Synthetic Sapphires in Antiques Jewelry by Stan Shelley

Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2018 at 3:32 pm by Shelley's

In the classic book, Animal Farm author George Orwell makes the statement, “All pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others.”

The same is true of sapphires. Obviously, some have better color or clarity than others. But, of course, the biggest difference is natural versus synthetic. First, let’s make sure we understand what a synthetic sapphire is. Sapphires are in the corundum family of gemstones. Synthetic sapphires are man-made corundum. They have EXACTLY the same crystal structure as natural sapphires. They are real sapphires made by human beings in laboratories rather than made by nature in the earth.

Synthetic sapphires were first made commercially in 1903 and they almost immediately took a position in the marketplace. Perhaps you have seen filigree Art Deco rings from the 1920s which have sapphire side gems like baguettes. Even when there is a nice center diamond, these accent pieces are often synthetic.

Look at these two images. Figure 1 has sapphires that are synthetic while Figure 2 uses natural sapphires around the center diamond.  Either in the photo or in person, it is impossible to tell which sapphires are natural and which are synthetic without gemological analysis.

What is the impact on value?  In the case of the vintage Deco pieces above the effect is negligible. As the sapphires get larger they have a bigger impact on the value of the jewelry. If the sapphire is large and is the centerpiece of the jewelry then the price is greatly reduced. But sometimes this can actually work in favor of the buyer. Consider the ring in Figure 3 below:

This is a platinum Deco ring with a center diamond of over one carat. When we first saw it we were instantly in love. It is a stunning ring. Normally the sapphires in a ring like this would be natural and they would add significantly to the price of an already pricey ring. Fortunately, before we bought it, we had a chance to examine the ring and we were surprised to learn that all six sapphires are synthetic. As a result, we are able to sell for, much, much less than it would cost if the sapphires were natural and yet the stunning look is uncompromised.

At Shelley's Jewelry we have multiple certificates and titles in gemology and appraising, but additionally, we have hands-on experience.  We have looked at literally thousands of sapphires and nothing can replace that kind of experience.  View more sapphire pieces