HOW many sapphire colours are there? When most people think of a sapphire, they think of a gem that’s blue. But sapphires actually exist in a whole rainbow-range of colours.
Sapphires are one of the ‘Big Three Gemstones’, alongside emeralds and rubies. They’re formed from a mineral called corundum.
They exist in blue, pink, green, yellow, orange, purple, colourless and black.
The only colour that sapphires do not come in is red. Red corundum is called a ruby; it’s another gem variety of the same mineral.
Natural sapphires in a range of colours. Photo credit GIA.com, CIBJO project, Gubelin Collection
Sapphires that are not blue, black or colourless are called fancy sapphires or parti sapphires.
Some noteworthy fancy sapphire variations include the rare, peach-coloured padparadscha sapphire, as well as the unique star sapphire. Read more about these below.
What exactly is corundum, the mineral that sapphires are formed from?
Corundum is an extremely hard and durable mineral. It is the second hardest gem to diamonds.
Thanks to this, sapphires lend themselves well to jewellery intended for long-term daily wear – like engagement rings.
Trace minerals are responsible for sapphire colours
Within the corundum crystals, there are trace elements that change the gem’s colour.
Usually these are iron, chromium, titanium, vanadium, magnesium or copper.
For example, chromium is responsible for pink sapphire colour. When the trace elements are iron and titanium, the result is a blue sapphire.
Variations in intensity and shade of sapphire colour
Each sapphire is a creation of Mother Nature. Corundum crystals formed naturally under the earth’s crust millions of years ago.
This means that:
- Individual sapphires have varying levels of trace minerals present
- Each sapphire’s colour will be unique in intensity and shade, even if they are basically the same base colour
For example, here are some blue sapphires that naturally come in various shades:
Natural blue sapphires showing varying shades of blue.
A word about colour-treated sapphires
Colour-treated sapphires are not natural. They are corundum crystals that have been heated or chemically altered, in order to change their colour
NOTE: At The Diamond Store, we do not sell or recommend colour-treated sapphires because, in the long term, they may change their colour. Therefore, in our opinion, they do not represent good value for money.
A natural pink sapphire on video:
Here is a natural pink sapphire that has not been colour treated.
See how intense and sparkly it looks:
Why are some sapphire colours more expensive?
There is no worldwide standard for assessing sapphires. Therefore we must evaluate each one in its own right.
- Just like diamonds, we judge sapphires by their clarity first – this means a lack of marks, cloudiness or blemishes.
- Next, we evaluate them by colour – we look at the hue, saturation and tone of the stone.
What do colour hue, saturation and tone mean?
- Hue is the main colour of the sapphire
- Saturation is the vividness of the colour
- Tone refers to the lightness or darkness of the colour
For example, the blue sapphire primary hue is blue. But they can be found in various tones of light blue, dark blue and almost black-blue. They can also exhibit secondary hues (purple, violet or green) or when compared side by side, look more or less vivid to the eye.
Blue sapphires – a guide to buying
When buying sapphires, most people prefer the blue variety.
Desirable blue sapphire colours can range from light blue to black-blue. Generally speaking, jewellery shoppers prefer medium to medium-dark tones.
What you want to avoid are non-valuable blue sapphires that are very light or grey.
Pink sapphires – a guide to buying
Pink sapphires can range from baby pink to dark fuchsia. All of these shades are accepted in jewellery, as long as the pink sapphire is clear, bright and doesn’t show flaws.
NOTE: There is a fine line where a pink sapphire crosses over to red, making it a ruby. The exact colour distinctions has never been officially established. In fact, it’s been a bone on contention amongst gem experts for decades!
Therefore, if you’re buying a pink sapphire, it’s up to you to decide which shade you prefer.
Yellow sapphires – a guide to buying
Yellow, orange or golden sapphires have iron impurities in them. This is the main cause of their bright, sunny colour.
Those yellow sapphires which lean more towards an orange or golden hue may also contain chromium traces.
Yellow sapphire colour can range from pale lemon yellow to intense tangerine. Some gem experts say the golden-orange toned ones are the best. But the majority of consumers prefer a lighter yellow.
NOTE: Yellow sapphires are an excellent alternative to yellow diamonds. They’re almost as hard and have beautiful colour and sparkle, yet are more affordable.
Green sapphires – a guide to buying
Green sapphire colours are caused by iron, copper and some titanium.
Green sapphires can range from pale olive to dark bottle green. All shades are acceptable as long as there are no marks in the gem.
Most people who buy green gemstone jewellery prefer emeralds. However, green sapphires have the advantage of being harder and more durable than emeralds.
Star sapphires – overview
Star sapphires can be blue, pink, black, gray, white, purple or yellow. They can any color except red, which would be a star ruby. They exhibit a characteristic known as “asterism”. This is a star-like light reflection inside the gem.
Some sapphire colours in the star variety are more valued than others. In general pink and blue are considered the best, grey the worst.
However, below you’ll see a beautiful and expensive exception: a star sapphire called the Star of India. It weighs 563.35 carats. It is almost flawless. Most unusually, it has the star asterism displayed on both sides of the stone. It’s kept at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The Star of India sapphire. Photographed by Katie Munoz on flickr.com
White and black sapphire colours – overview
Sapphire colours also come in monochrome tones. The gem industry refers to pure corundum as “colourless sapphire” or “white sapphire”.
Some jewellers use white sapphires as accent stones in jewellery. This is because they are a genuine but affordable alternative to diamonds. Black sapphires are usually opaque grey stones. Due to this, some designers use them instead of onyx.
Padparadscha, the king of sapphire colours – overview
We often refer to intense pink-orange sapphires as padparadscha sapphires. The word “padparadscha” refers to a lotus flower. It has an elusive “sunset” colour.
They are very beautiful, but also very, very expensive. This means they are not usually sold as commercial jewellery.
There is rather a lot of controversy regarding the exact colour of the padparadscha. Below are two samples. Gem experts agree they are both samples of real padparadschas.
Padparadscha sapphires. Photographs by Tim hammond, GIA.com.
Sapphire gifting occasions
Sapphire is the official birthstone for people born in September or under the star sign or Virgo.
It is also the gift gem for the 5th and 45th wedding anniversaries.
What is the right sapphire colour for you?
The great thing about sapphires is that you can decide which colour you prefer. The beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
As to the hue, tone and saturation, professional gemmologists tend to value intense hues that look more striking
But in commercial jewellery, it’s a question of personal preference. Some people love light pastel tones because they look understated, while others love bright ones that catch the eye.
See a blue sapphire on video:
See a blue sapphire cut into an oval shape, set in a ring with diamonds: