That Sapphire

When I was about to turn 50, I told my husband, ‘I think I’m going to let you buy me a sapphire.’ It was one of the ridiculous pronouncements I tend to make about sapphires, as I have written here. But I did have a birthday coming up, and we were at a gem show, visiting our favorite wholesaler of colored stones. An astonishing 3-carat sapphire caught my eye and held it.

What was astonishing was its color, a velvety royal blue that seemed infinitely deep. I thought I could look at that blue forever. Sapphires come in all colors, including blues that range from light to dark. This blue, somewhere in the middle, was alive.

Ceylon sapphire in a ring made by Michele Berman

Our dealer, Marv Thon, told us the sapphire was of the highest quality: mined in Ceylon and not heat-treated. Most sapphires, it turns out, are heated to enhance their color—and by ‘heated’, I mean cooked, fired in a furnace, sometimes almost to the melting point. This affects value, so a dealer must tell you if a stone has been heated and, ideally, provide a certificate from a reputable gem lab.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The ring above is not the first setting of this stone, nor the second, nor even the third. This sapphire got the better of me. Never before or since have I made so many attempts to create a ring without actually knowing what I wanted.

3stonesapphI don’t have photos of the previous settings because I didn’t have an iPhone back then. But I found some images that tell the story. The first ring, made by Marv, was perfectly lovely, with the sapphire flanked by brilliant-cut diamonds, something like the setting at left. I wore it happily for a year. Looking at that watery blue stone got me through many a work day—especially during long meetings when I had to pretend I wasn’t bored. But then I decided I wanted a halo setting, with the sapphire surrounded by small diamonds.

halosapphI am not normally a halo kind of girl. These settings are egregiously blingy, which makes them harder to wear while riding the subway or cleaning the cat box. Nevertheless, I commissioned a halo ring from a jeweler who had a factory in India. It looked something like the one at right, though mine didn’t have diamonds along the sides of the band. However. In a halo setting, the stone is raised high above the finger, and I hadn’t thought about how it might look from the side.

My sapphire is deep and irregularly shaped; the cutter apparently wanted to preserve every bit of that gorgeous blue. The new setting exposed the stone’s strangely scrawny bottom—like the photo at right, but much more so.sideviewsapph The sapphire looked—how do I say this?—undressed.

But I was still married to the idea of that halo setting, believing that diamonds would throw more light into the sapphire. People, diamonds do not ‘throw light’ into a colored stone. If anything, they distract from it.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I actually went to a third jeweler, this one on Park Avenue, and commissioned another halo setting, in platinum. This one sat lower on the finger and was everything I wanted it to be, which, at that price, it damn well should have been. Several years had now elapsed since the original purchase of the sapphire. I had a beautiful ring—which was far too formal and fussy for the likes of me. It sat in my jewelry box.

I thought I would give it one last try. I asked my jeweler friend Michele Berman to make me a setting based on one I saw at Reinstein-Ross. This turned out to be a tricky project, because Mica had to build a platform for the stone to sit on, and because, well, she’s a perfectionist. But she did me proud, as she always does.

As you can see from the side views above, the sapphire still sits high on the finger, but the proportions are better. The stone’s little blue backside is no longer exposed. I think the gold makes an excellent foil for the cornflower blue of this sapphire. Below, another example of this color pairing, in earrings by Nan Irwin.

Untreated cornflower-blue sapphires in 20-karat gold

I’ve said that heat-treating affects the value of sapphires. In many cases, it makes a large difference in the price. Sapphires of all colors may be treated with what’s called lattice diffusion, meaning they’re cooked at high temperatures with the element beryllium. This radically, permanently changes their color, making dark-blue sapphires lighter, or turning pale brown stones a vivid yellow. Pale pink sapphires can be diffused to give them the coveted pink/orange hue called padparadscha, below.

Beryllium-diffused sapphire beads. Pretty and sparkly, but not true padparadschas

But some heat treatments are gentler. When we bought my sapphire, Marv had a second stone that was just as beautiful but had been slightly heated. It was less expensive than my untreated stone but still of high quality. My husband bought it and had it set in a ring which he even wears sometimes, below.

As for me, I am well past 50 and no longer make myself crazy with sapphires. But I guess there’s still time.

My husband’s sapphire ring, left, and mine


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