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Articles from GEMSTONES - LOOSE (254 Articles)

Aussie gemstones: sapphire

Sapphire has played a unique role in Australia’s mining history that stretches back to the 1850s with the discovery of the first sapphire in NSW. In the first installment of a series looking at Aussie gemstones, MEGAN AUSTIN explores this home-grown treasure.
Peter Brown (courtesy Terry Coldham)
Peter Brown (courtesy Terry Coldham)

Commercial quantities of sapphire have been mined for more than 100 years. Sapphires are found in numerous locations situated along the Great Dividing Range in eastern Australia, from Tasmania to North Queensland. Major commercial deposits occur in the New England District in northern NSW – Inverell and Glenn Innes – and the Central Queensland Gemfields – Anakie, Sapphire, Rubyvale and The Willows. Mining has also occurred in Lava Plains in North Queensland.

During the period 1965 to 1985, Australia was the biggest producer of sapphire by weight in the world, most of which was processed and marketed through Thailand. More recently there has been a drop in demand from Thailand for rough Australian sapphire due to increased production of sapphire from several international fields. This has led to reduced mining activity on both the major fields; however, a few large-scale, well-established miners and several smaller mines continue to operate. 

Yellow and blue sapphires from Coolamon Mining
Yellow and blue sapphires from Coolamon Mining

A measure of increased demand for Australian sapphire is the recent start-up of a large-scale operation on the Central Queensland Gemfields, along with a new operation assessing the potential for mining at Lava Plains.

Part-time artisanal hand miners and hobby fossickers supplement these activities. Fossicking in Australia has developed into a national pastime with many lured to the gemfields in the hope of finding that big stone that will change their life.

Sapphire is a gemstone quality variety of the corundum family with the chemical formula aluminium oxide. Its high hardness – nine on Mohs scale – and excellent durability render it ideal for most types of jewellery settings. Blue is the most famous and traditional colour of sapphire; however, fancy colours such as yellow, pink, green and parti are also very popular. Parti gemstones have an amazing mixture of greens, golds and blues.

The majority of Australian production is blue in shades varying from blue-black through to fine royal blues. It is ideally suited for producing well-matched calibrated goods of a very high commercial quality, resulting in huge volumes of Australian sapphire in jewellery around the world.

Blue sapphire in ring - Peter Brown Gem Gallery Australian QLD Fields
Blue sapphire in ring - Peter Brown Gem Gallery Australian QLD Fields

On occasion, top-quality Australian blue sapphires have been misrepresented in the marketplace and sold as Thai or Cambodian material while the lower-quality material has been sold as Australian.

Australian sapphires have many attractive selling features, starting with their beauty and uniqueness. Fine blue sapphires from Reddestone Creek, NSW, and unique gold, yellow, green and parti gemstones from the Central Queensland Gemfields are a few noteworthy treasures that have been unearthed in recent times.

Australian sapphires are conflict-free and, thanks to the country’s clear legal and regulatory structure, there are no ethical or environmental concerns about the process of mining or the treatment of workers that have been reported in some African countries.The unique qualities of coloured gemstones mean each one needs to be assessed individually. Ask your supplier to source Australian goods that have a known origin.

Megan Austin

Megan Austin FGAA FGA Dip DT BA, is a gemmologist and registered valuer. She operates Megan Austin Valuations.

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Sunday, 17 November, 2019 06:13pm
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