As we continue our journey around the world in search of nature’s most beautiful gemstones, we stop off on the sunny island of Sri Lanka, home to the stunning and rare padparadscha sapphire. So if you are lucky enough to have a piece of this sapphire jewellery in your possession, make sure you hold onto it.
Mining on Sri Lanka dates back at least 2,000 years and the island is sometimes referred to as Gem Island or the Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean because of the wide variety of gemstones it yields. However, the South Asian country is best known for the cornflower-blue Ceylon sapphire and the padparadscha sapphire, both of which are mined in Ratnapura (Singhalese for “gem town”), around 100km from Colombo.
Read more about hunting ceylon sapphires in Sri Lanka
Instantly recognisable for its pinkish-orange colour, the padparadscha is the rarest of all sapphires and arguably the most beautiful. Prices for non-heat-treated stones of a good quality can soar to more than $50,000 per carat, easily rivalling rubies and emeralds of the same size.
While the name padparadscha is derived from the Sanskrit word for lotus flower, the gemstone’s ideal hue is often described as a blend of a lotus blossom and a sunset. In ancient cultures, the padparadscha sapphire was seen as a symbol of purity, beauty and enlightenment, and I think you have to agree that the colour has an aura of serenity and calmness. Like rubies and sapphires, padparadschas are part of the corundum family with a Mohs hardness of 9, making them ideal for setting into sapphire jewellery. Its hardiness also makes it a great choice of centre stone for engagement rings.
Padparadscha sapphires are usually paired with white gold or platinum as these metals complement the gem’s soft hue. The splendour of the stone is perhaps best showcased in this Cartier ring, which features a 10.04ct padparadscha sapphire surrounded by brilliant-cut diamonds and black lacquer. Cartier also has a stunning high jewellery sapphire necklace that pairs a padparadscha with orange and yellow sapphires, as well as a cascade of natural pearls.
The Soleste sapphire ring is one of Tiffany’s signature jewellery styles and here it looks radiant set with an unenhanced 4.22ct padparadscha sapphire framed by a double row of white diamonds.
One of the most spectacular pieces of Chanel jewellery is from its Café Society collection, which was unveiled at the last Biennale des Antiquaires. The Sunset sapphire necklace is set with diamonds and padparadscha sapphires to form an abstract camellia shape. Actress Keira Knightley was so taken with the collection that she wore the matching Sunset sapphire ring and headband to the 2015 Oscars.
Read more about red carpet jewellery at the Oscars
Omi Privé president and designer Niveet Nagpal is a huge fan of padparadscha sapphires and these coloured gemstones are a regular feature in Omi Privé jewellery collections. He says: “Padparadschas are the most rare of all sapphires because they are a perfect blend of pink and orange, which rarely occurs in nature. The large majority of all sapphires are heat treated to enhance the colour, but many padparadschas are unheated, and those are the rarest of all.” Omi Privé offers several padparadscha sapphire rings including one that boasts a 5.73ct oval-cut centre stone set in platinum and rose gold.
Colour saturation, which is normally highly prized in coloured gemstones, is less essential in the padparadscha sapphire, with the most valuable stones boasting a delicate, almost iridescent mixture of pink and orange. Clarity, on the other hand, is extremely important as the light colour emphasises any inclusions in the gem.
While pinkish-orange sapphires have also been found in Madagascar and Vietnam, most gem experts agree that the only real padparadschas hail from Sri Lanka. Padparadschas from other countries usually have to be heat treated to bring out a colour that is closer to a rich papaya-like hue. There is also an on-going debate as to whether the sapphire suffix at the end of the tongue-twisting name should be omitted or not.
It is rare to find good-quality padparadschas of more than two carats, and any stone above five carats is considered a world-class gem. These exceptional stones are often cut into oval, emerald or cushion shapes to maximise on the size.
The world’s largest padparadscha sapphire is most likely a 100.18ct oval-cut gem on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. However, even at smaller sizes, the stone’s unforgettable colour will leave a lasting impression on anyone who comes across it.
As Niveet Nagpal puts it: “To own or even view a true padparadscha that is brilliant, well cut and void of any major inclusions is a treat that most people will never have the opportunity to enjoy."
Read about rainbow jewels here