The word sapphire is derived from the Syriac saphilah, a name which indicates the same stone in this Eastern tongue.
In commerce there are four different stones that bear the name of sapphire:--
Oriental Sapphire. Sapphire of Puy.
Brazilian Sapphire. Water Sapphire.
The three first are corundums, and consequently true sapphires. The last is a coloured quartz, and a stone of but trifling value.
The oriental sapphire has been known from earliest antiquity. It was one of the precious stones that had place in the breastplate of Aaron. To the ancients it was the gem of gems, the sacred stone par excellence. The Greeks dedicated it to Apollo.
The first sapphires that reached Europe came from Arabia; later they were imported from Persia. At the present day they are found principally in Arabia and the Brazils; and the productions of both these countries are called oriental sapphires.
There are certain sapphires, generally of a pale colour, which, when examined under the microscope, exhibit thread-like shafts directed towards the faces of the six-sided prism; these threads are produced by foreign substances, or by vacuities left among the molecules at the moment of their crystallization. The light reflected upon them forms a star of six rays, extremely beautiful and remarkable. Sapphires of this kind are called asteria sapphires, or star sapphires.
The orientals have a deep veneration for the star sapphire; and M. D'Abbadie, in his travels in Africa, often commanded the respect of the natives by allowing a stone of this kind, which he always carried with him, to exhibit its magical beauty to their astonished eyes.
A stone of a yellow-green tint, exhibiting a similar phenomenon, is brought from Ceylon. It is called the Cat's Eye. Threads of white asbestos are inclosed within it, and the light is reflected from these in an intense manner. When this stone is cut en cabochon, a white band of light is seen floating in its interior, that changes position as the gem is moved before the eye.
The sapphire of Puy is found in the rivulets of Expilly. Its colour varies from the deepest to the palest blue; sometimes it passes to a reddish blue, or even to a yellowish green. Its composition is not always homogeneous; and the specimens which display the finest water are those in which the tint verges upon green. They are found in ferruginous sand produced by decomposition of basaltic rocks.
Fig. 57 is a view of the mountain of Expilly, where the sapphires of Puy are found.
Among the celebrated sapphires we must mention above all that which figured in the famous "affair of the necklace."
Found in Bengal by a poor man who sold wooden spoons, it was brought to Europe, and bought by the house of Raspoli at Rome. Later it became the property of a German prince, who sold it to Perret, a Parisian jeweller, for $31,620. This beautiful stone, without blemish or faults of any kind, weighed 133 1/6 carats. It formed afterwards part of the riches of the Museum of Natural History at Paris.
This museum possesses another sapphire of exquisite beauty and exceptional size. It is oval, and measures two inches by one and a half.
A very beautiful star sapphire belongs to one of the merchant princes of New York; and in England, among the jewels of Miss Burdett Coutts, are two magnificent sapphires estimated at $139,500.
In the Hope collection--among several fine specimens of this gem--is a stone called the "Marvellous Sapphire," which is blue by day and amethystine at night. This gem is said to have afforded the foundation of one of Madame de Genlis' stories.
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Precious Stones Guide Vol 2
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