Whether you’re fortunate enough to own a sapphire engagement ring, necklace, or another piece of sapphire jewellery, proper care is essential to maintain their lustre and beauty for generations to come. In this comprehensive sapphire care and cleaning guide, we’ll explore the essential steps to ensure your sapphires continue to shine brilliantly for generations to come.
Sapphire Hardness and Toughness
Sapphires owe their popularity to two distinct but interconnected qualities: hardness and toughness. These qualities not only define sapphires but also influence their various applications in jewellery and beyond.
To truly appreciate sapphire’s exceptional hardness, we turn to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. This scale, developed by Friedrich Mohs in 1812, rates minerals from 1 (the softest) to 10 (the hardest) based on their ability to resist scratches from other minerals. Diamonds, the hardest natural substance, top the scale with a rating of 10, while sapphires and rubies, both members of the corundum family, share a rating of 9. Their impressive hardness means they are highly resistant to surface abrasions and scratches. When it comes to everyday wear, sapphire jewellery, particularly engagement rings, remains largely unscathed, preserving the gem’s inherent brilliance.
While hardness addresses resistance to scratches, toughness pertains to a gem’s ability to endure physical stress and resist breaking or shattering upon impact. Sapphires exhibit excellent toughness. They can withstand accidental knocks and bumps, making them less prone to chipping or fracturing compared to some other gemstones. This resilience adds to their suitability for jewellery designed for daily wear.
Sapphire Chemical and Physical Stability
One of the key factors contributing to sapphire’s stability is its chemical resilience. Sapphires, composed primarily of aluminum oxide (Al2O3), are highly resistant to chemical attack by acids, bases, and common solvents. This property makes them impervious to the corrosive effects of everyday substances.
Sapphires can endure exposure to household chemicals, such as cleaning agents and cosmetics, without suffering from discolouration, degradation, or etching. This chemical stability ensures that sapphire jewellery retains its brilliance and lustre over time, even with daily wear and occasional contact with various substances.
In addition to chemical stability, sapphires exhibit remarkable physical stability. Sapphires can withstand extreme temperatures without undergoing significant changes in their physical properties. This resistance to thermal shock makes sapphires suitable for use in high-temperature environments, such as gas burners, scientific instruments, and industrial applications.
Sapphires possess a well-defined crystal structure characterized by hexagonal prisms and flat, smooth surfaces. This consistent structure enhances their optical properties, ensuring that sapphires refract and reflect light consistently, resulting in the captivating play of colours and brilliance that defines these gemstones.
Sapphire Care and Cleaning
Regularly cleaning your sapphire jewellery is crucial to remove dirt, oils, and residue that can dull its shine. To clean your sapphire jewellery, begin by creating a gentle cleaning solution. Mix a few drops of mild dishwashing detergent with lukewarm water. Next, soak your sapphire jewellery in the soapy water for a few minutes. This helps loosen any trapped debris. Now, use a soft-bristle brush, like a toothbrush, to gently scrub the sapphire and its setting. Pay attention to hard-to-reach areas to ensure thorough cleaning. After, rinse the jewellery thoroughly under running lukewarm water until all soap residue is removed. Finally, pat the jewellery dry with a clean, lint-free cloth, and polish it to restore its natural shine.
For untreated, heat-treated, or lattice diffusion-treated sapphires, ultrasonic and steam cleaners can be considered safe options when used with caution. On the other hand, for sapphires that have been fracture-filled, cavity-filled, or dyed, it’s best to err on the side of caution by cleaning them solely with a damp cloth.
While sapphires are highly resistant to chemicals, it’s best to avoid exposing them to harsh substances like chlorine, bleach, or abrasive cleaning solutions. These chemicals can dull the gem’s brilliance or harm the metal settings.
When your sapphire jewellery is not in use, store each piece separately in a fabric-lined jewellery box or pouch. This prevents them from coming into contact with other jewellery, reducing the risk of scratches and damage.
Periodically inspect your sapphire jewellery for loose stones or signs of wear and tear. If you notice any issues, have your jewellery inspected and serviced by a professional jeweller.
Treatment and Durability Considerations
Sapphires deserve special attention in terms of care, cleaning, and durability related to their treatment methods. Understanding how these factors interconnect is essential to ensure the long-lasting allure of your sapphire jewellery.
Untreated and heat-treated sapphires are celebrated for their exceptional durability. These sapphires have not undergone any treatments that may affect their internal structure. As a result, they retain their remarkable hardness and toughness, making them ideal for daily wear and long-term durability.
Lattice diffusion treatment is a process that introduces elements like beryllium to alter a sapphire’s colour. It’s important to note that this treatment can result in varying degrees of colour penetration. In some sapphires, the treated colour may penetrate the entire stone, while in others, it may be limited to shallow depths. However, there’s a critical consideration for sapphires treated with lattice diffusion: surface damage or re-cutting can remove the treated colour, particularly in stones with shallow colour penetration. This means that extra care is needed when handling and cleaning these sapphires to preserve their intended appearance.
Fracture-filled sapphires have surface-reaching fractures filled primarily with high-lead content glass. While this treatment can enhance their clarity, it introduces an element of caution in care and cleaning. The filler used in fracture-filled sapphires is sensitive to contact with various chemicals. Even relatively mild substances like lemon juice can alter the high-lead content glass. Therefore, it’s imperative to avoid exposing these sapphires to potentially damaging chemicals.
The surface-reaching fractures in fracture-filled sapphires make them more vulnerable to damage from impacts or abrasive substances. Special care is necessary to prevent chipping or cracking.
Featured image: Byjeng / Canva