Sapphires are the September birthstone, so it’s the perfect time to learn more about these gorgeous gemstones.
Here are 15 intriguing facts about stunning sapphires, September’s birthstone:
Sapphires have been treasured for thousands of years. The ancient Romans polished sapphires to be worn as jewelry.
The best-known sapphires are the rich blue variety, but they actually come in every color of the rainbow—including pink, yellow, orange, and green. Red sapphires are better known as rubies (both are varieties of the mineral corundum).
Sapphires get their colors from trace elements in the mineral corundum. It is turned to blue sapphire when it contains iron and titanium, and trace elements of chromium can turn corundum pink, while more chromium turns it into a ruby.
The rarest type of sapphire is a pinkish orange variety called padparadscha, a name that comes from the Sanskrit word for lotus flower.
The word sapphire derives from the Greek word sappheiros, which may originally have referred to another blue gemstone, lapis lazuli.
Sapphires are among the most durable naturally occurring elements in the world. Gemstones are rated on their ability to withstand scratching based on a system called the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and sapphires score a 9 out of 10. The only natural item that can scratch a sapphire is a diamond. The durability of sapphires makes them an excellent choice for engagement rings and other pieces of jewelry that you plan to wear every day.
Because of this hardness, sapphire also has industrial uses. The Apple Watch features lab-created sapphire glass in its screen.
Sapphires are found in many places throughout the world, including Australia, Malawi, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and the United States.
Throughout history various cultures have attributed mystical powers to sapphires. In ancient times it was believed that sapphires protected their wearers from evil. In the middle ages, Europeans believed that sapphires cured eye diseases and preserved chastity. Sapphires have been used to symbolize nobility and faithfulness.
Deep blue sapphires have long been associated with royalty (which may have contributed to the naming of the color “royal blue”). Sapphires were often worn by medieval kings, who believed that the gemstones would protect them from their enemies.
French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte gave to his beloved Josephine a sapphire engagement ring in 1796. The ring, which sold at auction for close to a million dollars last year, features a pear-shaped sapphire next to a pear-shaped diamond, on a simple gold band.
The most famous royal sapphire today is the engagement ring given by England’s Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and now worn by Princess Catherine. It features an 18-carat oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds.
Sapphire engagement rings certainly aren’t only for royals. Before the twentieth century, blue sapphires were the favored gemstones for engagement rings. Sapphires were quite popular in Victorian engagement rings, when they were often surrounded by smaller diamonds to create floral designs.
Many people are surprised by the fun fact that sapphires can exhibit a phenomenon called the “star effect,” or asterism. This occurs when needle-like inclusions create a six-ray star pattern on the surface of a cabochon-cut sapphire, often called a “star sapphire.”
Perhaps the most intriguing type of sapphire is the “color change” variety. These gemstones exhibit different colors depending on the lighting, often changing from blue in daylight to purple in incandescent light.