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A sapphire from Madagascar

Sapphire is one of the four precious stones and one of the gem varieties of the species corundum. Blue is considered the normal color for sapphire, but it is found in the full range of spectral colors as well as brown, colorless, gray and black (fancy color sapphire). Fully saturated red is known as ruby, and pinkish-orange is called padparadscha. Salmon-color padparadscha sapphires often fetch higher prices than many of even the finest blue sapphires. The word "padparadscha" is Sinhalese for "lotus flower". The English word "sapphire" derives from the Hebrew SAPIR (via Greek SAPPHIROS), but this is extremely disputed. Sapphires were actually not known before the Roman Empire (and were initially considered to be forms of jacinth, rather than deserving of a word to themselves), and prior to that time sapphiros referred to blue gems in general.

Star sapphire cabochon displaying six-ray asterism
click to enlarge

The cost of sapphire gems varies depending on their color, clarity, size, cut, and overall quality. As of 2000, the cost of 1 carat (0.2 g) of a typical uncut, gem quality sapphire was about $1,600. Significant sapphire deposits are found in Eastern Australia, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka. Sapphire and rubies are often found together in the same area, but one gem is usually more abundant. The finest sapphires are mined in the disputed territory of Kashmir, as well as Myanmar, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka. Both the Logan sapphire and the Star of Bombay originate from Sri Lankan mines.

Sapphires are also mined in Australia, Thailand, and China. Madagascar leads the world in sapphire production (as of 2007) specifically in and around the city of Ilakaka. Prior to Ilakaka, Australia was the largest producer of sapphires (as of 1987). Ilakaka is prone to violence, but sapphires are found everywhere including on the ground and in the river mud. Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Tanzania, and Kenya also produce sapphires, and less commercially-significant deposits are found in many other countries. The US state of Montana has produced sapphires from both the El Dorado Bar and Spokane Bar deposit near Helena. well known for their intense, pure blue color, Yogo sapphires are found in Yogo Gulch, near Utica, Montana. Gem grade sapphires and rubies are also found in and around Franklin, North Carolina, USA. Several mines are open to the public.

Sapphire facts

1. The 422.99-carat Logan sapphire, National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC It is one of the largest faceted gem-quality blue sapphires in the world.

2. The 182 carat (36.4 g) Star of Bombay, housed in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, is a good example of a blue star sapphire.

3. The theft of a sapphire known as the "Blue Water" is central to the plot of the novel Beau Geste by P.C.Wren and its various film adaptations.

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