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A Blue Sapphire Buying Guide

Updated: Apr 3

Buying a Blue Sapphire

My brother asked me to help him source a blue sapphire to have a bespoke engagement ring designed and made up for his then-girlfriend, soon-to-be fiancé. This task proved more difficult than anticipated. After visiting multiple jewellers in Christchurch, we soon discovered that sourcing a good quality blue sapphire over 4ct in size was near impossible. We viewed only two loose Blue Sapphires in the weeks following, both around the 1.80ct size, both with considerable price tags. Blue sapphires in New Zealand proved to be scarce.

The First Blue Sapphire Sourced by The Sapphire Merchant
The First Blue Sapphire Sourced by The Sapphire Merchant

Searching Further Afield for a Blue Sapphire

After recently returning from Sri Lanka and buying sapphires from the gemstone markets in Ratnapura and Beruwala, it became apparent that by the time blue sapphires reached the New Zealand market, the prices greatly inflated due to the longer chain of intermediaries that each gemstone travelled through before arriving at its destination. So, unable to find a loose blue sapphire gemstone in New Zealand that met my brother's requirements and budget, I started to widen my net to the contacts I had made while travelling through Sri Lanka, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Buying a Blue Sapphire from Source is the Key

I reached out to my jeweller in Dubai (based at the Gold & Diamond Park), and due to the huge popularity of coloured stones in the UAE, they sent through a large selection of Blue Sapphire options within hours. After some back and forth, my brother settled on a spectacular 4.15ct Cornflower Blue Sapphire for the same price it would have cost him to purchase a 1.80ct equivalent here in New Zealand. It was paid for and promptly shipped over, arriving a week later. The Blue Sapphire was taken to a registered New Zealand valuer (The Jewellery Valuation Centre in this case) to be evaluated for insurance purposes. It was valued at double the price of what we had paid for it. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I had brought a similar Blue Sapphire from the gemstone markets in Sri Lanka, the purchase price would have halved again.

Gemma Brain, Founder of The Sapphire Merchant
Gemma Brain, Founder of The Sapphire Merchant

And The Sapphire Merchant was Born

This lacklustre experience of trying to source a Blue Sapphire in New Zealand was the seed for my business, The Sapphire Merchant. It allowed me to travel to exotic locations, handpicking beautiful gemstones for the New Zealand market. Months later, I set off on my first official buying trip and learnt first-hand about the foreign gemstone trade. I began my education in sapphires and precious gemstones by diving into the deep end. I am currently studying with Gem-A London to become a qualified Gemologist, increasing my expertise in an industry I am passionate about.

"Sapphires possess a beauty like that of the heavenly throne; thy denote those whose lives shine with their good deeds and virtue" - Marbodius of Rennes (11th Century Bishop and Poet)

Buying Blue Sapphires in New Zealand - The Sapphire Merchant Official Guide

Where do Sapphires Come from?

Blue Sapphires are mined in a handful of countries. Each country offers a different flavour of sapphire to the global market. The most important sources of Blue Sapphires in modern times are Australia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Madagascar and Thailand.

Australian Blue Sapphires

The red island of Australia is a leading producer and supplier of valuable Blue Sapphires. The highest quality Blue Sapphire material easily competes with that from Sri Lanka. Two locations of particular notability produce world-class Australian blue sapphires; the New England Fields in Northern New South Wales and the Anakie Fields in Central Queensland. Australian Blue Sapphires usually have a silky inclusion that runs through the gem and impacts its clarity and brilliance. For this reason, nearly all Australian Blue Sapphires undergo heat treatment, which is done in Thailand. Thailand plays a big part in the Australian sapphire trade, with a large proportion of Australian sapphire moving through the Thailand gem markets before being purchased from buyers all over the world.

Burmese Blue Sapphires

Myanmar produces good-quality, world-class Blue Sapphires; however, they are rare. Due to ongoing political instability, Myanmar is a 'no-go' zone, which has reduced Burmese gems to a trickle. Burmese Blue Sapphires are known for their intense violetish hue. Due to their extreme rarity, they are a collector's gemstone, and along with Kashmir Blue Sapphires, they hold some of the highest sale records at prestigious auction houses.

Sri Lankan Cornflower and Royal Blue Sapphires
Sri Lankan Cornflower and Royal Blue Sapphires

Ceylon Blue Sapphires

The gem-rich land of Sri Lanka produces the most exquisite and expensive Blue Sapphires available today. Famous for their Royal Blue Sapphires and Cornflower Blue Sapphires, Sri Lanka's Blue Sapphires are highly sought after due to their exceptional quality. Here at The Sapphire Merchant, we specialise in Sri Lankan Blue Sapphires. We love them because they are ethically mined and visually breathtaking. They have adorned the crowns of Kings and the necklaces of Queens. A Sri Lanka Blue Sapphire adorning your finger is one of life's truest luxuries.

Kashmir Blue Sapphires

Kashmir Sapphires are considered the most exclusive and rare of all Blue Sapphires. Mined in the Himalayan Mountains or Kashmir, trading for these rare jewels began around 1881 when Afghani traders travelling to India chance discovered the blue crystals and bartered them for salt! Nowadays, Kashmir Blue Sapphires have consistently broken records at prestigious auction houses to take their place as the highest-valued Blue Sapphire option on the market. They are prized for the fine silk inclusion, giving them a velvety appearance.

Madagascar 3.00ct Bluish Teal Sapphire
Madagascar 3.00ct Bluish Teal Sapphire

Madagascar Blue Sapphires

Madagascar has become a significant player in the mining of sapphires in recent years and is well known for producing high-quality Teal Sapphires (a mix of bluish-green and Greenish-Blue). Sri Lankan gem dealers travel to Madagascar and buy the sapphire rough directly from the mines. The rough is transported back to Sri Lanka, where it is faceted and then sold on the Sri Lankan and Thai gem markets.

Thai Blue Sapphire

Thailand is one of the largest Blue Sapphire buying hubs in the world. However, actual Thai Blue Sapphires, known as Kanchanaburi Sapphires, are becoming rarer. The sapphire deposits found around the Chanthaburi and Trat provinces have been heavily extracted over the past 50 years, and very little Blue Sapphire material from Thailand is available on the market today. Chanthaburi is still an important gem trading hub, and the gem market is still thriving in the 'City of Gems'. 

The Famed Gem Markets of Beruwala, Bangkok and Chanthaburi.

Sri Lanka and Thailand are the most renowned hubs for buying Blue Sapphires. The markets in Sri Lanka and Thailand sell Blue Sapphires from all the countries listed above. Sri Lankan gem dealers are well known for travelling to the source to purchase Blue Sapphire rough, which they bring back to Sri Lanka to cut. Sri Lanka and Thailand have sizable gemstone markets and trading hubs accessible to foreigners. Gem dealers from all nations take their gemstones to these markets for sale. Unfortunately, travelling to one of these gemstone markets is not a viable option for most New Zealanders looking to purchase a Blue Sapphire. When purchasing a blue sapphire, you want to get as close to the source as possible. The Sapphire Merchant is only one step away from the source, allowing us to keep prices attainable.

Gemma Brain Buying Sapphires in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Buying Sapphires in Chanthaburi, Thailand

How Does a Blue Sapphire Get Its Colour?

Blue Sapphire (Aluminium Oxide) is one of the planet's most precious and prized minerals. Sapphire grows in a hexagonal and trigonal crystal system and rates 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. Its lustre is adamantine to vitreous; its specific gravity (SG) is 4.0 - 4.1, and its refractive index (RI) is 1.76- 1.77. Trace elements of iron and titanium give the mineral corundum its blue hue. The higher the level of iron, the darker blue sapphire will be.

The Colour of Blue Sapphires; Hue Saturation and Tone

Three dimensions of colour apply to the grading of coloured gemstones, and in this case, Blue Sapphires. These dimensions are hue, saturation and tone. Hue describes the colour we see when looking at a blue sapphire. The hue has to be a part of the colour wheel and, therefore, a derivative of primary colours. The second dimension of colour is the saturation. Saturation refers to the richness and vibrancy of the colour. A washed-out sapphire with varying colours would be less valuable than a vivid, evenly-saturated Blue Sapphire. Tone is the third dimension of colour. This is the lightness or darkness held within the gemstone and how it refracts its colour. For example, a white sapphire would have no tone, and a black sapphire would be at 100% tone on the scale. Blue Sapphires sitting in the middle of the scale in hue, saturation, and tone are the most valuable. This is useful if you are buying a Blue Sapphire for investment purposes. However, buying for other reasons, such as making an engagement ring, depends on personal choice and what shade of Blue Sapphire you are most drawn to.

Munsell Colour System - Used to Grade Sapphire Colours
Munsell Colour System - Used to Grade Sapphire Colours

The Most Popular Shades of Blue Sapphire

Pastel Blue Sapphires are particularly popular in New Zealand. A light and icy shade of blue, these sapphires, when well cut, are highly lustrous and brilliant.

Cornflower Blue Sapphires are found in Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma). The name comes from the flower, a mid-blue with just a tinge of violet or purple.

Royal Blue Sapphires are the most luxurious and high-priced sapphire option. These rare gems are found in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir. They are notoriously hard to photograph and video because their colour is out-of-gamut.

Teal Sapphires are a popular choice for those wanting to move away from the traditional Blue Sapphire shades. Madagascar and Australia produce extraordinary bluish-green teal sapphires, which are one of our best-selling colour sapphires here at The Sapphire Merchant.

Toi et Moi Ring with Unheated Teal Sapphire and Diamond
Toi et Moi Ring with Unheated Teal Sapphire and Diamond

The Clarity of a Blue Sapphire

The clarity of a Blue Sapphire refers to how translucent and clean the sapphire appears to the naked eye and under x10 magnification. A Blue Sapphire that has no internal inclusions and that is completely translucent, with stable colour will be graded internally flawless (IF) or Very Very Slight Inclusions (VVS). Once inclusions become visible, the grading will drop to Very Slight Inclusions (VS) or Slight Inclusions (SI). Factors that affect the clarity of Blue Sapphires include fractures, feathers, cavities, colour zoning and silk. These are all types of inclusions. Light to moderate inclusions is acceptable in a Blue Sapphire, giving the gem its own individual character.

Heat Treatment of Blue Sapphires

Heat treatment is a standard practice for the majority of gem-quality Blue Sapphires available on the market. Heat or Thermal treatment is when the sapphire rough is heated to a certain temperature for a specific amount of time, and this applied heat melts internal rutile inclusions, clarifying the sapphire and enriching the colour. This works because a rutile inclusion melts at 1843 degrees Celsius, and corundum melts at 2044 degrees Celsius. Unheated Blue Sapphires, with good clarity, command a premium price. Sapphires which have heavy inclusions cannot be heat treated as it can result in further cracking of the gem. How can you tell if a Blue Sapphire has undergone heat treatment? It will need to be examined in a gem lab. The study of inclusions under a microscope offers clues to whether the Blue Sapphire has been heated or not. Heat affects inclusions in visible ways.

Buying a Blue Sapphire Online

A photo cannot capture the play of light and brilliance of a Blue Sapphire as it moves from different angles. This is why high-definition videos are so important! A video allows you to see the gem in its true form better. The Sapphire Merchant provides high-definition videos with all our beautiful gem stock and we gladly make videos on request

A Lab Report and Documentation for a Blue Sapphire

Documentation is essential, as it ensures the authenticity of a natural gemstone. Blue sapphires can be lab-created, and to the untrained eye, it is hard to tell the difference between a natural earth-mined Blue Sapphire and a laboratory-created synthetic Blue Sapphire. Having accompanying documentation, such as a laboratory report, gives you confidence in the product you purchase. The Sapphire Merchant offers reports with all our Blue Sapphires, and upon request, we can upgrade any of our gems to a GIA report.

An example of a Gemstone Laboratory Report
An example of a Gemstone Laboratory Report

Frequently Asked Questions When Buying a Blue Sapphire

Buying a blue sapphire is a big deal. It is, more often than not, a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Asking questions increases your knowledge of sapphires and gemstones and gives you a better understanding of the Blue Sapphire you buy.

The Sapphire Merchant makes the task of buying a Blue Sapphire in New Zealand easy. We travel directly to source and handpick our exquisite selection of Blue Sapphires:

Browse our sensational range of natural Blue Sapphire gemstones. Whatever you can dream of, The Sapphire Merchant can make for you. If you fall in love with one of our Blue Sapphires and are still determining a design idea, we collaborate with you to create something you will adore for many years to come. Contact The Sapphire Merchant today to start a journey that tells your story with an incredible custom jewellery piece.



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