Sapphire History and Lore

330-ct Star of Asia sapphire
The 330-ct Star of Asia is in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History – Chip Clark, courtesy Smithsonian Institution
Traditionally, sapphire symbolises nobility, truth, sincerity and faithfulness. It has decorated the robes of royalty and clergy members for centuries. Its extraordinary colour is the standard against which other blue gems—from topaz to tanzanite—are measured.
For centuries, sapphire has been associated with royalty and romance. The association was reinforced in 1981, when Britain’s Prince Charles gave a blue sapphire engagement ring to Lady Diana Spencer. Until her death in 1997, Princess Di, as she was known, charmed and captivated the world. Her sapphire ring helped link modern events with history and fairy tales.
In ancient Greece and Rome, kings and queens were convinced that blue sapphires protected their owners from envy and harm. During the Middle Ages, the clergy wore blue sapphires to symbolise Heaven, and ordinary people thought that the gem attracted heavenly blessings. In other times and places, people have instilled sapphires with the power to guard chastity, make peace between enemies, influence spirits and reveal the secrets of oracles.
In folklore, history, art and consumer awareness, sapphire has always been associated with the colour blue. Its name comes from the Greek word sappheiros, which probably referred to lapis lazuli. Most jewellery customers think all sapphires are blue, and when gem and jewellery professionals use the word “sapphire” alone, they normally mean “blue sapphire”.
A special orangy pink sapphire colour is called padparadscha, which means “lotus flower” in Sinhalese, the language spoken in Sri Lanka. Stones from Sri Lanka were initially the only ones labelled with this marketable name. There’s no telling how many padparadschas have been sifted from Sri Lankan river gravel throughout history. Sri Lankans have a special affection for the colour that’s traditionally been linked with their country.