Sapphire: A Celebration of Color

Book Review by Eric J. Hoffman


   By Joanna Hardy (Robert Violette, Ed.). Thames & Hudson in association with Violette Editions in partnership with Gemfields. Hardcover, 332 pgs., color illus. $125



   This gorgeous book, hefty in size and broad in scope, is a companion to the author’s two earlier volumes, one on emerald and one on ruby. The book’s 328 pages cover sapphire’s story from the earliest trade along the Silk Road and from ancient Ceylon up to the present day. Many of the world’s most significant sapphire creations are illustrated.

   Sapphire has always been a favorite of royalty, perhaps because of the ancient association with the colors blue and purple and sapphire has always been a popular choice for royal engagements. Blue sapphire, unlike its red version ruby, is not imitated by any other natural stone. However, sapphire is not always blue; attractive colors include yellow, pink, and the rare orange pink padparadscha. Marvelous examples of royal jewelry and regalia are shown—some previously unseen—all with the finest and largest sapphires, and accompanied by the fascinating stories behind them. What substitutes for royalty in America— Hollywood stars—is similarly covered in its own chapter.

   Star sapphires receive a dedicated chapter. Sapphire’s asterism is caused by microscopic rutile needles aligned with the crystal’s hexagonal symmetry. Some large and beautiful examples are shown and discussed.

   Carved sapphires are especially intriguing, and difficult to work given the stone’s extreme hardness, second only to diamond among the natural stones. Several examples are illustrated.

   One chapter covers where sapphires are found, roughly one page per location (Sri Lanka requires two pages).

   Sapphire jewelry from all the famous houses-- Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, and others-- are here as well as stunning examples from designers and ateliers possibly less familiar to you.

   A one-page afterword by Georgina Izzard (but in a very small font) briefly reviews sapphire’s gemology, including a quick mention of treatments.

   There is much incredible photography throughout. Yet some of the pictures are printed too small to fully appreciate the detail of the pieces shown, unusual for such a large book. Also, blue sapphire photographed on a black background is not always the wisest choice. On the other hand, several full-size pages of stunning photomicrographs of sapphire inclusions appear at the beginning and end.

   This is a book all lovers of fine jewelry and gems will enjoy.






Antennae Reversible Necklace, one-of-a kind, Van Cleef & Arpels, 2021. Set with 154 Madagascan sapphires collected over two years by Van Cleef & Arpel’s gemologists. The sapphires are set in articulated bezels to drape like fabric at the neck. Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels.







The crown of Blanche of Lancster (1392-1409), part of her dowry
when she married Louis III.


Copyright © 2022 by Eric J. Hoffman (Home Page)

Originally published in ASJRA Newsletter, April 2022