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Pink Sapphire

September Birthstone

What do you give your princess bride when money is no object and the world's treasures are at your fingertips? If you're Prince Charles, you present Lady Diana with a gorgeous sapphire engagement ring. Their son, Prince Williams, carried on the tradition with the same large, deep blue sapphire. Why not a diamond, you ask? These princes must have known that sapphires symbolize constancy, commitment and loyalty of the heart - in short, the ideal stone with which to propose marriage.

Though perfect for engagements, sapphires are best known as the September birthstone. It's also the star stone assigned to those born under the signs of Pisces and Aquarius and, because of its association with the planet Saturn, the gem also belongs to people born under Saturn's sign: the House of Capricorn. That's a lot of territory to cover, so it's a good thing sapphires are so versatile.

Sapphire is so closely associated with the color blue that it has become a synonym for a deep, rich shade of blue. And while blue is the most commonly available gem-quality sapphire color, sapphire comes in an rainbow of shades. It's composed of the mineral corundum, as is its sister stone, the ruby. Red corundum is called ruby, while every other hue - from colorless to pale pink to yellow to green to rich blue - is referred to as a sapphire.

Beautiful and mystical, the sapphire has been celebrated for millennia, with different cultures and periods giving rise to larger-than-life myths about the stone. Rabbinic tradition holds that sapphire was the stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, and in the Breastplate of Aaron, sapphire represented the tribe of Simeon. The Persians believed that the Earth was set on a sapphire pedestal, and it was the reflection of the sapphire that gives the sky its color. Sapphire was known as the gem of the heavens because of its pure blue color, a nickname that was reinforced by rare star sapphires, which seem to have a star captured within their brilliant depths.

Sapphire's reputation for enhancing constancy and fidelity inspired the belief that a sapphire would lose its luster if worn by someone impure or untrue. Throughout the middle ages, wives were firmly convinced that if their husbands were unfaithful, their sapphire would refuse to glow. Sapphire was also revered by kings, who wore sapphire around their throats to ward off jealous rivals and to call on the protection and favorable notice of the gods.

In Ayurvedic tradition, the sapphire rules the throat chakra and is tasked with calming disordered thoughts and healing problems of the blood. More practically, sapphire was believed to be an antidote for poison, and dipping a sapphire into a glass of wine was thought to assure that the wine was untainted. Traditional healers also use sapphire to help banish unwanted thoughts, bring joy, attract wealth and aid serenity.

Throughout the ages, sapphire has been treasured by priests and sorcerers, who believed that its light helped them interpret oracles and divine the future. Considered the most magical of stones, sapphires were thought to enhance the abilities of a spell and focus energies to strengthen the will. Conversely, wearing sapphires was also supposed to offer protection and help deflect the harmful effects of a spell. The most powerful sapphires were those that bore the star marking, and these sapphires are still highly prized as lucky charms today. Known as Stones of Destiny, star sapphires were said to hold the rays of faith, hope and destiny.

With so many deeply rooted traditions throughout the world, it's fitting that sapphires can be found all over the globe. Even the United States has a claim to fame in its fancy colored sapphires from Montana. The most famous, and highest quality, sources are in Burma, Sri Lanka and Kashmir; in fact, the most vauable color is a cornflower blue known as Kashmir blue.

While sapphires had been in short supply for many years, the discovery that heat treating cloudy stones can deepen their color and clarify the gem has increased the availability of gem-quality sapphires in the last two decades.

Stunning in variety, clarity and fire, September's birthstone is certainly worthy of its grand history and aristocratic favor.

Sapphire Buying Guide

Like diamonds, sapphires are graded on color, cut, clarity and carat weight. The ideal color for sapphire is a rich, medium tone of its primary shade. For example, a high-quality blue sapphire will have no hint of green or red; yellow sapphires should be sunny rather than tinged with brown. Kashmir blue sapphires are most valuable, though pale blue sapphires with no overtones of other colors also rate high on the grading scale for gems. Yellow, pink, purple and other colored sapphires vary in value depending on the purity of the color and the clarity of the stone.

As with other gems, clarity is prized in sapphires. However, the inclusions that produce what's called a "star sapphire" are even more highly prized. When found in tight, parallel clusters, the rutile needle inclusions responsible for the phenomenon produce asterism in the form of six- or twelve-ray stars. Of course, the stone must be cut properly in order to showcase this star quality.

Sapphires are usually cut to maxmimize the desired color and effect. It's typical for a single sapphire to showcase shades of the same color family, and to accommodate this "color zoning," professionals try to ensure that the cut orients the preffered color to the face-up position. Pleochroism, in which a stone can appear to be different colors when viewed from different angles or in different light, is also not uncommon in sapphires. Like color zoning, cutters work with pleochroism by trying to create a finished stone with the preferred color facing up.

Heat treating is a very common way to boost a sapphire's color and clarity, thereby producing a better quality gem. Non-heat treated stones that are gemstone quality typically command substantial prices. Sometimes sapphires also may undergo diffusion treatment to artifically alter their color. Enhancements should always be disclosed to a buyer so you know what you're paying for.

Technicalities aside, however, the many colors and varieties of sapphire should make it easy to find one that suits you. After all, the most important factor in choosing a quality sapphire is in finding one that's attractive to your eye.

Caring for Sapphires

With a ranking of nine out of ten on the Mohs scale, sapphires are second only to diamonds in terms of hardness. Still, they're subject to chipping and splitting. It's important to take care when handling, and especially when wearing, sapphires as a hard knock could cause it to break along a cleavage line.

Remove your sapphire jewelry before gardening, cleaning or engaging in activities where it could bump against something hard. Avoid exposing sapphire jewelry to chlorine bleach, which can damage the setting, as well as to sudden transitions in temperature, which could cause the stone to crack.

Cleaning Sapphire Jewelry

Sapphires should be cleaned regularly to keep their fire bright, since the quality of the sparkle is determined by the refraction of light through the gem's facets. Sapphires can be cleaned at home with a soft cloth and warm water with dish detergent. For deeper cleaning, soak the piece of jewelry in a dish detergent and warm water solution for 10 to 20 minutes, then scrub gently with a soft toothbrush or makeup brush to remove any residue or dirt that may be interfering with refraction. Dry carefully with a soft cloth before wearing or storing.

If sapphires and diamonds are the only stones in the piece of jewelry, it's safe to use an ultrasonic or steam cleaner.

Storing Sapphires

Sapphires are some of the hardest stones used in jewelry, but they can still be damaged during storage. Store your sapphire jewelry in a soft pouch or cloth inside a jewelry case or small trinket box.This protects your sapphire from damage, as well as protecting softer stones from being damaged by the sapphire.