Sapphire gemstone price

Written by: Hagai Bichman

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Time to read 16 min

Sapphire gemstone price have fluctuated significantly over the past 100 years,

influenced by a complex interplay of supply, demand, treatments, and global economic conditions. In the early 20th century,

Sapphire prices were relatively stable and high, as supply was limited to a few well-known sources like Kashmir and Myanmar (Burma). These classic sapphire deposits yielded stones of exceptional color and quality, commanding premium prices...

How have sapphire prices changed over the past century ?

Sapphire gemstone price have fluctuated significantly over the past 100 years, influenced by a complex interplay of supply, demand, treatments, and global economic conditions. In the early 20th century, sapphire prices were relatively stable and high, as supply was limited to a few well-known sources like Kashmir and Myanmar (Burma). These classic sapphire deposits yielded stones of exceptional color and quality, commanding premium prices.

However, the 1960s and 70s saw a surge in sapphire supply with the discovery of new deposits in Australia, Thailand, and other locations. This influx caused sapphire prices to dip somewhat, although fine Kashmir and Burmese sapphires still fetched top dollar. The 1980s brought a rebound in sapphire prices as global demand grew and treatments like heating became more widespread and accepted in the market.

The 1990s marked a period of significant fluctuation in sapphire price. While new sources continued to be discovered, a series of economic booms in the U.S. and Asia drove increased demand for luxury goods like sapphires. Top quality sapphires hit record highs. But by the late 90s, global economic instability led to a temporary dip in the sapphire market.

The 2000s saw another climb in sapphire prices, fueled by strong global economies and the rise of sapphires as a trendy fashion statement. Prices for Kashmir sapphires in particular skyrocketed. But the 2008 financial crisis dealt a blow, depressing sapphire prices for a period.

Today, prices have largely recovered, and continue to rise for the finest untreated stones. All time record auction prices for sapphires have been recorded in the 2010s. Yet a growing supply of low-cost treated sapphires and lab-created stones have also expanded the low end of the market. Overall, sapphire prices remain robust but variable based on quality factors.

So in summary, while experiencing some ups and downs with new discoveries and economic events, prices for top quality sapphires have steadily increased over the past century and remain historically strong today. The sapphire price market has matured and diversified, with clear premiums for untreated and Kashmir origin stones.

What factors most influence the price of sapphires ?

Several key factors come together to determine the price of an individual sapphire in today's market. The most important criteria are the color, clarity, carat weight, cut, and treatment status of the stone. These "5 Cs" of sapphire pricing each play a role in dictating the value.

Color is often considered the single most important price influencer. The most valuable sapphire colors are saturated medium-to-medium dark tones of violetish blue, known in the trade as "royal blue." Such sapphires, especially in larger sizes, command significant premiums. Prices decline for sapphires that are too light, too dark, too greenish, or too grayish.

Clarity and transparency also greatly impact sapphire price . While most sapphires contain some inclusions, the cleanest stones with fewest visible imperfections garner top prices. Any inclusions that reduce transparency or pose durability risks substantially lower the value.

Carat weight affects price too, as it does with most gems. Per-carat prices jump at size thresholds like 1, 2, 3, and 5 carats. Since rough sapphire crystals over a couple carats are rare, sapphire prices escalate dramatically as size increases.

The quality of cut and proportion determines price by impacting brilliance, scintillation, and overall appearance. Well-cut sapphires with symmetrical faceting that maximizes color and light performance are worth a premium.

Finally, treatment status is critical. Untreated sapphires command much higher prices than heated or lattice diffusion treated stones, with premiums often over 50% for comparable color/clarity. Record sapphire prices are always for untreated stones.

Secondary factors like geographic origin, shape/cutting style, and market conditions also influence pricing, but usually to a lesser degree than the key 5 Cs.

So in short - Color, clarity, carat weight, cut and treatment determine sapphire prices by directly shaping the appearance and rarity of the gemstone. The combination of these 5 Cs sets the baseline value and market desirability of any sapphire.

How does the price of sapphires compare to other precious gems ?

How does the price of sapphires compare to other precious gems?

Sapphires occupy a unique position in the hierarchy of gemstone prices - they are among the "big 4" most commercially important colored stones (alongside rubies, emeralds, and diamonds) yet their prices span a very wide range depending on quality factors.

At the very lowest end, commercial grade sapphires cost just dollars or tens of dollars per carat. These are usually heavily included, unevenly colored, or artificially treated stones. At the high end, world class untreated sapphires like Kashmir or Burmese stones can fetch tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per carat, putting them in the same league as the finest rubies, emeralds, and large diamonds.

Compared to their red ruby cousins (technically the same mineral), top sapphires sell for roughly 30-40% less per carat than equivalent quality rubies. The profit potential and rarity of fine sapphires may be slightly lower than top shelf rubies, but still place them well into investment gemstone territory.

Versus emeralds, high quality untreated sapphires trade at roughly similar prices per carat. Minor differences persist with changes in market trends and consumer preferences year to year. But in general, a fine 10 carat emerald and sapphire of similar color/clarity would be valued comparably.

Against diamonds, sapphires obviously occupy a different price niche below the best white diamonds. However, pricing for rare fancy color diamonds and the best sapphires are closer than many realize. While a 2 carat white diamond may cost under $40,000, a top quality sapphire price could exceed $50,000 at that size - not far off from similar fancy vivid yellow diamonds.

So in summary - The price of sapphires varies dramatically based on quality, with only the finest competing directly with other precious gems. But at the top end, sapphires are squarely in the same elite price echelon as the most desired rubies, emeralds, and fancy color diamonds.

What impact did the discovery of new sapphire deposits have on prices ?

The discovery of major new sapphire deposits during the 20th century had a profound impact on gem sapphire prices and supply dynamics. Prior to the 1960s, sapphire pricing was largely controlled by the historical "blue chip" mines of Kashmir and Myanmar, which produced limited quantities of the world's finest sapphires. Prices remained high and stable.

But the sapphire market was disrupted beginning in the 1960s with significant discoveries in Australia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Large sapphire deposits were found first at Australia's Anakie Fields in 1969, Thailand's Khao Ploi Waen in the early 70s, and Vietnam's Luc Yen area by 1979. By 1980, these three countries accounted for over 90% of global sapphire production.

The massive influx of new supply led to sapphire prices receding somewhat in the 1970s and 80s, as lower quality but still attractive material flooded the market. Suddenly affordable commercial grade sapphires became widely available, creating opportunities for jewelry manufacturers and stimulating consumer interest.

However, the new sources actually had little impact on prices for the finest sapphires. The new mines produced mostly pastel-colored "pale" and dark inky stones that required heat treatment. Supply of untreated vivid blue and velvety blue Kashmir-quality sapphires remained tiny even after Australia/Thailand/Vietnam came online.

So while average sapphire prices declined with the new volume of lesser goods, It was soon recognized that top sapphires were perhaps even rarer than previously thought. Prices rebounded for these elite sapphires as connoisseurs and collectors sought them amidst oceans of inferior stones. The new deposits redefined the mid-market but affirmed the enduring premium on untreated vivid blue sapphires.

So in summary - Australian, Thai and Vietnamese sapphire discoveries dramatically increased supply, collapsed prices for low-end stones, and grew the consumer market from the 1970s onward. But these finds also highlighted the scarcity of top specimens and supported stronger prices at the high-end. The result was a larger, more diversified sapphire market than ever before.

How have treatments affected the value and pricing of sapphires ?

Treatments, primarily heat treatment, have greatly shaped sapphire values and pricing over the past half century. Heat treating sapphires (carefully heating them in a furnace to high temperatures) has been practiced for centuries to improve their color and clarity. However, only since the 1970s has the technique become very widespread in the sapphire market.

Today, it's estimated over 90% of sapphires are heat treated to some degree. The process is especially common for sapphires from major commercial deposits discovered since the 1960s like Australia, Thailand, and Madagascar. These sources tend to yield sapphires with uneven pale colors or dark tones that are less marketable in untreated form.

Heat treatment has allowed far more of this material to resemble prized vivid blue hues and achieve gem clarity - although trained gemologists can usually still readily identify signs of heating. The result has been an influx of sapphires into market that visually approach fine quality at relatively affordable prices.

Subsequently, the price gap between untreated and heated sapphires has widened. As more heated stones entered the low and middle market, making them appear more common, connoisseurs increasingly sought rare completely natural sapphires. The sapphire price premium for untreated stones rose sharply.

Today, all else equal, an untreated sapphire will command anywhere from 30% to over 100% more than an equivalent heated stone. Record auction prices are always for untreated gems. Treatment status has become one of the single biggest price factors.

More recently, even more extreme treatments like beryllium lattice diffusion have further segmented the market. These techniques can turn a low value opaque sapphire into a semi-transparent intensely colored stone - with a sapphire price to match. However, such artificial "super treatments" are valued well below traditional heat treatment.

So in summary, treatments - especially heating - have made fine looking sapphires more available but widened the price gap between treated and natural stones. Purists insist on untreated sapphires and pay ultra premiums, while more budget conscious buyers embrace the value of heated gems. Treatment status has become critically important in sapphire pricing.

What role does color play in determining sapphire price ?

What role does color play in determining sapphire price?

Sapphire color is one of the most critical components of value and pricing. Blue sapphires comprise the bulk of the market and set the benchmark for grading and assessing color. The closer a blue sapphire's hue is to pure spectral blue, without any visible secondary hues like green or gray, the more valuable the stone.

More specifically, the trade defines the most desirable sapphire hues with terms like "cornflower blue" (a saturated violetish blue), "kashmir blue" (a velvety medium slightly grayish blue), or "royal blue" (a deep pure blue with strong color saturation). Sapphires matching these coveted hues often sell for 50-200% sapphire price premiums over those with lower color purity.

Tone and saturation also make a big difference. Sapphires that are too light or too dark are considerably less valued than those with more optimal medium tones. Meanwhile stones with weak, grayed out color saturation are heavily discounted compared to richer, more vivid hues regardless of tone. The interplay of tone and saturation set the color quality for pricing.

Beyond blues, sapphires come in every color, and those other colors occupy unique price niches:

  • Padparadscha sapphires, with saturated pinkish-orange to orangey-pink hues, are the most expensive of all, often eclipsing blues.
  • Intense pure yellows and hot pinks command prices in the same range as many fine blues.
  • Lavender, violet, and purple sapphires are less expensive than blues but still valued by collectors.
  • Green, black, and color-changing sapphires are lower priced semi-precious stones.

Within each color family, the same factors of hue purity, tone, and saturation define the pricing - with pure spectral hues and more saturated colors garnering higher prices.

Overall, color is a key determinant of sapphire price . The classic blue sapphire - in saturated medium pure blue tones - remains the market ideal and sets the high prices. Yet sapphires across the color spectrum have unique beauty and character that earn them devoted followings and rising values with savvy gem enthusiasts.

How have sapphire prices been impacted by global economic events ?

Like most luxury goods, sapphire prices have been periodically impacted by major economic events and business cycles over the past several decades. During periods of strong global economic growth, demand for fine sapphires rises as wealth increases and luxury spending expands. Conversely, economic downturns and recessions generally depress sapphire prices as discretionary spending contracts.

The 1990s offer a revealing case study. In the early 90s, a brief recession in the U.S. and Europe dampened sapphire prices. But by the mid-late 90s, a technology boom drove the U.S. economy to record levels. High tech executives flush with stock option riches bolstered the market for pricey jewelry like top sapphires. Sapphire price growth accelerated.

The economy (and sapphire demand) was further stimulated in 1997 when Princess Diana's famous sapphire engagement ring appeared constantly in the media after her tragic death that year. Many sought similar sapphire rings. Yet the decade ended on a down note, as the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and "Y2K" tech bubble collapse in the U.S. temporarily curbed appetites for high-end gem collecting.

The 2000s saw similar swings. Sapphire prices climbed for much of the decade as many major economies expanded robustly, fueling luxury demand. The U.S. housing boom and emerging market growth in China/India created many newly affluent buyers. But the severe 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis and deep recession stopped the trend. Sapphire price appreciation slowed and even reversed in some cases.

More recently, the 2010s have witnessed a gradual rebound from 2008, with prices for top sapphires hitting record highs but seeing more modest growth at lower qualities as global economic conditions have improved but remained uneven across countries.

Throughout these economic cycles, it's notable that the finest untreated sapphires have tended to retain value better and recover faster from downturns compared to the more volatile low-to-mid quality sapphire market.

So overall, the trajectory of sapphire prices has certainly been influenced by prevailing economic trends - rising during periods of growth but vulnerable to pullbacks during lean times, as is typical for most sizable luxury purchase categories. Yet the inherent scarcity of top-quality sapphires provides some insulation from the worst effects of bad economic times.

What is the record auction price for a sapphire and when did it occur ?

The world record auction price for a sapphire was set in 2014 by the "Blue Belle of Asia", a magnificent 392.52 carat Ceylon blue sapphire. This extraordinary gem sold for a staggering $17,305,996 at Christie's Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva on November 11, 2014. The untreated cushion cut stone achieved a sapphire price of over $44,000 per carat.

The Blue Belle of Asia barely exceeded the previous record holder, the 62 carat "Rockefeller Sapphire" which sold for $3,027,000 (over $48,000 per carat) at Christie's New York auction in 2001. So while the 392 carat Blue Belle holds the overall price record, it has not surpassed the Rockefeller on a per carat basis.

Both of these remarkable sapphires have fascinating histories. The Blue Belle was mined in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It was owned for decades by a succession of private collectors. In 1937, it was purchased by British motor magnate Lord Nuffield, founder of Morris Motors. The blue sapphire later passed to an anonymous owner who kept it hidden away until bringing it to auction in 2014.

The Rockefeller Sapphire was also likely mined in Ceylon in the late 19th or early 20th century. In 1934, financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased it from an Indian maharajah and had it mounted in a brooch surrounded by diamonds for his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The Rockefeller family kept the sapphire for over 60 years until its 2001 auction.

More recently in 2021, a 55.19 carat Kashmir sapphire ring sold for just over $7.5 million, or about $137,000 per carat, approaching a per carat record for Kashmir origin. Prices for top Kashmir sapphires now routinely reach six figures per carat when they appear at auction.

So in summary, while the 392 carat Blue Belle of Asia holds the overall record sapphire price at auction, and the 62 carat Rockefeller Sapphire still claims the highest per carat price, Kashmir sapphires are the most expensive sapphires per carat today, with gems from the region breaking records in the 2020s. These prices show that at the very pinnacle, sapphires are one of the world's most valuable gems.

How have lab-created sapphires influenced the pricing of natural ones ?

The development of lab-created sapphires, also known as synthetic or cultured sapphires, has had a complex impact on the pricing dynamics for natural sapphires over the past several decades. Lab sapphires are chemically identical to natural ones but are "grown" by artificial processes that simulate the conditions under which sapphires form in nature.

Small numbers of synthetic sapphires have been produced since the early 1900s. But only by the 1990s and 2000s did lab sapphire production become advanced enough to create stones that closely resemble natural gems in size and quality. Today, millions of carats of lab sapphires are made annually.

On one hand, this influx of lab-created material has provided some competition for natural sapphires at lower price points. Consumers seeking affordable options for jewelry use may increasingly choose lab stones, potentially siphoning some demand away from entry level natural sapphires. The wide availability of lab goods makes small natural sapphires seem less rare or essential.

However, the impact is limited, as there remains a strong preference for genuine natural gemstones over artificial ones among serious collectors and buyers of larger stones. If anything, the ubiquity of lab sapphires has underscored the inherent rarity and value of their natural counterparts.

Industry groups have worked hard to differentiate the two products, insisting that lab sapphires must always be clearly disclosed as such rather than misleadingly sold as natural. This preserves a distinction in the market based on the perceived romance and investment value of naturally occurring stones.

So at the high end, prices for the scarcest untreated and Kashmir origin natural sapphires have continued to climb to record levels even as the lab sapphire sector grows. These specimens are so rare that synthetic alternatives are not seen as direct substitutes or competition. The sapphire price premiums paid for top natural sapphires remain robust.

Ultimately, lab sapphires have evolved into a separate category that coexists alongside natural stones, expanding options for consumers. But they have not dramatically disrupted the natural sapphire trade or usurped the ultra top end of the market where provenance and rarity remain highly prized.

So in short, while lab sapphires offer a budget friendly blue gemstone alternative and may cap some natural sapphire prices at the low end, they have not displaced the appeal or prestige pricing of fine untreated natural sapphires, which still command a clear premium with knowledgeable buyers. The two products largely serve different market niches today.

What is the price difference between untreated and heat treated sapphires ?

The price difference between untreated (completely natural) sapphires and those that have undergone heat treatment is substantial - and continues to widen over time. Sapphires that can be guaranteed to be 100% natural and unheated command significant premiums over their treated counterparts, often 30-50% or more for comparable color/size/quality.

The most dramatic sapphire price spreads are seen at the very high end of the market. For sapphires over 10 carats with excellent color and clarity, the price per carat for an untreated Ceylon or Kashmir origin stone may be double or even triple that of an equivalent heated sapphire. The gap is especially wide for sapphires that combine large size, rich color, and natural origin.

For example, at a major auction, a 10 carat untreated Kashmir sapphire with top color/clarity might bring $500,000 or more ($50,000 per carat), while a similar appearing 10 carat heated Ceylon sapphire of equal quality would sell for closer to $200,000 ($20,000 per carat). The natural stone's sapphire price would be 2.5X higher.

In the 5-10 carat range, a more typical spread is around 50% in favor of unheated gems. So a 7 carat untreated Burmese sapphire might retail for $50,000 ($7,000 per carat) while an equivalent heated Thai sapphire would be around $35,000 ($5,000 per carat). Larger stones see bigger spreads on a per carat basis.

For sapphires under 5 carats, the untreated premium is often around 30% - still significant but less extreme than for major stones. So a 2 carat unheated sapphire might cost $5,000 ($2,500 per carat) with a comparable heated stone around $4,000 ($2,000 per carat). Under 1 carat sizes see the narrowest price differences.

The large premiums for untreated sapphires are due to both actual rarity and consumer preference. Only a tiny fraction of sapphires from major sources emerge with ideal color naturally - the vast majority require heat to look their best. Finding sizable completely natural gems is exceedingly difficult.

Meanwhile, many connoisseurs and collectors insist on untreated stones out of principle, appreciating their totally natural beauty. They're willing to pay steep sapphire price premiums to guarantee an unheated gem. This combination of scarcity plus market demand perpetuates value.

So to summarize - At all sizes and qualities, untreated sapphires sell for considerable markups over equivalent heated stones. Premiums range from around 30% for small commercial grade sapphires to over 100% for large, top quality gems at auction. The price difference rewards rarity and remains the single biggest determinant of sapphire value.