire is flanked by approaching a half carat of diamonds.
It brings a new twist to the three stone ring style currently so popular following the engagement ring that was given to Meghan Markle by England’s Prince Harry.
Click here to shop the collection of Sapphire Engagement Rings mentioned in this article.