Until the early 20th century, the color of ruby was considered to range from the very palest pink to the deepest blood red. In fact, pink is just a low saturation of the color red. For example, if you put one drop of blood red dye in a glass and fill it with water, it will look pink. It was Western gemologists who started calling light colored rubies “pink sapphires” in the early 1900's, and the term continues to be used by many dealers and gemstone identification laboratories to this day.
Fine example of unheated pink Madagascar sapphire - AsiaLounges Collection
Currently, the world’s biggest sources for pink sapphire are Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Sri Lanka has been producing these lovely gems for over 2,000 years, while Madagascar and Vietnam are relatively new sources dating back to only a few decades. First mistaken for garnets, fine pink sapphires have been mined in Ilakaka, Madagascar since their discovery in 1998.
Example of a Pink Garnet that may have been at the root of people mistaking sapphires and garnets in the past - AsiaLounges Collection
Although references to rubies being found in Vietnam date back to 1899, the discovery of commercial quantities of rubies and pink sapphires at Luc Yen in the far north of Vietnam, during the late 1980's, was a welcome surprise to the international gemological community. The first gems to come out of this new mine source were of such high quality that many dealers, and even some highly respected gemstone identification laboratories thought they were from Burma. Many of the pink sapphires from Vietnam often possess an intensity that earns them the description “Hot Pink”, and even today they are commonly mistaken for Burmese gems. The very top quality is described as “Fuchsia”, a vivid purplish pink color named after the treasured flower from France.
Pink sapphires from Sri Lanka and Madagascar tend to be softer, less saturated colors than those from Vietnam, although one does occasionally encounter a hot pink. Madagascar and Sri Lanka pinks are also generally cleaner and brighter than those from Vietnam.
Without a doubt, the Queen sapphires is the famous Padparadcha, most often found in Sri Lanka. This highly prized and extremely rare gem is actually a delicate mixture of pink and orange together in the same stone. This is the only color in the sapphire group which has its own special name. Although associated with Ceylon throughout history, this color combination is also found on rare occasion in other gem bearing localities around the world.
Example of a Vietnamese Padparadcha sapphire - AsiaLounges Collection
The name Padparadcha originates from the Sanskrit or Sinhalese word Padmaraga, which describes the color of the lotus blossom. Although the lotus flower is light to medium pink and lacks any orange tint, Most Sri Lankan and non-Sri Lankan gemstone dealers around the world generally agree on the pink/orange mix of colors in order to earn the prized name of Padparadcha.
Production from the Luc Yen area of Vietnam has fallen considerably in recent years making pink sapphires from this source increasingly difficult to find. The Sri Lankan governments policy of only allowing hand mining also restricts the supply of these lovely gems, and production from Madagascar has slowed to only a small trickle.
Example of fine natural unheated fancy color Madagascar Sapphire - AsiaLounges Collection
The question remains, just where does one draw the line between ruby and pink sapphire? In the end, it is up to the buyer to decide what to call their pink gemstone. Coincidentally, the two rarest and most valuable colors in the pink sapphire group, Padparadcha sapphire from Sri Lanka and the Fuchsia colored sapphire from Vietnam are both named after flowers. Unlike flowers, the beauty, desirability, rarity and value of these precious gemstones will last forever.
©Jeffery L Bergman, SSEF SGC