Jewellery Learning

Sapphire Colours – How Many Are There?

What sapphire colours are there?

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.


Sapphire 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.

Sapphires do not come in red

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.

sapphire colours- Photographed for the CIBJO project from the Dr. Eduard J. Gubelin Collection.
Natural sapphires in a range of colours. Photo credit GIA.com, CIBJO project, Gubelin Collection

“Fancy” sapphires

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.

Pictured here the padparadscha sapphire engagement ring of Princess Eugenie:

 

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What 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.

A blue sapphire corundum crystal. Photo credit Géry Parent flickr.com

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.

These Are the 10 Best Sapphire Rings in the UK

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. Consequently, each sapphire’s colour will be unique in intensity and shade.

For example, here are some blue sapphires that naturally come in various shades:

sapphire colours - blue sapphires in varying shades from light to dark
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.

These Are the 10 Best Sapphire Rings in the UK

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’s 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.

sapphire colours - blue sapphire ring
A blue sapphire ring with diamonds. By TheDiamondStore.co.uk

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.

sapphire colours - 9K White Gold DIAMOND PINK SAPPHIRE RING 0.06CT YouTube
A pink sapphire ring cut into a rectangular “emerald cut” with accent diamonds. By TheDiamondStore.co.uk

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 virtually as hard and have beautiful colour and sparkle, yet are more affordable.

sapphire colours - 9K White Gold DIAMOND PINK sapphire colours - 0.52ct Yellow Sapphire And 0.07CT Diamond Earrings In 9K Yellow Gold YouTube
Yellow sapphire and diamond earrings. By TheDiamondStore.co.uk

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.

sapphire colours - A4341 Green Sapphire Diamond Ring In 9K Gold YouTube
A green sapphire and diamond ring by TheDiamondStore.co.uk

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.

Sapphire colours - Star of India star sapphire
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.

sapphire colours how many are there

Butterfly brooch with 333 sapphire colours in blue, pink, orange and yellow. Photograph by Cliff on Flickr.com. 

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.

sapphire colours - padparadscha sapphires
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:

Want to learn more about sapphires?

Read our Blue Sapphire Gem Guide or Pink Sapphire Guide. Also, take a look at our article on Sapphire–September Birthstone Meaning.


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Shop sapphire jewellery now at TheDiamondStore.co.uk.

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