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Articles from GEMSTONES - SAPPHIRE (52 Articles), GEMSTONES - RUBY (15 Articles)

Examples of Cornflower blue and Pigeon’s blood. Image courtesy: Greg C Grace
Examples of Cornflower blue and Pigeon’s blood. Image courtesy: Greg C Grace

Pigeon’s blood and cornflowers: the truth behind gemstone colours

Many people have heard the terms ‘pigeon’s blood’ ruby and ‘cornflower blue’ sapphire but what do these descriptions mean? MEGAN AUSTIN explores some of the most famous gemstone colours in history and where they originate.

The practice of romanticising gemstone colours dates back hundreds of years and forms an easy reference for consumers who are searching for high-value gemstones of fine to extra-fine quality.

Most of these colour descriptions decline specifics, instead referring to a range because interpretation of colour differs from person to person. Even though the science behind colour is simple enough, an individual’s perception of it is affected by several factors.

Many colour descriptions started out as folklore but have crossed over into modern usage. It’s important to note that some gemmological associations and industry members remain opposed to these terms because they are highly subjective. While laboratories may use these terms, it doesn’t mean that there is a worldwide consensus on their definition. Today, many worldwide laboratories have adopted these descriptions, including the Gemmological Institute of America (GIA), American Gemmological Laboratories (AGL) and the Gem Research Swisslab (GRS). Here are some definitions.

Pigeon’s blood – This colour type is traditionally used to describe the finest and rarest-quality Burmese rubies from Mogok. Presently, laboratories attribute this colour to rubies from a variety of sources, including Burma, Madagascar and Mozambique. The use of the term pigeon’s blood dates back to 1829 when the colour was likened to that of a live pigeon’s eye. Although some industry experts describe pigeon’s blood as pure, vivid red with a soft, glowing-red fluorescence, others allow a slightly purplish to pinkish overtone.

Royal red – Traditionally called ‘rabbit’s blood’, this colour is a shade darker than pigeon’s blood and is pure red. Generally speaking, these rubies contain less iron, resulting in less ‘glow’ or fluorescence. These rubies can originate from Vietnam, Mozambique, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania or Madagascar. There are other red descriptions out there, including crimson, scarlet red and deep red.

Cornflower blue – Normally used to describe Ceylon sapphire, this is the colour of the cornflower that lies between lighter pastel blues and the deeper, more intense peacock and royal blues.

Royal blue – This describes a sapphire of vivid blue violet with a deep tone, traditionally hailing from Burma’s Mogok Stone Tract. Today sapphires of this colour are also found in Madagascar, Tanzania and Cambodia. Royal blue is comparable to the finest blue of tanzanite and is sometimes called vivid blue.

Indigo blue - This is deep in tone but slightly lighter in saturation than peacock and royal blue. Sapphires of this colour originate from basaltic sources such as those found in Australia, China, Nigeria and Thailand.

Padparadscha – Originally attributed to sapphires discovered in Sri Lanka, the word padparadscha is derived from the Sri Lankan Singhalese word ‘padmaraga’, meaning lotus blossom, a species of flower that is soft pastel orangey-pink. Later sources include Madagascar and Tanzania and today this term is used to describe a subtle mixture of pinkish orange to orangey pink with pastel tones and low to medium saturations.

For courses on the fascinating world of gemstones, visit

Megan Austin

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

Duraflex Group Australia

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