Padparadscha sapphires are more popular than ever, thanks to Princess Eugenie of York and her fiance, Jack Brooksbank. Her engagement ring, which the two designed together, holds an estimated 5 carat padparadscha, and is surrounded by 10 round and 2 pear-shaped diamonds. Because padparadscha sapphires are the most rare of all sapphires, and because they’re seldom cut above 2 carats, Princess Eugenie’s stone is a world class gem. The estimated value of her ring is $175,000.
Jack Brooksbank, Princess Eugenie, and her engagement ring
The two tie the knot on October 12, 2018 in beautiful St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Although the ceremony is rumored to be at least as grand as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, it’s uncertain whether those of us who live outside the U.K. will be able to watch the wedding ceremony. The BBC, the major broadcasting station in the U.K. declined to televise Princess Eugenie’s wedding, thinking that the number of viewers would not justify the cost of production. Another, more local British station, is planning to televise the full wedding, so we’ll have to see whether the ceremony airs here in the U.S.
Padparadscha is a variety of sapphire based on hue and saturation of color. And these traits can be subjective! Narrowly defined, a padparadscha is supposed to be from Sri Lanka and it’s supposed to be pinkish-orange or orangish-pink. It does not have to be highly saturated and, in fact, a delicate color is preferred. But where exactly is the line between an orange sapphire, a pink sapphire, and a padparadscha sapphire? Even gemologists have a hard time agreeing on a uniform standard for this gem. Because the premium for a padparadscha is so high, there is incentive to stretch the narrow definition.
While Sri Lanka is the traditional source for padparadscha sapphires, other countries such as Vietnam, Tanzania, and Madagascar also produce them. The name, “padparadscha”, comes from the native language of Sri Lanka and means lotus blossom. A lotus flower is a little more pink than peach, so some people talk about the hue of a padparadscha as being a “sunset color mixed with a lotus flower.” Well-known author and gemologist, Richard Hughes, calls it “a marriage between ruby and yellow sapphire.” However it’s defined, a padparadscha sapphire is a beautiful gem and well deserving of the extra attention it’s receiving!
Padparadschas showing the narrow range of hue
Garnet: January birthstone
Most of my life I’ve wished I was born a few days earlier, mainly because my birthstone would be an emerald instead of pearl or alexandrite. When it came time to buy my high school class ring, I chose the emerald green stone rather than the pale purple one. When my husband and I designed our 30-year anniversary ring, we designed it with an emerald for the center stone, even though pearl is the traditional gift for the 30-year anniversary. As you can see, I’ve always just gone with what I wanted rather than what I was ‘supposed’ to want. But my decisions got me to thinking about the origin of birthstones. Who deemed that each month be represented by a different gemstone? When was this decision made? And why?
My research on these questions has revealed an interesting and somewhat nonsensical journey. Most sources say that the idea of birthstones started with the Bible and Aaron’s breastplate. Aaron had 12 stones in his breastplate, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. No one knows for sure what the 12 stones were, but chances are high that they were pretty rocks, like jasper or lapis. These are rocks that were native to the area.
A first century historian named Josephus supposedly made the numeric connection between the 12 stones and the 12 months of the year. For centuries the idea was to have 12 stones, carrying a different one each month. They weren’t really birthstones because they weren’t associated with the owner’s birth. They were associated with months of the year. The individual stones were supposed to bring good luck and good health during each one’s specific month.
But somewhere along the way, the idea changed. Experts say that between the 15th and 18th centuries, people began to see themselves as having one stone, corresponding to the month of their birth, that would bring them good fortune. These stones, with a few exceptions, are very different from the birthstones of today. Have you ever heard of bloodstone? It’s an opaque green stone with red spots. It was the birthstone for March. How about sardonyx? That’s a banded, rusty brown-colored, translucent chalcedony that was the birthstone for August.
Bloodstone: March birthstone
Sardonyx: August birthstone
In 1912, Jewelers of America, an association with a definite interest in marketing gemstones, sought to standardize the list. The official list of birthstones had garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, diamond, emerald, pearl, ruby, peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz (the orange-yellow-brown kind), and turquoise. Some of the months had two birthstones, partly in deference to the traditional stones. So March had aquamarine AND bloodstone. August had peridot AND sardonyx. But, let’s face it, if you were born in March, which gem would you rather have? A transparent medium blue one or an opaque dark green one with red blemishes? It didn’t take long to drop these traditional choices.
The 1912 list has had few changes in the last 100+ years. In 1952, alexandrite was added as a birthstone for June and citrine was added as a birthstone for November. December’s traditional birthstone of lapis lazuli was replaced with blue zircon. In 2002, tanzanite, the blue-purple gemstone that had been discovered in 1967, was added to the list for December. And, most recently, in 2016, spinel was added as a birthstone for August.
Why the additions? Many people would say it’s a marketing move. Birthstones aren’t really seen as bringing good luck or good health anymore. They don’t have the significance they used to have. They’re just fun. So why not have more choices? I’m really happy for all you August babies who no longer feel confined to the yellowish-green of peridot. Spinel offers great variety! (See my blog on spinel–July 28, 2016).
So, what do we make of this idea of birthstones? To me it sounds like a complicated game of Telephone. Do you remember that game when someone whispers a phrase to someone else, and it goes around the circle? The final uttering of the phrase bears no resemblance to the original. That’s how I feel birthstones came to be. From Aaron’s breastplate to the writings of Josephus to the Jewelers’ list, it’s a crazy, convoluted path. But this is where we are and what we have. My suggestion? Adopt your favorite gemstone, the one that has meaning to you, and make it YOUR birthstone.
Amethyst: February birthstone