1.5ct Australian sapphire from LOFT.bijoux collection
Are you looking for a sapphire for your engagement ring or heirloom jewel? Are you curious to know more about their provenance, colors, prices? Are you someone who is looking for more ethical, ecologic and sustainable jewelry? Today we'll take you to another side of the world, Australia. LOFT.bijoux is happy to work with Australian sapphires here, in Montreal, Quebec and to ship our high-end jewelry worldwide from our Montreal boutique. Olga Leclair, our in-house gemologist spends many hours selecting and working with Australian sapphires every week and is happy to share with you the knowledge and experience.
Mining map of Australian sapphires
Gold miners along the Cudgegong and Macquarie rivers in New South Wales first unearthed sapphires in Australia in 1851. Subsequently, reports emerged of sapphire discoveries in the New England area of New South Wales, but it wasn't until 1919 that commercial mining commenced in the region. The production of sapphires in eastern Australia remained modest until the advent of mechanized mining in the late 1950s.
Discover why Australian sapphires are set in a lot of the Russian crown jewels and many pieces of jewelry belonging to the aristocracy
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a significant portion of Australia's sapphires and rubies found their way to Europe, primarily because a considerable number of miners in the Central Queensland gem fields had their origins in Russia. This led to Australian gems, including sapphires, adorning the Russian crown jewels and numerous pieces of jewelry owned by Russian nobility. Following the Russian revolution in 1917, the sapphire industry experienced a downturn, resulting in a reduced number of miners in the Australian sapphire fields.
In 1968, the Queensland government allocated land specifically for small-scale sapphire miners, prospectors, and gem collectors in response to growing interest from tourists and gem buyers, particularly from Thailand. The 1970s witnessed a surge in mining activities employing heavy machinery, leading to a modest mining boom in the sapphire fields of Queensland. By the 1980s, Australia was a dominant source, contributing approximately 70% of the world's sapphires, with New South Wales being a primary contributor.
Following the late 1970s, sapphire production in Queensland experienced a decline, coinciding with the emergence of new sources in Thailand and Madagascar. However, renewed interest in mining the area developed after the 2004 resolution of the Native Title Agreement, which allows for direct negotiations between indigenous landowners and miner (according to the Natural Sapphire Company).
As other countries increasingly adopted machine-assisted mining, Australia's market share declined to approximately 20-30% in recent times (according to Geoscience Australia).
Scenery around sapphire mines, Pierres de Charme
Welcome to the behind-the-scenes of Australian sapphire mining!
Our gem dealer Pierres de Charme kindly shared with us some images and information from their last trip to the mines.
They met Mr. Wilson who operates one of Australia's largest sapphire mines, which lays about 20 km from the city of Inverell in the middle of cornfields and wind farms. The Inverell–Glen Innes region is one of the world’s main suppliers of sapphires.
The mine employs a dozen people who operate trucks, excavators and other machinery.
Mining equipment, Pierres de Charme
1. The first step is to dig the black soil on the surface in order to reuse it once the process is complete
2. The mines are not deep - the sapphires are quite close to the surface, about 6-7 meters deep. They were carried over by rivers hundreds of years ago. We find them mixed with clay.
3. The shovel digs the clay that contains sapphires and dumps it over into a truck.
Mining and separating sapphires from the gravel and clay, Pierres de Charme
4. The truck empties the material on a large plate, or a conveyor, where the pieces of clay are separated with the help of a powerful water jet. The clay must undergo several steps in order to separate.
5. Large sieves then sort the rough in three different sizes.
6. The sorted rough sapphires are automatically transferred to a large padlocked box that the owner empties at the end of the day. They are then shipped to Thailand to be cut. (NB. GIA notes that the trade between the Aussies and the Thais led to the whole global sapphire industry’s current dynamics).
7. All the used water is filtered and discharged into a large pond for reuse.
8. After the process, the remaining mixture of soil and clay is reloaded into a truck and returned to the hole that was initially dug. The black soil is then added back onto the surface.
9. The field is thus ready to welcome new seeds. As the land has been turned, it is more fertile and the new crops are even better.
Gravel mixed with sapphires, Pierres de Charme
COLORS & TREATMENTS
Australian sapphires come in all kinds of sapphire colors - blue, green, teal, yellow, champagne, yellow, pink, etc. Experienced gem professionals (and enthusiasts) will know that you cannot define the provenance of the sapphire just by the color. Though, there are some typical colors, associated a lot with the Australian provenance.
We often see dark inky blue sapphires, green, yellow. It will be often gemstones with very visible color zones (when you see two-three colors in the same stone, usually a mix of green, blue, yellow). The popular now party sapphires are often coming from Australia.
The personal favorite of Olga Leclair, our in-house gemologist is the wide variety of Australian greens!
Australian sapphires with visible color zones, Pierres de Charme
Most Australian sapphires will be heat treated to improve the color. Heating is a standard treatment for sapphires, around 95% of all sapphires are heat-treated (according to GIA).
Obtaining statistics for colored precious gems is inherently challenging, but in recent years, prices for Australian sapphires have more than doubled. This surge can be attributed to both the increasing global demand for this rare material and the growing North-American trend towards more sustainable and traceable consumption.
Currently, an Australian sapphire weighing around 1 carat (approximately 6mm in rounds or ~7x5mm in oval/cushion shape) starts at roughly $900-$1000 for a nicely-looking gem of a commercial quality and can extend to $2000-$3000 for those with more unique, saturated colors, and exceptional cuts. In cases involving Royal Blue and other high-end colors certified by renowned labs, prices can escalate even further.
2ct Australian sapphire from LOFT.bijoux collection
Just like with all other sapphires, the prices are influenced by: color, tones, quality of the cut, presence of inclusions, current trends on the market, provenance, political and social conditions on sapphire mines across the world, treatment, size, necessity of finding a perfect pair, etc.
The good news is that smaller Australian sapphires (2-3-4mm) are more affordable and create great wedding bands and cluster rings.
Wedding set by LOFT.bijoux RAYOL diamond engagement ring (3950$) and LUNEL Australian sapphires and diamonds wedding band (1400$)
DISCOVER AUSTRALIAN SAPPHIRES IN OUR JEWELRY
We work a lot with Australian sapphires. Discover some of our pieces below and contact us for a personalized engagement ring or custom jewelry with Australian sapphire! We are available for appointments at our Montreal boutique and Ottawa office or for video-calls (shipping worldwide), email@example.com.