Posted on September 09 2020
The Sapphire gem has a long and charming history.
Before the written word, the Sapphire was known as a royal gem.
The initial creation of a Sapphire gem was polishing the rounded pebbles and crystals that are typical for alluvial deposits. Early lapidaries (a person who cuts and polishes stones) gave the rough round stones a surface polish, and the first cabochons were born, showing a three-pointed star on the surface when reflecting light. These early pieces of jewelry were made by drilling holes, with the aid of diamond abrasives, in the Sapphire beads for stringing necklaces and bracelets. It wasn't until after the 16th century that Sapphire's faceting was accomplished.
During the middle ages, the Sapphire was believed to shield the wearer from harm and disease. It was also used as an antidote against poison. It was the stone of choice for the priest as it represented a pure sky and said to be a sacred gem with great power. The Sapphire was called the gem of gems.
Wow! The Sapphire carried a lot of weight!
Originating from Sri Lanka, these gemstones would reach Mediterranean culture through trade routes crossing present-day Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and into India. Because of ancient Rome's excellent road system, distribution within Europe was also established. 2
After the breakdown of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Muslim world continued the trading routes between India and Europe, with Mediterranean cities became the distributors to the rest of Europe. A second route to the East was established that allowed a faster and deeper penetration into Asia.
Traders from the East returned with first-hand stories of faraway countries with untold wealth and gems beyond belief. Nothing could stop the European quest for possession of the prized Sapphires from the East. During the 15th century, sea routes to Asia were the number one priority for European explorers. This was the end of the Middle Ages and the birth of the Renaissance, a time when Italian goldsmiths and stone carvers were pursuing their trades so zealously that the crafting of exquisite jewelry turned into art.
The devotion and specialization of Renaissance lapidaries and goldsmiths resulted in new styles as they produced faceted stones and innovative ways to set them. An increase in world trade and the growth of the 'bourgeoisie' class created a new group of buyers, eager to show their wealth by wearing precious jewels.
At the same time, more and more research was being conducted, resulting in a deeper understanding of minerals. New continents were found, sea routes to Asia were established, and trading companies arose that devoted themselves to one thing only: importing luxury goods from the Orient. Sapphires were undoubtedly among those products.
The mystic powers of Sapphires ascribed during the Middle Ages and throughout Ancient History weren't completely abandoned. From a book entitled The Curious Lore of Stones, the author illustrates an 18th-century belief that color change Sapphires were used as a tool to test a girl's virtue:
"… here the Sapphire is used as a test of female virtue, the change of color indicating unfaithfulness on the part of the wearer. If the owner of the stone wished to prove that the subject of the test was innocent, she was made to wear the Sapphire for three hours of daylight; but in the opposite case the test was so timed that it began in daylight and ended when the candles or lamps had been lighted."2
The industrial revolution of the latter half of the 19th century established a 'nouveau riche' class of Europeans and Americans who funded explorations all over the world. New Sapphire deposits in Australia, the USA, and India were discovered, and previously known deposits were mined even more extensively. New techniques allowed mechanized mining, thus increasing the yield enormously.
The technique of heat treatment, known since ancient times, was perfected in the second half of the 20th century. This treatment allowed low-quality stones to be transformed into more beautiful and marketable gems. The 1970s saw an enormous increase in this technique, and as a result, heat treatment of Sapphires is more the rule than the exception today.
Today there is another technique using Beryllium. The lapidary can use Beryllium and artificially insert it deep into the crystal lattice of Sapphire. This changes the color of the gem throughout. By law, Beryllium treatment must be disclosed to the consumer.
Fracture filling is another common technique. Deep fractures in rough stones are filled with glass, then heated to cause the walls of a fracture to partially dissolve. When it cools, the gem recrystallizes which closes the fracture.
Please stop by and see our wide variety of Sapphire jewelry. We have the real gemstones, although most are heat-treated, none have the fillings of Beryllium or glass. You can also shop online at www.gemsofjaipur.shop.
See you soon!
1 Portrait of Jane Seymour https://www.langantiques.com/university/renaissance-jewelry/
2 history derived from https://www.langantiques.com/university/sapphire/