Sapphire Engagement Rings: Origins and Sources
Sapphires can be mined only in a handful of sites around the globe. At these varying locations, most of the recovered gems are so poor in quality that they cannot be used in sapphire engagement rings. If you are aware of the origins, geology, and mining methods of sapphires, you will know where the gemstone in your fiancé’s sapphire engagement ring originated and how it got there.
Source Sites of Sapphires
Before they are set in sapphire engagement rings, sapphires are mined directly from the earth. There are only a select handful of locations where sapphires naturally form across the globe. They include: Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Myanmar (Burma), Kashmir, Australia, Madagascar, Montana, Thailand, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brazil and Colombia.
Some sapphire sources have more prestige than others, and origin has been known to affect the price of a sapphire, regardless of its quality. For example, blue sapphires from Myanmar are highly coveted by collectors. Over time, gem connoisseurs have come to assume that any blue sapphire from Myanmar must be superior to others in quality. This long held assumption influences the marketplace, and as a result, sapphire engagement rings with stones originating in Myanmar may be more expensive even if they are of lesser quality.
Sapphires can be mined from both igneous and metamorphic rock. When sapphires are rooted in solid host rock, they are considered ‘primary deposits’. However, sapphires are frequently found some distance from their original source in ‘secondary deposits’. This is because rocks situated on the earth’s surface are consistently influenced by water and wind. Erosion takes rock fragments into streams where they fracture and release any gems they may contain. Where the current naturally slows down, the heavy gemstones settle into the banks of the streambed. Over time, sapphires become concentrated and the site becomes a type of secondary deposit called an ‘alluvial deposit’.
Alluvial gem gravel is the most lucrative source of sapphires because it contains concentrated amounts of gemstones that are quite easy to extract. The principles of alluvial mining are the same all over the world; only the level of mechanisation differs from place to place. Primitive alluvial mining techniques can require nothing more than a pan, sieve or basket.
Countries where sapphire mining is a large source of income often have stringent policies regarding how mining may ensue. For example, in Sri Lanka, sapphire mining is controlled to protect the land from over-use. By restricting mining to small-scale operations without any heavy machinery, the industry and market are secured for future generations. Sri Lanka also outlaws mining activities that create unsustainable economic conditions or have a deleterious effect on the environment. Such principled fair trade laws are regulated well by the corresponding authorities and have existed in the country for years. As a result, the majority of ethically sourced sapphires originate from Sri Lanka, and most independent jewellers look to Sri Lanka to procure their gemstones.
Prior to purchasing a sapphire engagement ring, help to ensure ethical practices by asking your jeweller the origins of the gemstone you are potentially going to buy.