History of Sapphire

Sapphire has been one of the most highly sought after gemstones throughout history.  It is included in all major lapidaries, texts that describe gemstones and their powers.  The name Sapphire is given to all color varieties of the mineral Corundum, with the exception of blood red stones, which are Rubies.  The word Sapphire comes from the Latin sapphirus, Greek sappheiros and Hebrew sappir, all of which most likely come from the Sanskrit sanipria, meaning “dear to the planet Saturn.”

In the oldest lapidaries, the name Sapphire was used to denote any brilliant blue gemstone. Numerous writings describe Sapphires that were engraved with powerful words. According to one tradition, the Ten Commandments were written on Sapphires. Considering Sapphire’s incredible hardness and the technology of that period, this is very unlikely. A softer blue stone, such as Lapis Lazuli, is far more plausible.  Similarly, Sapphire is listed as the fifth of the twelve stones which decorated the breastplate of the High Priest of ancient Israel. The design for the Breastplate was given by God to Moses, whose brother Aaron was the first to wear it. Each of the gemstones on the Breastplate were inscribed with the symbol for one of the Twelves Tribes of Israel.  This Sapphire was most likely inscribed with the Tribe of Dan.  In later Christian writings, Sapphire was thought to be linked to St. Paul.  Because of these spiritual traditions, the Roman Catholic Church has long favored Blue Sapphires, giving them as ecclesiastical rings to Bishops and other high ranking priests. This practice appears to have started around the same period that priests were forced to remain celibate.  According to medieval lore, Sapphire cools unwise passions and promote a love of Truth and Wisdom above all else.

In European lore, Sapphire is linked to the Greek hero Prometheus, who introduced fire to mankind, against the will of the gods.  For this brave deed he was chained to a mountain and every day an eagle came to eat his liver.  After centuries, Prometheus was finally freed by another hero, Hercules.  As the last of his 12 great labors, Hercules killed the eagle and petition Zeus to pardon Prometheus. The King of the Gods agreed, with one caveat. Prometheus would have to wear a ring forged from the mountain and his chain, a physical reminder of the consequence of ignoring the will of the gods. The chain was used to craft the ring itself, while a gemstone from the mountain was placed on top. This gem was a brilliant blue Sapphire, whose color is like the center of the hottest flames.

In the ancient Vedic texts, revered by followers of the Hindu faith, Blue Sapphires were the eyes of the demon god Vala. According to the story, Vala once took the form of a stone cave where stolen cows were hidden. Indra, the leader of the demigods, split Vala apart, killing him and freeing the cows. Vala’s body was scattered across the earth, and his various body parts were transformed into different gemstones.  Yellow Sapphire is also mentioned in this story, and signifies the skin of Vala.

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In Sri Lanka, which boasts some of the most beautiful Sapphires in the world, the gemstones are also similarly linked to eyes. It was said that Sapphires were created whenever beautiful young maidens danced holding flowers in their hands. Their dancing attracted the eyes of the Daitya, a race of giants. Where they gazed, Sapphires would later be found.  Unsurprisingly, Sapphire has long been credited with healing eyes, a trait mentioned in virtually every lapidary.

Sapphires have long been prized possessions among the world’s royalty and nobility.  For many centuries, it was considered one of the ‘Five Cardinal Gemstones’, comparable only with Diamond, Ruby, Emerald and Amethyst.  The oldest European crown still in existence, made for King Recceswinth of the Visigoths (ruled 649-672), is decorated with Sapphires and Pearls.  The oldest stone in the British Crown Jewels is St. Edward’s Sapphire.  According to the official record, it was first worn by King Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) in 1046 in his coronation ring.  Sometime later, the King met a beggar and gave the ring to him out of pity. Years later, the King’s envoys chanced upon an old man in an inn, and he gave them the ring, telling them to return it to the king and to tell him also that they would meet again soon – in the afterlife. Edward died shortly thereafter and was buried with the ring on his finger. A century later, the King’s body was re-interred in the newly built Westminster Abbey. At this point, the Sapphire was removed and given back to the royal family. Today, St. Edward’s Sapphire sits in the center of the cross, at the top of the Imperial State Crown.  It is believed to be of of Sri Lankan origin.

Beautiful Sapphires have been found in numerous locations around the world, and a trained gemologist can often identify their source based on their natural color. Typically speaking, Sri Lankan Sapphires are usually cited as the most consistent source for high-quality gemstones.  Despite having been mined for thousands of years, new Sapphires and other gemstones are constantly being found. The finest Sapphires in the United States come from Montana and have a cornflower blue color.

The most beautiful Sapphires ever found are from Kashmir, and were found during the late 19th century.  These are the Blue Sapphires that set the standard against which all others are measured. The seams ran out after only a decade, but these Sapphire occasionally come back on the market, typically sold in auction. The most expensive Sapphire ever sold, was a loose Kashmir Blue Sapphire.  It sold at Christie’s for over $7 million dollars in 2020.

Crown Of Visgoth

Crown of King Recceswinth

Imperial State Crown

Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom