The truth is revealed in this episode of Gem Junkies. Where are Blue Sapphires mined? What makes them blue? Wait, isn’t that the same stuff that makes Ruby, red? The answer to all this and more can be found in the episode! We wouldn’t lie to you, we have our Sapphires on.
Jonathan: [00:00:00] We’re always live. From the minute, we walk in the room and she plugs it in. We’re live.
Brecken: Copy. Copy. Copy. Ready?
Brecken: Welcome back to Gem Junkies, episode 6.
Brecken: Yep. So, great week last week. Talked about, what did we talk about? Columbia. Emeralds. And, getting ready to do sapphires this week. Got a big trip planned this weekend for Father’s Day.
Jonathan: Headed to Utah,
Brecken: Headed down to Utah to visit my Daddy
Jonathan: Big two hours.
Brecken: Big trip And my brother’s coming into town. So I’m super excited to see Benny. Hi Ben. He’s the only one in my family that listens. . . He listens on his drive to work in the morning. So, [00:01:00] hello Benny. Shout out to my baby bro.
Jonathan: Should probably mention though that this is a two part series ’cause we’re only doing blue sapphire this week and then we’ll do Fancy Sapphire another week.
Brecken: It was, yeah. So when I was thinking about Sapphire, there’s a lot of stuff there.
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s the most popular gemstone.
Brecken: Yeah, there’s a lot going on in sapphire. Between all the colors and the different phenomena it can have. So we’ll deal with that next week.
Jonathan: You seem very organized today.
Brecken: I’m hyped on coffee.
Jonathan: I think, I think Savannah got you, gave you the IV of coffee.
Brecken: Yeah, she gave me a coffee drug. So I was sitting in my chair just like amped about sapphire.
Jonathan: Sweet. Yes. Well, you should be amped, since both of us wear sapphires for our wedding rings. Yes. I can see why you would, see this as one of our favorites.
Brecken: Yes, Jonathan and I have blue sapphires, or sapphires as they’re known. Any other color is not as fancy sapphire, in our [00:02:00] wedding rings, engagement rings. They symbolize faithfulness. And truthfulness. And what else? Nobility. Because every gemstone symbolizes nobility for some reason.
Jonathan: Well, if you go back to, uh, to the there was the Justinian code that actually made it illegal for anyone outside of royalty to have colored gemstones.
Brecken: Really? I forgot that. That’s true.
Jonathan: You forgot about the Justinian Code, huh?
Brecken: When did that end?
Jonathan: It’s part of the Roman Empire, so whenever the Roman Empire went away, I guess the Justinian Code went away as well.
Brecken: Okay. So, us meager mortals.
Jonathan: I think they call us peasants because they’re mortal as well. They can die. They’re not gods.
Brecken: Well, they were all descended from gods, right? That’s what they thought. Anyway.
Jonathan: Anyway, yeah. Peasants.
Brecken: Well, ancient Greek and Roman queens thought that sapphires protected their owners from harm, [00:03:00] so no one could do anything naughty to them.
Did it save Caesar? No. In the Middle Ages, the clergy wore them to symbolize heaven. The blue symbolizes heaven. And in other times and places, sapphire was thought to guard your chastity, make peace, influence spirits, and reveal the secrets of the oracles.
Jonathan: So it sounds like if for the chastity thing, it sounds like that really 16 year old girls, instead of getting class rings, they should be getting Sapphire rings.
Brecken: There you go. Chastity rings. Let’s not go there.
All right. The name comes from the Greek word, which means blue gemstone, which is Sefiros, but they actually think it should, they were actually talking about lapis lazuli, which is another blue gemstone, but we just have equated it to the sapphire. [00:04:00] The corundum variety of the blue gemstones.
Jonathan: Sapphire is a variety of the mineral corundum. So we talked about corundum a little bit when we talked about ruby. But it’s an aluminum oxide. Yeah.
Brecken: Mm hmm. It is. Aluminum oxide. So the three most abundant minerals on earth are aluminum, oxygen, and silicon. So it is extremely rare to get an environment where you just have aluminum and oxygen, which is why sapphire is so important.
Now, in its purest form, Sapphire is colorless. Corundum is colorless, excuse me. Corundum is colorless, and it’s with the trace elements of…
Jonathan: Titanium and iron.
Brecken: That give it its blue color. Darn you, iron. It’s in everything. Yeah. More iron equals a darker blue.
Brecken: And it’s just like ruby, obviously, [00:05:00] because they’re both corundum.
Brecken: That… Stones found in a basalt deposit, more iron, equal darker stones. So examples of that are sapphires from Thailand, Cambodia, Australia. Yep. And then there’s also non-basalt that are formed in marble, low iron bearing minerals.
Jonathan: Like cashmere.
Brecken: Cashmere. And straight from the USA, Yogo Gulch sapphires in Montana.
Jonathan: Right. What about Rock Creek?
Brecken: Rock Creek, too.
Jonathan: Rock Creek would also be non basalt?
My hand shaking. So sapphires are blue. Obviously, when you’re valuing a colored gemstone, the most important trait is Color. Color.
Jonathan: And color can be described in three ways. You have hue, saturation, and tone.
Brecken: Right. [00:06:00] So the hue is the actual color. Color.
Jonathan: So that’s blue.
Brecken: So like a violet blue to a blue blue. That’s kind of what we consider sapphire.
Brecken: And then saturation is how intense that color is.
Jonathan: Yeah, the vividness or brightness of the hue.
Brecken: Right, so if it’s not saturated enough, the stone can tend to look gray.
Jonathan: Right. Right. You need plenty of saturation, but if it’s over saturated, then it tends to look black.
Brecken: Yeah, too dark.
Jonathan: Too dark.
Brecken: And then hue, wait, tone, hue, saturation. No.
Jonathan: Yeah, we went the other way. Saturation, hue, saturation, now tone. Right.
So then the tone is the lightness to darkness, whether it’s a light… Or dark, so if it’s too light, you get all the way to clear and if it’s too dark, you go all the way to black. So you need,
Brecken: you want everything in [00:07:00] the middle.
Jonathan: Middle is, middle is best.
Brecken: Yeah, just right down the middle of that. Yeah. Colors. scheme.
Jonathan: Chacal is more of a medium blue.
Brecken: Yes. Now, an ancient myth about sapphires is that they needed to ripen in the sun. Ooh. Yeah.
Brecken: Ripen. And the longer they absorbed those sun’s rays, the more intense the color was.
Jonathan: Or else they become like a raisin.
Brecken: Yeah, like a raisin, but they don’t shrivel.
Jonathan: No, obviously not.
Brecken: But, so they’ve now equated that to a heating of sapphires. Right. So they think that myth kind of talks about heating sapphires. And it’s a very common treatment for sapphires, heat treatment.
Jonathan: Right. What percentage would you say of sapphires are heated?
Jonathan: It’s got to be, yeah, at least 90, maybe even higher. 99, definitely [00:08:00] 90s, high 90s.
Brecken: High 90s. So heat treatment goes back centuries. Okay. Where they would, just, like, put it in a little pot over the wood burning fire in the middle of the house and sit there and blow on it.
They would! They’d just sit there with a long pipe and kind of stoke the fire. And it was used, actually, not to change the color, which it is now, but to enhance… The appearance.
Jonathan: So to make the clarity better.
Brecken: Yeah, to make the clarity better. We are bumble bum in this.
Jonathan: So now it’s done more to improve or enhance the color, but also can enhance the clarity as well.
Brecken: Right. And it’s crazy. It can enhance the clarity by making the stone more transparent to remove silk or it can be used to add silk.
Jonathan: You can add silk?
Brecken: Yeah, you can add silk.
How do you add silk?
So silk is [00:09:00] an inclusion in sapphires that is rutile needles that kind of all go together to give it a velvety appearance when it’s in its most beautiful form. Otherwise, it can give it just the appearance of being cloudy and included. And they, usually heat treat to remove those rutile needles when they do not enhance the color quality of the gemstone.
Jonathan: Okay, so how do they add silk? How do you add a rutile needle into a gemstone
Brecken: They add an element to it which adds the rutile needles. It’s done at extremely high heat and we can talk about that more when we talk about star sapphires.
Brecken: Which is next week. Okay.
Jonathan: You’re bossy today.
Brecken: I guess so. One thing that I really think is cool with heat treatment is they’ve been able to take [00:10:00] gems or sapphire rough that was used for garden gravel in Sri Lanka and make it into beautiful fine sapphire crystals with just heat. So, there’s two types of this rough. Do you know their names, Jonathan?
Geuda and Duhn.
Jonathan: That’s right, Geuda and Duhn.
Brecken: Geuda liked the cheese, but not spelled like the cheese. Right. Geuda comes from Sri Lanka, Duhn comes from Madagascar. They’re both kind of a milky, grayish, smoky color. And until about 1970, it was basically used for gardens. Yeah, it was trash stuff. And then the 1970s, the Thais really started experimenting with what you can do with heat.
Jonathan: Was that before or after their fire?
Brecken: It was after the fire. Do you want to tell the story of the fire?
Jonathan: Well, there’s not much.
Brecken: There’s not much of a [00:11:00] story.
Jonathan: So in Canterbury, which is one of the main Sapphire centers.
Brecken: Gem centers.
Jonathan: For trading and that kind of stuff.
Brecken: Cutting, trading, everything.
Jonathan: The market. Yeah, so the market burned down. So the gem market burned down and they weren’t able to get all their sapphires out, and some of them turned better colors.
Brecken: Yeah, and it was a really, really, really hot fire that burned for like two or three days. And they were like, hmm, let’s try this. And so they started just experimenting. And I think the thing that’s really interesting now, I’ve, they call them burners, people that heat gemstones. And they send their kids to Harvard. To get PhDs in engineering to figure out better ways to heat gemstones, and it is like family secret. It’s like the bush beans recipe. [00:12:00] You don’t talk about it. It is just not talked about. I went to a burner And everything was shut down. They had nothing running, nothing going. So you couldn’t see how they were doing anything.
Jonathan: So when we talk about heat, how hot are we talking?
Brecken: So to heat Geuda from Sri Lanka, you have to heat it to 2, 912 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1, 600 degrees Celsius to get it to change color.
Jonathan: Right. So heating is usually anywhere from 500 to 1800 degrees Celsius, which is 932 to 3270 degrees Fahrenheit. So we’re talking hot, real, real hot.
Brecken: The interesting thing that I remember is that Geuda from Sri Lanka is harder to get. It’s more difficult to get it to turn blue than the Duhn that comes from Madagascar.
That takes a lot. Lower time, lower temperature to [00:13:00] make it into a fine quality sapphire. Right. So the three things that you really need to take into consideration when we’re talking about heat treatment of gemstones is one, the time and temperature. Two, oxidation or reduction condition.
So, either they’re adding oxygen in,
Jonathan: which makes it a lighter blue,
Brecken: or they’re reducing oxygen,
Jonathan: which makes it darker.
Brecken: So, it’s very technical. That’s why they all go to Harvard to study this. Then, number three, during the heat process, they can also add chemicals which interact with the gemstone and enhance its color as well.
Jonathan: Like beryllium.
Brecken: Like beryllium and rubies. So we call that, we take that one step outside of heat treatment and we call that diffusion. Where they’re actually adding chemicals to the gemstone. The next place to go I think would be sources.
Jonathan: Sources or mining.
Brecken: Or [00:14:00] mining. Let’s talk about sources, and then we’ll talk about mining.
Or we’ll kind of talk about mining with the sources, because different sources have different mining techniques, depending on where they’re located in the world.
You are bossy today
I’m, dude, I’m on it. I’m type A personality today. Let’s get this going. So do you know what is the premier source for Sapphire?
Jonathan: The premier source was, historically, was Kashmir.
Brecken: Which I find interesting because it was only mined for six years.
Jonathan: That’s not very long.
Brecken: No, from 1881 to 1887.
Jonathan: Hmm, interesting. And we should probably mention, if you don’t know where Kashmir is, it’s on the border of Pakistan and India, right in that highly contested area. So not only is there… Is there, supposedly it was mined out, but, you know, with new technology and stuff, you never know.
Brecken: I mean, in the 1880s, what did they know?
Jonathan: Yeah, so, I mean, just like [00:15:00] they’ve gone back to Montana and mined a lot more now, because they have new technology.
Brecken: Right, so a landslide first exposed the sapphires in Kashmir, and then they mined it all up. And the problems today with going back and mining is that it’s in that politically unstable area. And it’s constantly covered by snow because it’s the top of the Himalayas.
Jonathan: Yeah, so the only good thing about global warming is maybe we’ll get some new gemstones.
Brecken: Oh, no. Too soon. It’s, no, too soon. The polar bears, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Oh, I forgot about the polar bears.
Brecken: They’re so cute.
Jonathan: Sapphires, polar bears, sapphires.
Brecken: Polar bears all day. Yeah, I think you’re right. Polar bears.
Jonathan: There is plenty of sapphires.
Brecken: So, I think we should talk about two. They’re, Jonathan, I’m trying to keep us on track and you’re talking about polar bears.
Jonathan: Oh, you brought up polar bears.
Brecken: They’re so cute.
Jonathan: I did my homework.
Brecken: Okay, Kashmir sapphires, why are they so highly regarded? Why are [00:16:00] they the best?
Jonathan: Due to the silk.
Brecken: Yes. It’s due to the inclusions.
Jonathan: No heat treatment necessary.
Brecken: They’re these brilliant blue colors that have a velvety look. And I didn’t understand that until I saw one. And it looks like velvet. It diffracts the light inside the stone, so it just… Shimmers everywhere and it’s a soft color.
Brecken: And that’s why we all want a Kashmir sapphire. Now you can get sapphires from other places that have the same look, but they’re not Kashmir and that’s why those Kashmir sapphires go for hundreds of thousands of dollars at Christie’s Auction House or Sotheby’s or wherever they’re auctioned now.
Jonathan: Or even millions.
Brecken: Or millions, yeah.
Jonathan: Depending on the size.
Brecken: Depending on the stone. Another source is, uh, Myanmar, or Burma, but their fine blue sapphires are rare there. They’re more known for their spinels and their rubies.
Jonathan: Right, but they do produce some [00:17:00] beautiful…
Brecken: Yeah, sporadic and rare. They’re recovered in, alluvial deposits, so on riverbeds.
Brecken: Next would probably be the most important or significant source of… Sapphires ever,
Jonathan: Well probably ever, but and today, which is Sri Lanka,
Brecken: or Ceylon,
Jonathan: Ceylon sapphires, which Ceylon could also, does kind of include part of Madagascar too.
Brecken: I mean if you’re talking Pangaea wise.
Jonathan: Yeah, and color and sourcing and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between some of the Madagascar material.
Brecken: Yes, but speaking of Ceylon, we’ll get to Madagascar. It is considered the first source of sapphires ever discovered in the world. It’s been supplying sapphires for over 2, 000 years.
Jonathan: That’s a long time.
Brecken: It is. It’s actually one of the Earth’s [00:18:00] largest concentration of gemstones. On the little island of Sri Lanka, there are over 40 different gemstone species found there.
Jonathan: That’s a lot.
Brecken: It is. Most of it is found in river gravel or alluvial deposits. And you have to think about it they have a ton of rain there with typhoon season and everything. So they have really high erosion rates. So it erodes everything down to riverbeds, modern riverbeds, or ancient riverbeds that are now covered up. So they have to go in there. One thing that I found super interesting about Sri Lanka is that by law, they must use non mechanized equipment.
Jonathan: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Brecken: So, no motors, they’re sitting there, sifting stuff by hand, and, yeah.
Jonathan: But they do some primary source mining in Sri Lanka as well, right? How [00:19:00] do they dig those holes, all by hand?
Brecken: All by hand, non mechanized. It’s law.
Brecken: Baby. It’s law. That’s why there have been no big mining conglomerates or anything like that that have gone into Sri Lanka. They’ve really managed to keep foreigners out of their gem mining business.
It is. That’s where my sapphire is from. Ceylon.
Jonathan: Mine is not.
Brecken: Yours is not. Yours is Thai. Which is another source.
Jonathan: It’s a, also a source, but it tends to have a lot more iron and be a little bit darker in color.
Brecken: Yeah. So the salt. Deposit. And the two main mining areas in
Jonathan: Thailand were… Kanchanaburi and Chanthaburi.
Brecken: Yes. That’s always confused me. Yeah. Kanchanaburi.
Brecken: Darn it. Okay.
Jonathan: So, the interesting thing when we’re in Chanthaburi is, is that we, it’s, it’s volcanic. [00:20:00] And so you hike up this volcano and you ring the bell.
Brecken: Khao Ploi Waen. It just means mountain, gemstone, gemstone mountain or something, gem mountain volcano.
Jonathan: And then it’s pretty cool, you can look out and you see, it’s a big farming area. So when you look out, it’s not like you see holes everywhere, mines everywhere. You see farms everywhere. And then it’s kind of interesting that the farmers basically are farming on top of sapphires, but obviously you don’t go that deep when you’re farming. And so when the farmers are ready to retire, they want a new house or something like that.
They would suddenly be switched from farmers to miners. And so it’s very interesting. You’d see, you could look out and see, and if you saw a really nice house on a plot of land, you’d know, Oh, that one’s already been mined.
And if you see a little straw hut, and a farmer is still farming it, you know, oh, that one hasn’t been done yet. And so [00:21:00] you can kind of look out, and then once they’re done mining the whole area, then they turn it back into a farm again. So it’s kind of interesting how they’re just naturally…
Brecken: I thought it was cool. Jonathan and I had the opportunity over five years to go and visit the same mine in Chanthaburi and it was this little farmer and his wife. And they strategically mined different areas of their farm, and the last spot they mined was where their house was. And so they kind of mined all around, and then they tore down their house and mined there and built a new house when they were done.
Jonathan: Yeah. We haven’t been back though to see the new house.
Brecken: We haven’t seen the new house. But hopefully, it was good for them.
Jonathan: Yeah, hopefully, it turned out well. They were, they were nice.
Brecken: It really, Thailand’s major role in the Sapphire industry is cutting and trade.
Jonathan: Yeah, cutting, heating.
Brecken: Heating, that’s true.
That’s where all the burning is done, the cooking.
Jonathan: The cooking.
Brecken: Yeah, that’s where all the, and Chanthaburi, Chanthaburi was the leader in [00:22:00] commercial quality goods from the 80s to the 90s until Australia came to be. But a close neighbor to Thailand, Cambodia, where Jonathan and I also had a chance to visit the mines there, produces some beautiful sapphires as well.
Pailin, which means… Otter’s play. And so when we went there, we were told the story of how they discovered gemstones in the area. And there was someone kind of, I don’t know, on a self-exploration mission, just walking through the area. And he saw an otter playing with one big red stone and one big blue stone. And he said, there must be rubies and sapphires in this area. So they came back, started mining, and found rubies and sapphires. So the name of Pailin is inspired by that story of the otter playing in the river.[00:23:00] The hard thing about gemstone mining in Cambodia is that in the 1970s, it was…
Jonathan: With the Khmer Rouge.
Brecken: With the Khmer Rouge, the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime, they controlled the mines in Pailin until… late 1990s, and so they’re just now beginning to re-establish and when Jonathan and I were there it was
Jonathan: you do not leave the trail because there are active mines still.
Brecken: There are active landmines still so you didn’t go off the path. Cambodia is doing a huge cleanup job trying to locate and find all these unexploded land mines, but still it’s a huge problem and obviously when you’re talking about mining, it affects their ability to go in and mine, when they don’t know if there’s an undetonated explosive device.
Jonathan: It’s scary.
Brecken: It is.
Jonathan: So then after Thailand, Cambodia.
Brecken: And then Australia. Which really ticked off the Thais [00:24:00] and the Sri Lankans.
Jonathan: And they were the largest producer of sapphires back in the late 80s.
Brecken: Yeah, Thailand and Sri Lanka until Australia came into the market in the 80s, 90s and started mechanized mining of sapphire. Now their sapphires are a dark inky blue. And so they’re more what we would call commercial quality, not your fine sapphires.
Jonathan: Right, almost black.
Brecken: But today about 90% of your commercial sapphires come from Australia.
Jonathan: Yeah, and which are all dark blue to black.
Brecken: Dark blue to black.
Now there are some nice sapphires that do come from Australia. There’s a competition between Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Australia. And a lot of your Thai cutters or Sri Lankan cutters would buy Australian gemstones, the finer stones, and call them [00:25:00] Thai or Sri Lankan because they would, one, get more money for them, and two, they wanted to make sure that the Australian gemstones had the connotation of being just Dark and inky, that nothing nice, nothing fine came out of there. So sometimes Australia does get a bad rap. Not all their stones are dark and inky blue.
Jonathan: Thank you. The Australians thank you.
Brecken: I do love Australians. We do love our opal, but I will say that virtually every gemstone that comes out of Australia has to be heat treated because it is so dark.
Jonathan: Right. They need to add some oxygen to lighten it up.
Brecken: Probably the, one of the most major sources today in sapphires is Madagascar. Right. For your fine quality. I think for fine quality sapphires you have Sri Lanka and Madagascar really at the top.
And Ilakaka is a city. It was a field until they discovered sapphire and then there was like a gold rush, a mine rush, gold rush. I’m doing air quotes here. You can’t see me, but there was a mine rush. The interesting thing about Madagascar is that it has some basalt. And some non-basalt, so that’s where you can get the really fine, high quality, and then non-basalt, and then also you get the duhn, and they’re saying that Madagascar is going to be a great source for sapphire for decades to come, because of the amount of material there.
Jonathan: Lots. Speaking of another country that is extremely gem rich.
Brecken: Back to that. They used to be at the same place.
Brecken: And then, I think, last for your major, I would call it a major source, or significant source of sapphire, [00:27:00] is Montana.
Jonathan: Yeah, and so, Yogo is not producing that much, and never really produced that much, but Rock Creek just got reopened two, three years ago, and it’s producing quite a lot of sapphires and a really…
Some really cool tealy blues, so a lot of those blue green sapphires that you see, most of that material is coming out of, Montana.
Brecken: Yeah, so Rock Creek is all an alluvial deposit, so they’re, they’re mining riverbeds. Yogo… is directly from the host.
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s source mining.
Brecken: And it’s an extremely difficult recovery. It all has to basically be blasted out with dynamite.
Jonathan: Super safe.
Brecken: It’s not safe. So, only about 10% of the stones recovered are over 1 carat from the Yogo mine.
Jonathan: Yeah, very small.
Brecken: Very small recovery. They’re typically pretty flat crystals. So when we get them, we do sell Yogo Sapphire and [00:28:00] what is called Montana Sapphire, but a lot of the Yogo material is really flat. You have to do ovals or rose cut, very thin cut gemstones. They have also reopened the Yogo mines.
The Baides? Is that who bought it?
Don Baide. And, they’re actively mining it?
Jonathan: Yes. Yeah, they got it all reopened.
Brecken: It’s, it’s difficult to mine in the U. S.
Brecken: Let’s be honest. Lots of regulations. There’s huge mining costs. Labor in the U. S. is much more expensive than it is elsewhere in the world. And that’s why they command the premium that they do. It’s probably one of the premier American gemstones, Montana Sapphire.
Jonathan: Yeah. Especially more material than anything else.
Brecken: More material? I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
Jonathan: Well, there’s like, where else in [00:29:00] the U. S. is there that much material? Like, that there’s that much, like, gemstone material. Like, total number of, total number of gemstones, carats wise.
Brecken: Oh, okay. Now I know what you mean,
Jonathan: Maine produces quite a bit of tourmaline, but still, like, more sapphire came out of Montana than…
Brecken: Yeah, but what’s tourmaline?
Brecken: Sapphire. So I think that wraps up the basics of sapphire sources.
Jonathan: Blue sapphire.
Brecken: Yes. So next week we’re gonna cover fancy sapphire and phenomenal sapphires.
Jonathan: And synthetic sapphires.
Brecken: And synthetic sapphires.
Jonathan: Well, thank you for listening to another episode of Gem Junkies. If you have any, questions or comments. Feel free to email us at [email protected]
Brecken: and make sure you subscribe to our podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, or Google Play. And if you like us, rate us and leave us a message. We’d love to, hear from our listeners. Also, if you want to know more about what we do at Parlé Gems, you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook[00:30:00] @parlegems.
Thank you so much for listening, and next week is Fancy Sapphires.
Jonathan: Alright, thank you.
Brecken: Bye bye guys.
Are we boring?
This is good.
Are we too boring?
Jonathan: No, we talked about fires. We talked about chastity.
Savannah: I think once a week she asks that. Yeah.
Brecken: we boring?