Gemstone of Passion: Padparadscha sapphire

Considered to be among the most beautiful of the corundum gems with its delicate colour, Padparadscha sapphire has recently hit the headlines thanks to Princess Eugenie of York’s engagement ring. Here, we explore this majestic gemstone fit for royalty.

Om mani padme hum – “Hail the jewel in the heart of the lotus”
- Buddhist Mantra

With recent royal exposure placing this gemstone in the media limelight, the public has been left with a burning question - what exactly is a Padparadscha sapphire?

Whilst considerably unknown to most, Padparadscha sapphires, recognisable for their delicate salmon pink tones, are prized among connoisseurs of the gem world. Just like other sapphires, the Padparadscha has a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, making it one of the hardest gemstones in the world (and ideal for engagement rings!). 

Sapphires get their colour from different trace elements. The presence of iron and titanium is responsible for blue tones, while traces of chromium cause pink tones. Ruby red is a result of more chromium present in the stone’s chemical composition. The Padparadscha sapphire is the rarest form of sapphire corundum, balancing on the colour boundary between pink and orange.

Deriving from the Sinhalese word for ‘aquatic lotus blossom’, the Padparadscha has stirred much debate amongst gemmologists, buyers and collectors about what colour spectrum constitutes a Padparadscha over, say, a pink sapphire or orange sapphire. Like all gemstones, Padparadscha sapphires are not easily identified as they have their own individual colour zoning with some displaying lighter mediums of pink and orange or colour zoned with yellow. In terms of value, this type of sapphire increases in value as the saturation of colour increases.

The rarity of these sapphires is due to their limited locale and sourcing. Whilst commonly found in Sri Lanka, Padparadscha sapphires are also found in Tanzania and Madagascar. Padpardaschas sourced from Madagascar are usually pinker than orange but now contribute to a wide percentage of the stones available on the market today, whilst those from Tanzania tend to be browner. Whilst many gemmologists insist that the only ‘real’ Padpardschas come from Sri Lanka, new sapphires from Madagascar continue to be a beautiful and unique addition to the market supply. 

Read more: An examination of the problem of separating pink sapphire and padparadscha from ruby

Today, many Padparadscha sapphires from Madagascar are heat-treated to enhance their pinkish colour at much lower temperatures to those sourced from Sri Lanka. A widespread treatment for corundum that induces the orangish-pink colour is Beryllium diffusion. The market is awash with these treated stones, therefore a lab report is essential when purchasing a naturally coloured Padparadscha sapphire.

Of course, Padparadscha sapphires have caught the attention of the media since Princess Eugenie of York, the granddaughter of Her Majesty the Queen and daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, got engaged to wine merchant, Jack Brooksbank, in January 2018.

Her ring, which is not dissimilar to the ring Prince Andrew presented to Sarah Ferguson in 1986, features an oval-cut Padparadscha sapphire surrounded by a halo of diamonds. This is set on a yellow gold band with two further tapered diamonds at the shoulders.

Will Padparadscha sapphires be the surprise hit of 2018? Perhaps the Tucson and JCK trade events in January and June, respectively, will reveal a surge of popularity for this particularly lovely sapphire.

Gem-A would like to thank Richard Hughes of Lotus Gemology for his support in compiling this article. 

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image: Princess Eugenie and Jack Broosbank via The Royal Family, Instagram. A 4.5ct unheated Padparadscha sapphire ring courtesy of the Somewhere In The Rainbow Collection

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