A Guide to the History of Sapphire: 10 Legends and Myths

| 5 min read

Sapphires are steeped in myth and legend. How many of them do you know?

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1 – The Royal Gemstone

Sapphires have long been associated with the British Royal Family. Sapphires feature in the Crown Jewels, and very famously, Princess Diana’s engagement ring that was passed down to Princess Catherine was a Ceylon Sapphire.

But did you know that Sapphire’s reputation as a regal gem dates back to around the 2nd Century AD? At around this time, it was said that kings wore Sapphires around their neck to protect them from harm.

2 – Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks associated Sapphire with the god Apollo. At the famous oracle at Delphi, Sapphires were often worn due to the belief that Sapphires are connected to the spirit world. Later on, Sapphires were popular with necromancers and witches due to their supposed ability to tap into the ‘third eye’.

3 – Ancient Persia

Ancient Persians had a belief that Blue Sapphires were actually chips from a huge pedestal that supported the earth, the reflections of which coloured the sky blue.

4 – Hindu Mythology

In Hindu Mythology, the Kalpavriksha is a wish-fulfilling divine tree, described as being made up of precious stones. The fruit of the tree are Rubies, the base of the trunk is Diamond, and the roots of the tree are made of precious Sapphires.

5 – Ecclesiastical Sapphires

Sapphires are mentioned many times throughout the Bible. From the 12th Century onwards, Sapphires began to be associated with the clergy. This was in part due to an ancient tradition that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on a slab of Sapphire – although we now know that this belief probably referred to Lapis Lazuli.

The other reason Sapphires were popular with clergy was that it was associated with chastity, as well as being seen as a sanctified gem: ‘The Sapphire was like the pure sky, and mighty Nature had endowed it with so great a power that it might be called sacred and the gem of gems.’

‘The Sapphire was like the pure sky, and mighty Nature had endowed it with so great a power that it might be called sacred and the gem of gems.’

6 – Healing

Along with being seen as a sacred gem, Sapphires were often associated with healing. They were said to act as an antidote to poisons, but they were especially used to heal eye complaints. The first recorded mention of this dates back to 1391, but the Ancient Egyptians used all blue gemstones for this same purpose.

Charles V was known to wear a Sapphire set in a ring to touch people’s eyes and cure them of diseases, and several Pontiffs had similar items.

7 – Star Sapphires

Star Sapphires were especially shrouded in mystical properties – ‘The Asteria, or Star Sapphire, might be called a ‘Stone of Destiny’, as the three cross-bars which traverse it are believed to represent Faith, Hope, and Destiny. As the stone is moved, or the light changes, a living star appears. [The Sapphire is known to be] a guiding gem, warding off ill omen and the Evil Eye’.

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8 – Mme de Genlis

Mme de Genlis, a popular 19th Century French writer, used a Colour Change Sapphire as a plot device in her story ‘Le Saphire Merveilleux’, which was based on a real gemstone. In the story, a Sapphire is used to determine the guilt of an adulteress. The supposed adulteress is told to hold the magical Sapphire, and that if they’re guilty the Sapphire will change colour during their trial.

If the Sapphire’s owner wishes the woman to be found innocent, he sets the trial for daylight hours. If the owner wishes the woman found guilty, he times it for early evening so that candles have to be lit in the courtroom as the sun sets. The Sapphire will show a change of colour and the woman is found guilty.

9 – A Cursed Sapphire

The Star of India is one of the most famous of all gemstones. A 563 carat Star Sapphire, one of the largest ever discovered, it has a fascinating history, and some have speculated that it is cursed.

J P Morgan, a wealthy banker, commissioned George Frederick Kunz, the esteemed gemmologist, to assemble some of the most spectacular gems in the world for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Kunz didn’t disappoint. The Star of India was amongst the gemstones he procured for the occasion. After the Exposition, Morgan donated the gems to the American Museum of Natural History. It resided there quite peacefully until 1964.

On October 29th, a group headed by Jack ‘Murph the Surf’ Murphy, stole the Star of India and a collection of other gems, in what was an infamous heist in its day.

During the Museum’s opening hours, the gang had unlocked a bathroom window. After dark, they crawled in, and found that the Star of India was the only item in the collection that was alarmed. Luckily for them, the alarm had run out of batteries. They made off with gems worth over $400,000 (over $3 million today).

The Star of India was uninsured, but luckily the gang were captured two days later. They led police to a Miami bus station locker, where the Star of India was recovered, and returned to the museum, fortunately unharmed from its escapade.

10 – Birthstone

Although Sapphire is September’s birthstone, it is also linked to the star sign Taurus:

If on your hand this stone you bind,

You in Taurus born will find,

‘Twill cure diseases of the mind,

The Sapphire.

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