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Padparadscha Sapphire

It is almost a macho obligation these days for precious stone dealers to say they are versed in padparadscha sapphire, the rarest and most prized fancy corundum in the world.

Yet one New York lapidary, an acknowledged expert on the species, says that after nearly 25 years of experience buying padparadschas, he has seen fewer than 10 that qualify as fine specimens of this stone.

“‘Padparadscha ‘ is one of the most abused gem names I can think of,” he says. “In fact, Ceylonese dealers use it as a catch-all term for any sapphire that can’t be considered ruby.”

Given the paucity of true padparadschas, it is easy to understand why there is so much confusion in the trade about this gem. The confusion has widened in recent years as fancy sapphires in general have zoomed in popularity. And it has become even more confusing with the discovery of sapphire in Tanzania that more closely resembles Sri Lankan material. This makes the hard-line position that African padparascha is a contradiction in terms more difficult to maintain.

Meanwhile an important question remains: Just what is padparadscha?

The answer has much to do with what it’s not. This process of elimination helps to narrow sharply he number of candidates for the padparadscha category and thus reduces confusion. But be warned at the outset: Padparadscha is a gem that requires great savvy to buy.

From Sanskrit to Slang

The trade can be partially excused for its liberality with the padparadscha label. In the last 100 or so years, the term has undergone several important refinements in meaning. These are detailed in a superb article on padparadscha by gemologist Robert Crowningshield published in the spring 1983 issue of Gems and Gemology, the journal of the Gemological Institute of America. Apparently, the term “padparadscha” is derived from an ancient Sanskrit word (padmaraga) for the lotus flower and its color. From there it makes its way into Sinalhese (padmaragaya) and ultimately into German (padparaschan). When it finally surfaces as a term applied to gems in 1849, it carries a seemingly different color connotation than it does now.

A century ago, the word we know today as padparadscha referred to a ruby sub-grouping and was used to describe a pinkish-red corundum. By the time Max Bauer, the dean of gemological writers, pronounces on the gem in 1909, it has become a “reddish-yellow” fancy sapphire. In 1932, Bauer gives the gem its modern spelling and modifies his description to “orange to reddish yellow.” Today, of course, the term is more specifically associated with a pinkish-orange (some say orangy-pink) fancy sapphire. The colors red and yellow are rarely, if ever, mentioned at all.

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Padparadscha Sapphire