November 03, 2021 7 min read
No stone is as illustrious for the color blue as the sapphire. In fact, “sapphire” is a shade of blue, but blue is just one of sapphire’s many hues. So what color is a sapphire? Blue, of course, but also every other color on the spectrum. Its intensity and variety of color and unique characteristics, like aestarism or silk, make the sapphire a remarkable gemstone. When shopping for a sapphire, there’s so much room for personality. We’ve listed and described all the blue sapphire types and beyond--from black to padparadscha--so you can choose the best sapphire color for you or someone special.
All colored gemstones contain trace elements that assign them their color. A blue sapphire consists of iron and titanium. If other elements are added to the mix, sapphires exhibit different colors. Chromium creates a pink sapphire, and extra iron creates a green or yellow sapphire. A sapphire must be at least 75% blue to be described as “blue” rather than as a “fancy colored sapphire,” the name of any sapphire color other than blue. Sapphires are more common than their sister corundum because the elements they’re made of are more abundant. Sapphires contain iron, which is commonly found in the earth, while rubies do not form in iron.
Sapphires come in any color, though some are rarer than others. We’ve listed 11 sapphire colors, including blue. Sapphires often described as “red” are slightly more purple or maroon and technically classified as violet or pink. A sapphire is a color of corundum other than true red, and true red corundums are called rubies. Our red sapphires aren’t ruby-red, but a deep, rich, and velvety merlot that is our signature shade of “red” sapphire.
Some sapphires are heat-treated to display darker, lighter, or bolder colors. Others are created in a lab within the same environment and with the same properties as natural sapphires. A synthetic, lab-created sapphire is truly a sapphire, unlike imitations made of glass. However, lab sapphires do have a limit on their worth, which is nowhere near the price tag of the most valuable natural sapphires.
Blue sapphires are the most popular and desired colors. They’re the gemstone for 45th wedding anniversary jewelry, the birthstone for September, and becoming more common as an alternative engagement ring option because of their beauty and symbolism of loyalty. Blue sapphires are mined in many locations, and different environments produce different characteristics. Sri Lanka produces some of the clearest cornflower blue sapphires, while Montana often produces lighter, greener stones.
Blue sapphires come in many shades or types. Here are a few of the most popular:
White sapphires are colorless, meaning they contain no trace elements. These gemstones are extremely rare in nature, and most are lab-created or even heat treated to remove hints of color. The white color symbolizes purity, joy, and mental clarity. Its meaning and likeness to a diamond make it a popular alternative to a diamond engagement ring. White sapphires aren’t as pricey as diamonds, but they also don’t exhibit the same brilliance and clarity. They often look cloudy next to a real diamond. But to the untrained eye, the difference between a white sapphire and a diamond is hardly recognizable. They make excellent accent gemstones next to colorful stones.
Pink sapphires may be described as red sapphires but are not as deep in color as a ruby. They’re the perfect type of sapphire for a romantic to wear (or give) and symbolize love and compassion. Pink sapphires used to be extremely rare, but became more widely available when large deposits were found in Madagascar. Their color ranges from pastel pink to bold, hot pink. Hot pinks sapphires are more valuable because of their intense, bright color, but light pink sapphires are just as desirable for jewelry.
The orange sapphire is a bold and exciting but rare gemstone. Their color comes from two elements--chromium and iron. Chromium brings the reddish color, while iron brings yellow. Nearly all orange sapphires on the market have been heat-treated, so if you are shopping for an orange sapphire, anticipate purchasing a heat-treated stone.
The padparadscha sapphire is one of the most rare and desirable sapphires, making it one of the most expensive types. Its bright and fruity pinkish-orange color is unique and mesmerizing. No two padparadscha sapphires are alike, which makes naming them difficult and subjective, but it also means that your padparadscha will be one-of-a-kind. Padparadscha means “lotus flower” in Sinhalese, a language spoken in Sri Lanka, where the sapphire is mined.
The sunnier the better for yellow sapphires. Bright canary yellow is the most valuable color. Sometimes pale yellow sapphires are heat-treated to remove the traces of yellow and make the colorless, or white, sapphires. Yellow sapphires have been mistaken for Oriental topaz, but the sapphire is of greater value. The gemstone is important in Indian society for prosperity within the family.
Green sapphire is a calming stone that symbolizes trust. Its shades range from mint to dark forest. These sapphires are lower in cost because they’re not as rare or as popular as other types. Green sapphires can be purchased as emerald alternatives; they’re just as durable and have fewer inclusions. However, the two gems are usually of equal value.
Like pink sapphires, purple sapphires may be described as red when they are a deeper reddish-purple. These stones are often mistaken for Oriental amethysts. Purple sapphires resemble amethysts in color but have greater brilliance and are more rare and valuable. On a scale from least to most valuable, a purple sapphire falls between yellow and blue.
A black sapphire is not genuinely black but a colored sapphire that gets its inky hue from inclusions that prevent light from refracting from the stone. Black sapphires are one of the lesser sapphires in value, unless they exhibit asterism, or a star caused by inclusions. Black star sapphires are incredibly rare. The Midnight Star sapphire, housed in the American Museum of Natural History, is one of the most prized of the types. This particular sapphire is such a deep violet that it appears black.
The brown sapphire is rich and warm, but it is the least valuable of all the sapphire colors. In order to have a high value, brown sapphires must be incredibly clear--nearly flawless--unless they exhibit asterism. However, the cognac sapphire (reddish-brown) has become more popular because of its bold and elegant color.
A color-change sapphire changes color from natural to fluorescent light. These gemstones have strong pleochroism, which means they appear different colors from different angles. These stones most frequently change from blue to purple and have been mistaken for blue alexandrite. Color-change sapphires can be yellow or green, but their pleochroism is weaker.
Sapphires symbolize wisdom, loyalty, insight, and faithfulness, which makes them popular engagement stones. In ancient medicine, the sapphire was used to treat eye irritation, varicose veins, and ingrown toenails. The gemstone is also thought to promote a strong mind and give motivation. Sapphire is the stone for September birthdays, Wednesdays, and the Sagittarius sign.
The two rarest sapphire colors are Padparadscha and cornflower blue. The most prized sapphires are Kashmir sapphires of a bright, velvety blue from the mountains in India. The last Kashmir sapphire was mined in 1927. Shortly after, the mines were closed. Now, Kashmir sapphires are owned by collectors and museums and are rarely seen on the market.
The desirability of colored stones, like sapphires, can be subjective, based on trends or personal preference, but there are certain features that make some sapphires more precious than other gemstones or certain sapphire colors more desirable than others.
Unlike diamonds, sapphires and other colored stones do not adhere to a grading standard because of too great a variety in colors and characteristics. All gems are graded from excellent to average quality on a scale including grades AAA, AA, A, and B. Color, cut, clarity, and carat add to the value of any stone. Of the four, color is the most important determiner of value for a sapphire. The more vivid and strong the color, the greater the value. The more diluted the sapphire, the lesser the value.
Types 1-3 are assigned to gemstones on a scale from no visible to a few visible to many visible inclusions. But the presence of inclusions does not necessarily detract from a sapphire's value so long as the inclusions don’t affect the stone’s durability.
With so many different colors to choose from, choose a sapphire that best suits your personality and expresses the most meaning to you. Blue sapphires are tried and true; the best color sapphire is really up to you.
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