Romancing The Stone August 20 2014

Gems in their original state of crystal rarely look finished enough to collect on their own merit. We want to enhance them. Cut and shape them. Facet them and polish them. We romance them!

Unlike pearls, corals, ivory and other precious collectibles that only possess beauty and rarity, sapphires have one extra characteristic that make them even more valuable. They are durable and everlasting. Gem crystals are amongst the hardest and most durable object on earth. The delicate looking sapphire gracing your slim finger is actually harder than steel or the front bumper of your Mercedes. Sapphires and rubies are at 9 on Mohs scale of 1 to 10 for being the hardest natural materials on earth.

Human civilizations have been collecting crystals since thousands of years ago. However, they lacked the lapidary skills we posses today to re-shape the resistant stones. The concept of putting tiny flat surfaces, or facets, on gems to catch and reflect light and seriously re-shaping and altering sapphires, rubies and diamonds started during the European Renaissance period.

In the primitive era of gem stone industry, craftsmen grounded the gems into crude shapes like ovals, circles, squares and triangles. Most effort was put towards polishing the gems to reveal existing color using sand as abrasive powder. However, sand could only polish and reshape crystals that were up to 7 on Mohs hardness scale. During the times of the Roman Empire, caravans returning from their Asian trade routes came back to Europe with Emery. Emery is a dark granular rock which was used to make abrasive powder. Emery made it possible to cut and polish all gems except diamonds. Later on, East India craftsmen made the initial discoveries on using diamonds and diamond powder to cut and shape anything under the sun.

When it comes to sapphires, color it the most important feature. Crystals that come from the ground are seldom of the same color. Marketable hues are achieved with a combination of luck, art and science. 90% of all sapphires and rubes today have had a heat treatment to enhance their color and clarity.

“We finish what nature forgot” is the heaters’ motto. Heaters maximize the color potential of a stone by aligning elements and altering valence states. They raise the temperature near to the melting point (2050 degrees Celsius) of the corundum, control the gaseous atmosphere in precisely cycled heating cooling-sequences to gain the rich color and clarity. These treatments are fortunately inexpensive and permanent and irreversible. A price of a rich blue sapphire without heat treatment can soar up to USD 2,000,000. A price of a simple USD1000 engagement ring can soar up to ten times without heat treated enhancements, if you were to by a similar stone with the same color and clarity. Unless there is substantial proof to the contrary, it is assumed that all rubies and sapphires have gone through some kind of heat treatment before entering the market.

But an important note-to-self would be that heat treated sapphires and synthetic sapphires are completely different. This is just like the difference between synthetic diamonds vs natural diamonds. Heat treated or not, natural sapphires or scientifically speaking natural corundum took billions of years to form where as synthetic sapphires takes about a day or two to create in a lab. Synthetic sapphires are simply colored glass in our book!

Don't forget to visit our online store at www.elizabethjewellers.com to purchase a heirloom jewelry item studded with Sri Lanka's natural sapphires.