Last updateTue, 20 Aug 2019 10pm

Diana Jarrett

Something Blue in Big Sky Country

Jarrett polishedThere’s another kind of blue besides those azure skies in Montana that take your breath away. Montana’s got rocks; blue ones. While we stagger over some astounding prices realized for sapphire at auction today, there’s another source for sapphire that’s been gaining devotees. Montana sapphire has been recovered from various deposits in the wide expanse of this western state since the late 19th century.  Rock Creek near Idaho’s border is the best known sapphire producer since way back.

The Story Behind the Stone: What’s in a name?

Jarrett necklaceToday gemstones can sport some pretty imaginative monikers. Consider Tanzanite. It’s not really that mineral species official name per se. It’s a pretty title that the great jeweler Tiffany bestowed on a previously unknown variety of the mineral zoisite - a much jazzier word wouldn’t you agree? Gemstone names can also be derived from their place of discovery - think Paraiba tourmaline for instance. This rare jewel turned up in the Brazilian state of... you guessed it, Paraiba. But gemstones have also been named for special individuals - maybe the stone’s discoverer or someone deemed worthy of immortalization in this way.

All tail, no horse

Jarrett HorsetailDemantoid garnets are an uncommon lot and highly collectible, not just for their rarity, but also for their dazzling color. This garnet family member is an andradite mineral rich in calcium and iron. A chromium substitution causes the iconic demantoid green tint.

Pink vs Red - The Great Corundum

Jarrett braceletCorundum is a magnificent gem mineral, and one that’s been avidly collected for eons. The most famous corundum varieties are ruby and sapphire. Both are aluminum oxide minerals. But it’s the trace elements found in their makeup that contribute the color.

Corundum is very hard, ranking 9 on the Mohs scale. Only diamond is a harder substance. The hardness is the main contributor to its ability to take a high polish and be extremely reflective. And that’s exactly what jewelry lovers crave. While it can be translucent or, even opaque - and often is - the finest examples of corundum are transparent, giving off its luxurious color and brilliance.

What’s the Dif?

Ruby owes its coloration mainly to the presence of chromium. If you say sapphire, and you should say that only when the color of the corundum is blue - your sapphire has trace elements of iron and or titanium in its aluminum oxide makeup. But corundum also appears in a ravishing line-up of colors like yellow, orange, green, even purple and black. Those are properly referred to as fancy color sapphire.

Jarrett ringPinkies Rule

Speaking of fancy, one of the most popular fancy colored sapphires is the pink variety. It’s simply a pretty stone, and the range of pinks can go from delicate pastel baby pink to exciting hot-as-fire pink, and even Padparadscha - that super-pricey orangey-pink stone. Industry pundits point to the high demand for natural pink diamonds - of which there a very few - as driving the interest towards delicate pink sapphires today.

Because diamond and corundum are close in hardness and several shades of fancy pink sapphire mirror the tints of pink diamonds - you’ve got a match made in jewelry heaven. The difference in price between fancy pink diamonds and fancy pink sapphire is enormous. Quantity and carat sizes are also much more available with pink sapphires - so there you go.

Since all of these corundum varieties are natural occurrences, like people, no two are exactly alike. Some corundum is bright red - and that’s ruby. But when it veers toward the pink tint - now we’ve got fancy pink sapphire. When the coloration is close, how do we make a separation? That’s the great conundrum in the gem world. In general ruby is more expensive than fancy pink sapphire; but maybe not in the case of Padparadscha fancy pink sapphire whose prices can get pretty steep.

Seeing Red

A true red, even a crimson hue with a bit of an orangey secondary color will be sold as ruby. The straight lipstick reds and tomato-red tints are obviously ruby. Pigeon blood is used to describe top quality Burma ruby. But I suppose you’d have to get near an expired pigeon to understand the nuances of that exact tone.

On the flip side, a lighter toned pink corundum and those with a slight purplish-pink back color are definitely fancy pink sapphire. To split hairs, laboratories will tell you that the amount of chromium in red ruby can hover around .9% contrasted to below .5% found in pink sapphire.

Most commercial pink sapphire comes from Sri Lanka and Burma - but production from Tanzania and Madagascar is penetrating the market in volume too. The world’s finest ruby comes from Myanmar (Burma); but Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cambodia offer some spectacular specimens too.

Jarrett handbagKnow Your Stuff, OK?

At the end of the day, most people can separate their hot pinks from their blood reds so that should help a consumer sort out for themselves if they are buying fancy pink sapphire or a ruby. So much of it is personal - and in the case of ruby and pink sapphire, its beauty and sometimes its moniker lie with the beholder.

Veteran jewelry appraiser Jo Ellen Cole has seen her share of both pink sapphires and ruby in her day. It’s only when the coloration is extremely close that it becomes an issue.

She weighs in, “the difference between pink sapphire and ruby is always subjective and the opinion really depends upon the buyer.” She recommends the consumer to know what they are buying - and enter the process with that bit of knowledge. “A well informed buyer can usually separate between the sales pitch and the reality of the subject stone. When the distinction is close, sending it to a top notch lab is a good move.”

Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and www.jewelrywebsitedesigners.com. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., visit her website at www.dianajarrett.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).


The Story Behind the Stone: Boomers who buy

Jarrett Loren OctMuch is made about catering to the Millennial jewelry customer. After all, they are our customer base with the longest spending potential. So it just makes sense to speak to that market in a way that they understand and will respond. Jewelers are taking down their current websites and replacing them with new ones with visual appeal that triggers a ‘yes please’ from the Millennial consumer - and reducing their website content to reflect the visual preferences for this group.

The Story Behind the Stone: Art of the Auction

Jarrett sapphireJewelry at auction is always more than just the selling of beautiful baubles. Often the pieces are original one-offs crafted by skilled artisans of a bygone era. The gemstones can be rare, sizable and almost unheard of today. And loyal auction devotees know a thing or two about the exquisite world of jewelry sales too. Where else can one get up close and personal with such a jaw-dropping array of important jewels made by designers of every era? High jewelry at auction often carries an intriguing provenance which adds to its charisma and value.