I’ve seen a ring on my father’s hand for over a decade now. It hugs the little finger on his right hand, a reddish brown stone set in pure silver. The Yemini vendor he bought it from told him the gemstone would become his safety net. Repel bad luck, invite good health, as long as he kept the ring on.
I’m not sure whether it’s made a difference.
Our fascination with coloured gems began in the Stone Age, a period of time when we either had to hunt or be hunted. Crude amulets supposedly held the power to help us catch preys. Later great civilisations from the Far East to the Subcontinent believed in their curative properties – crushed emeralds for eye irritation, lapis lazuli for the throat and sapphires to stop excess bleeding.
Speaking of sapphires, we tiptoe around them in India and China.
India’s dangerous gemstone
“In India, blue sapphires were not worn much, because the colour that was much more associated with wealth, happiness and good luck was yellow,” Helen Molesworth, a Geneva-based British gemmologist, told Gulf News.
Interestingly enough, yellow sapphires – yes, we have pink, purple, black, orange, green and many more shades of the precious stone – passed the test instead.
Molesworth, who’s been studying and handling gems in and out of mines for more than 20 years, decodes the half-a-billion-year-old gem with us. She wears a clear blue sapphire pendant laid in a diamond cluster with matching earrings. We spoke to her at a Sri Lankan sapphire exhibit, held inside the country pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.
She recalls another Indian legend: “It’s astrologically linked because the colour blue represents the skies. If you wore the wrong type of sapphire, it could lead you in the wrong direction or could be wrong with your birth sign. And I think that’s why sapphires have been considered almost dangerous in some parts of India.”
Blue for royalty
When we look to East Asia, funeral customs in China are marked in white. But not many know that blue lanterns were hung outside the house to signal a family member’s waning health. Naturally, sapphires of the same shade lost the popularity vote in China, too, till Princess Diana’s 12-carat engagement band resurfaced.
After Prince William gave the engagement ring to Duchess Kate in 2010, the popularity of sapphires in China went through the roof.
“Something that I saw in China, sapphires were not very big there before 2000. After Prince William gave the engagement ring to Duchess Kate in 2010, the popularity of sapphires in China went through the roof. It’s a world-changing gem, that single stone,” said Molesworth.
History archives its status in the West perfectly. Simply by virtue of its colour, reflecting the skies, the blue sapphire became the go-to jewel for priests, kings and queens. From the Dutch Sapphire Parure Tiara, an heirloom worn by Netherland’s queens, to Queen Victoria’s famous sapphire brooch.
Healing crystals and powers
Grown inside the Earth, born of quakes and shifting plates, rare stones are rare for their chemical composition. Could they be infused with energies that can help us have better days? Or rather, have you ever worn a piece of authentic jewellery and felt that the vibes were… off?
Molesworth remembers getting “bad mojo” from a second-hand pearl ring on her finger. “I was with my mother, and she said, ‘Give it to me, I’ll wear it for a few hours and you’ll feel a lot better.’ And honestly, I did!
“I’ve also picked up diamonds that were very old, and I felt like a little bit of my soul was being stolen by looking at them. Same with blue stones,” she added.
In the age of healing crystals, we’re going to let you, the reader, take what you will from that. What we can help you with, is identifying whether the sapphire gemstone you just bought is real or not.
How to tell if your sapphire is the real deal
1. Is it too perfect and suspiciously inexpensive? No two sapphires are the same, Molesworth points out. Synthetic gemstones on the other hand boast a type of flawless clarity for a low price tag, and that should be enough to raise an eyebrow.
Humans can manufacture gems by mimicking a real sapphire’s mineral makeup. These come out looking a little too bright, a little too perfect, without the inclusions (or impurities) that typically crystallise along with the gem in Nature.
I always say if something looks really perfect in the world of gemmology – unless you’re paying millions of dollars – you should probably get a specialist to look at it.
“I always say if something looks really perfect in the world of gemmology – unless you’re paying millions of dollars – you should probably get a specialist to look at it,” she said.
A naturally occurring gem can look cloudy and opaque. In fact, a milky-looking sapphire is most likely authentic than not; it’s just of a lower grade. This also means that if you’re paying a large sum for a bright blue see-through sapphire, then it’s an untreated beauty – the highest quality on the market.
2. Track the source. Can the jeweller tell you where your sapphire comes from? Gemmologists can pinpoint which part of the world gives us what precious stone, depending on the Earth’s geology.
For instance, sapphires grow in mountainous regions, deep underground, where there’s been big shifts in tectonic plates. They need a lot of heat and pressure to form, from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
“We have them in North America, a lot of East Africa like Madagascar, but the oldest traditional origins of sapphire are in Kashmir, which is very famous for producing a bright colour blue, Myanmar, also famous for rubies, and Sri Lanka, which is the longest known region for sapphire,” said Molesworth.
“The Romans were trading Sri Lankan sapphires, all medieval sapphires are going to be Sri Lankan in Western jewellery.”
3. Send it for testing. If all fails, send your gem for a laboratory test. Reports from a gemmological lab tell you whether the stone was treated or not, its origins and the quality grade of the gem. The experts will break down the cut, clarity, colour and carat-weight. Some of the test labs you can find here are Dubai Central Laboratory (DCL) in Al Karama, Gemological Science International (GSI) in Jumierah Lake Towers and IDT Gemological Laboratories in Al Quoz.
Molesworth also adds that a jeweller you trust could have a look at it as well.