The Fancy Sapphire in Antique Jewellery – A Spectrum of Beauty
Sapphires have been highly valued since ancient times, forming one of the five “cardinal gems” whose value surpassed all others. Along with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and amethysts these beautiful stones were amongst the most highly prized of gemstones. They are most famous for having an azure blue colouration, but in truth sapphires come in many different colours.
The mineral corundum gives us both the sapphire and the ruby. Both varieties contain minute traces of other elements which give them their colour but the distinction is far from clear cut.
The most recognisable rubies are a deep red colour, but lighter stones can range into a bright, vibrant pink. This means that pink sapphires are often difficult to distinguish from their cousin gems. In the ancient world it was often thought that pink sapphires were simply infant rubies, and that their colour would deepen to the blood red of a true ruby over time.
Whilst rubies are only considered to be rubies if they exhibit a red or pink colour sapphires can be blue, pink, purple, yellow, orange, green, brown, grey and even completely clear. Blue sapphires are the most recognisable, and are often simply known as sapphires, whereas the other colours are known as “fancy sapphires”. The colours vary in their intensity, availability and price, and all have been worked into jewellery since their discovery.
Fancy Sapphires in Jewellery
Sapphire lends itself perfectly to the crafting of jewellery. The mineral corundum is incredibly tough – the only stone which is harder on the Moh’s hardness scale is the diamond. This means that the stone is incredibly durable, able to be worked into shapes which will remain perfect for many decades, even centuries when appropriately cared for.
The coloured stones are often paired with diamonds, which are used to flank or surround the stone. The scintillation which diamonds exhibit means that light is refracted through them, and a skilled jeweller can create arrangements of stones which push more light towards the sapphire, bringing out its colour and allowing it to shine brighter.
Although sapphires are occasionally used to augment other stones the majority of pieces which contain them tend to give them centre-stage. The most impressive stones may be presented as solitaires, allowing the stone to shine purely on its own merit, but the temptation with crafting a piece with such remarkable stones has led to a great degree of variety.
Antique sapphire jewellery often combines fancy sapphires with high carat yellow or white gold, often inlaid with exquisite engraving and elaborate wire work that supports and enhances the stone. In later eras, such as the Art Deco period, they were paired with platinum to create more substantial and valuable pieces.
In modern times it has become possibly to artificially grow sapphires in a laboratory environment. These synthetic minerals are far less valuable than natural stones, and are used in a variety of interesting ways.
Because it can be formed into colourless sheets it is often used in window glass where it is valued because it allows wavelengths of light which would be blocked by conventional glass. Knowledge of which chemical causes which colouration, as well as machinery which allows extremely precise fashioning of shapes, allow it to be used in the manufacture of precision lasers.
Most remarkably the durability of sapphire allows it to be worked into artificial hip joints.
You can learn more about the fascinating variety of gemstones used throughout the ages in our blog and advice centre.
Take a look at our collection of sapphire antique and vintage jewellery here.
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