When one gem importer buys pink sapphire from Burma tribesmen, they call it ruby — and don’t take kindly to contradiction.
When another importer buys pink sapphire from Sri Lankan dealers, they call it padparadscha (an extremely rare pinkish-orange sapphire) — and act offended if you suggest otherwise.
The debate arises from the fact that ancient gem connoisseurs, lacking the science of gemology, named gems according to color, not chemistry. As a result, different colors of the mineral corundum ended up with different names: Ruby when it was red, sapphire when it was blue, hyacinthus when it was yellow, and oriental amethyst when it was purple. When it was later discovered that all these gems were the same mineral, all colors but red were named sapphire.
Starting around the turn of the last century, “all colors put red” began to include pink, meaning that pink corundum should be called pink sapphire, not ruby. But this creates a tricky border: when does red become pink?
Many dealers, as well as gemologists, contend that calling any pink corundum “sapphire” is a misnomer. Pink, they argue, is simply light red and, therefore, all such stones should be called ruby. If the trade must use the term pink, this faction urges that such stones be known as pink ruby rather than pink sapphire.
But pink sapphire specialists seem content to leave things as they are. “It’s a gemological issue. Pink is just different than red,” says one New York gem dealer. “So leave the pink corundums associated with sapphire and the red ones associated with ruby.” It is a sign of pink sapphire’s growing acceptance that more and more dealers agree with him.
The sapphire-versus-ruby nomenclature battle revolves around money. Since ruby is usually far more expensive than sapphire, it is hoped that being able to call sapphire ruby will entitle dealers to charge more for it. That’s hoping for a lot. A name change would help reddish-pink Burmese and Vietnamese sapphires that might qualify as borderline rubies. The gem name on the grading report, whether the stone is dubbed a light ruby or a dark pink sapphire, does make a difference in the selling price for these gems. But the rest of the time, calling pink red makes about as much sense as calling it white.
That doesn’t stop people from trying, especially dealers and gemologists armed with a smattering of color science. They’ll tell you pink isn’t even a recognized spectrum color, merely “de-saturated red.” Maybe so, but pink is, and has always been, recognized as a color distinct from red in the jewelry and, for that matter, fashion world. In fact, even dealers who long ago insisted that pink sapphire was the same as ruby implicitly acknowledged there is a difference between pink and red stones by diving ruby into two categories: “feminine” for pink and “masculine” for red.
Today, pink sapphire needs no favors or apologies. On the contrary, the recent popularity of white metal set with pastel gems has opened doors for pink sapphire and given it Cadillac status among the many gem varieties being used to meet the demand for pink.
“Consumers are waking up to the fact that there is sapphire that isn’t blue,” says a New York cutter. “It may sound crazy, but there was a time when even jewelers didn’t know or recognize any other color in a sapphire.”
“Best of the breed” in pink sapphire is often described as “hot pink,” a pure, vibrant color with no violet or purple. Less favored light pinks with highly visible amounts of violet and purple. Generally, explains one dealer, the more violet the stone, the lower its price. Strongly violet stones in 1- to 3-carat sizes present the biggest bargains for consumers.
While not as important as color, clarity also has a big bearing on the value of pink sapphire. Indeed, one drawback of Burma stones is their tendency to be more included than pinks from other sources. Because most pink sapphire is lighter in tone and less saturate in color than ruby, dealers advise buying only eye-clean stones. “Inclusions are much more noticeable in pastel-color stones,” notes a dealer.
While on the subject of quality factors in pink sapphire, we must cite brilliance. Although partly a function of clarity, brilliance is affected by cutting and polishing, too. A pink sapphire should be exceptionally well cut and sparkle with life.