The Ultimate Guide to Sapphire Quality

Sapphire Guide to Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat

The Ultimate Guide to Sapphire Quality


Everything You Need to Know

Recently, you may have noticed that sapphires have been stealing the spotlight with their array of dazzling colors. Aside from being the center gemstone on an engagement ring, sapphires can also be incorporated into wedding bands, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. 

While sapphires and diamonds do share some similarities, at their core they are two completely different types of gemstones with different grading processes. While sapphires don’t undergo a certification process like the 4Cs for diamonds, there are steps you can take to evaluate sapphire quality. Feel confident adding the perfect sapphire to your jewelry collection by learning about the characteristics of sapphires in our guide.

Sapphire Color

The origin of the sapphire actually brings us back millions of years in time. Basalt-related blue sapphires were created through crystal deposits that rose from the depths of the earth through volcanic eruptions, which were balanced with the volcano’s magma. Meanwhile, metamorphic sapphires were created through the tectonic shifting of the earth’s plates that allowed sapphires to re-crystallize rocks that were already there. Sapphires are made up primarily of the mineral corundum, which is the second hardest type of mineral, after diamonds. Corundum is created from aluminum oxide and was originally discovered in parts of Asia and Africa, in places like Madagascar and Tanzania. 

Often thought of as a blue gem, sapphires also appear in a wide array of intense and vibrant colors through the addition of minerals to the corundum solution. For instance, rubies are made out of the same chemical composition as blue sapphires but have a red color. Sapphires can undergo heat treatments to intensify their natural colors, but at Shane Co., we never sell glass-filled stones or anything that will not retain its designated color to keep sapphire quality high. Tom Shane hand-selects sapphires in Bangkok by viewing them in natural light to judge the stone’s true color. The substances that comprise sapphire color are judged through three attributes — hue, tone, and saturation.

A hand holding a rough sapphire

Colors of Sapphires

Shane Co. carries over a dozen sapphire colors to suit anyone’s personal taste. Lesser-known sapphire colors include fire sapphire, black sapphire, raspberry sapphire, salmon sapphire, and cognac sapphire. Learn more about some of the unique characteristics of each of the following sapphire colors below.

Color Options

Blue sapphires can range from light pastel blues to dark twilight blues. They are one of the most popular types of sapphires. The vivid blue sapphire color is created through the addition of titanium and iron to the corundum while the gemstone is being formed. Blue sapphires can also contain hints of green in them to create a turquoise color. During medieval times, blue sapphires were known to bring elements of protection to the wearer, along with good luck. Blue sapphire rings look stunning in any setting. View Shane Co.’s collection of blue sapphire jewelry to see these beautiful gemstones in action. 

White sapphires reflect silver and gray when they sparkle. A white sapphire can be a beautiful alternative to a diamond center stone, but beware that they have two completely different looks. White sapphires reflect light differently but do allow for a larger stone that is less expensive than a diamond of the same size. 

Green sapphires range from light green to dark green. Green sapphires symbolize trust, loyalty, and peace. They are created from colorless gems by adding iron to the corundum. Some green sapphires can contain hints of blue as well and are mined in places like Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Australia. 

Pink sapphires are available in light pink to hot pink hues. If you love all things pink, then consider pairing a pink sapphire gemstone with a white gold or platinum ring setting. Pink sapphires are made by adding chromium to the mineral corundum. Some pink sapphires contain purple hues as well. 

Purple sapphires can range from light lavender to darker shades mixed with hints of blue and red. Purple sapphires represent strong intuition and are known to lead to less worry and a clear head. Corundum is mixed with vanadium to reach the purple hue.

Yellow sapphires are lighthearted and cheery due to their bright, classic color. Iron combined with corundum creates yellow sapphires. They offer a modern look when paired with yellow gold engagement rings.  

Orange sapphires have a daring look and can range from a light sunset color to deeper reds. They pair well with fall engagements and tend to be associated with artistic endeavors.

What Are Color Change Sapphires?

Similar to the color-shifting wings of a butterfly in flight, sapphire colors can reflect changing colors as well. Color change sapphires have unique traits that allow them to have either a slight color change or fully shift to a new hue. They may be reminiscent of mood rings that change based on temperature; however, the color change sapphires shift color based on the type of lighting they interact with and are not determined by the wearer’s feelings. 

Fluorescent light tends to reveal richer blues or violets, while incandescent light brings out purple to deeper plum colors in gemstones. Color change may be more or less noticeable in each sapphire and depends on the qualities of each stone. At Shane Co., we purchase stones when we can view them under natural sunlight to ensure we see the true sapphire color and retain the highest sapphire quality.

Sapphire Hue

A sapphire’s hue refers to the predominant color that is visible in the sapphire. This can range from blue to green to pink, as well as a multitude of other sapphire colors. At Shane Co., we choose sapphires with a consistent color throughout for the most vibrant options. Hue also takes into account any other secondary colors that are visible as well, like with blue-green sapphires. This doesn’t detract from the sapphire quality and instead is a unique distinction of some gemstones. Sapphires can have other combinations, which is part of their allure, as each gemstone is unique in its own right.

Sapphire Tone

If hue is a sapphire’s main color then tone refers to the depth of color present within the gemstone. For example, one blue sapphire can be deep and rich, resembling the night sky, while a different blue sapphire can be a light blue color that has a more futuristic, modern appeal. Both sapphires are blue but have very distinct tones that emit two different vibes. Just as the depth of color can be used to express feelings in artwork, so too can a sapphire’s tone. At Shane Co., we offer a range of blues, from bright sapphires to deeper blue sapphires, as well as other shades, for whichever mood you’re drawn toward.

Sapphire Saturation

A sapphire’s saturation signifies how intense a sapphire’s color is. This same concept can be applied to a rainbow. In particular, there are times when you see a rainbow and notice how crystal clear the colors are and then there are times when a rainbow looks hazy and the colors are faded. Strong saturation will have a potency to its color, which is measured on a sapphire saturation chart with the following designations: vivid, strong, medium, fair, and weak. Any brown or gray hues present in a gemstone will reduce its saturation and sapphire quality, which is why most people aim for a gemstone with a vivid primary hue.

Sapphire Size

Sapphire cuts don’t follow the same playbook as diamonds do. Unlike diamonds, there is no ideal cut to maximize fire and brilliance in sapphires. Instead, each cutter will want to preserve as much of the stone as possible for the ultimate color and brilliance. Cutters start with the rough shape of a sapphire, which is often a barrel or spindle, and must carefully cut the sapphire in a specific way to preserve as much of the stone as possible. 

Cutters focus on achieving the best sapphire color by paying attention to color zoning (different shades of the same color found on a stone), pleochroism (the presence of multiple colors in a stone), and light and dark areas to effectively place their cuts and determine an overall shape. 

Based on the sapphire’s color, the cutter has to decide what number, size, shape, and orientation of facets will best serve the stone and reflect its color through the table, or the top, of the stone. This often results in lighter tones being cut deeper and rich tones being cut more shallow, making use of more light to enrich their color. In any case, the facets must be symmetrical and evenly angled with a perfectly centered table. For instance, think of a wedding cake. Unless a baker cuts the sheet cake evenly on all sides, it may not present well on a cake stand. Since every gemstone is unique, sapphire cuts aren’t graded by gemological societies, and instead, jewelers are left to devise their own standards for quality of cut and color. Shane Co. uses expert jewelers to ensure we retain all of the natural beauty of the sapphire.

Sapphires follow the same carat weight system as diamonds but tend to weigh more, resulting in smaller-looking stones. For instance, if a sapphire and diamond had the same carat weight, the sapphire may still appear slightly smaller than the diamond due to its density. At Shane Co., we provide the sapphire carat weight measurement, as well as the diameter in millimeters to help you gauge the sapphire's size in comparison to a diamond’s. As sapphires can be made into different shapes (heart, oval, pear, cushion, etc.), the millimeter size of sapphires has a bigger range when compared to their diamond counterpart — so it’s better to consider a sapphire’s size in millimeters, rather than a sapphire’s carat weight alone.

A range of sapphire sizes compared to a dime

Understanding Sapphire Clarity

When it comes to sapphire clarity, inclusions are unavoidable, but don’t worry! They won’t detract from the look of your sapphire jewelry. Unlike diamonds, sapphires have no clarity grade. Because of the types of minerals at play, inclusions are expected in sapphires when trace minerals become trapped as they form. Many of these inclusions are far less noticeable than in diamonds due to the vivid colors of sapphires. Therefore, they are not examined under magnification as diamonds are, and gemstones with few inclusions are deemed “eye clean.” Still, the higher the sapphire clarity is, the more rare and valuable it becomes.

Sapphire Inclusion Types

Get to know the most common types of inclusions found in sapphires below.

  • Needles are grooves in the sapphire’s surface and appear in clusters. They resemble long scratches, which is why they are referred to as silk. They have a whitish or clear color. 

  • Color zoning results in patches of uneven color spread throughout a sapphire and can pose major issues to the cutter. These types of inclusions can make patches of the sapphire appear more white, distracting from its rich, distinct color. To prevent discolored sapphires, cutters need to retain most of the pure color, instead of the adulterated parts. 

  • Liquid inclusion occurs when carbon dioxide fluid fills tiny gaps within the corundum. The result can look like trapped water bubbles in a gemstone and means that the stone was not treated with heat.

  • Fingerprint inclusions are pathways of liquid tubes that resemble a person’s fingerprints within a gemstone. Fingerprint inclusions are the result of a sapphire’s healing response when they re-crystallize cracked areas and are quite common.
A sapphire fashion ring and matching earrings

What Are Star Sapphires?

Star sapphires reflect a star-like pattern of light off their surface, which is visible from the top of the gemstone. The rays connect in the center without disruptions and are the result of sets of inclusions from rutile and hematite. Star sapphires are typically incorporated into bigger pieces of jewelry due to their captivating effects and occur in a multitude of colors. They have been mined in places like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and India. They tend to be rare, but have an old Hollywood appeal and have been worn by stars like Carole Lombard and Joan Crawford.

Sapphires are distinctly beautiful gemstones that hold their own against diamonds. Sapphires can emit everything from more playful moods to more romantic inclinations. They serve as the main show or make gorgeous additions to diamond rings. With so many sapphire colors and shapes to choose from, there is something for everyone to love. Shop for sapphire engagement rings or unique sapphire rings to find the right piece of jewelry for you or your sweetheart!