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The Celestial Stone

In ancient Persian belief, the foundation of Earth was a giant sapphire. Because of its reflection the sky was blue. And truly, sapphires are found in all the blue shades of the sky, as well as in other colours. Actually, the basic material for the sapphire itself, the corundum, is a colourless compound of aluminium and oxygen. It is small amounts of metal that give the gems their hue. Iron and titanium make them blue, iron alone turns them yellow, and chromium makes the stone red in which case the sapphire is not a sapphire but a ruby. All the sapphires that are neither blue nor red are called fancy sapphires.

Sapphires are second only to diamonds in hardness and measure 9 on the Mohs scale. Because of this they are not only treasured as twinkling teardrops of starry-eyed angels, but also as excellent tools for cutting, polishing and abrasion. They have found use as nail files, phonograph needles, and bearings for machinery.

The beauty and durability of the sapphire is highly symbolic - in fact, there seems no end to all the things sapphires represent. Truth. Sincerity. Faithfulness. Purity of thought and soul. Divine favour since it had the colour of the sky. According to some, Moses was not given tablets made out of ordinary stone on Mount Sinai - they were sapphire. In other tales his staff was set with the gem to prove his kinship to God. Apollo, Greek god of prophesy, was another wielder of the sapphire, and all his worshippers sought to carry one.

Kings are and were most fond of the precious stones. In earlier times because they were said to protect the bearer against harm, more recently because of their symbolism and beauty. In the British Crown Jewels one can find several sapphires that represent the purity and wisdom of their bearers. Prince Charles followed this up when he offered Princess Diana a sapphire engagement ring - and much good that did.

Regardless, sapphires have been thought to ward off most bad things on this earth. They drove away impure thoughts and other temptations, which is why cardinals liked to wear them. They were antidotes to poison, and any venomous animal placed in a jar together with one of the gems would surely die. They also kept one free from captivity.

The name of the sapphire is ancient and confusing. To English it came from the Latin Sapphirus, which means blue, but this probably came from the Sanskrit sanipriya or "beloved of the planet Saturn". In Greek sappheiros was derived from the island of Sappherine in the Arabian Sea, a great source of the gems. But which came first, the stone or the name? I do not know.

The oldest sapphire mines were in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Today they are also found in India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Africa, Brazil, and the US. Sapphire is the official gemstone of Queensland and Montana. It is the birthstone of September and symbolic of more wedding anniversaries than I care to name. A sapphire can be given at any time and still produce a great sparkly grin on most people's faces.