Australian Sapphires

a party sapphire and a teal sapphire

When one thinks of sapphires the land down under is not the first or among even the top list of countries in the world to come to mind. As the sapphire industry has come to be dominated by a number of sapphire exporting nations, with most centred in South, South East Asia and from parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Australia as a gem exporting nation is often associated with its strength in the diamond industry. As the country from Oceania over the past century has built up a strong reputation in the diamond mining and exports business, building on the back of its strength in the sourcing of valuable minerals: notably coal, iron ore and aluminium. Interestingly Australia, notably the Eastern part of the nation has become a great source of corundum gemstones: sapphires and rubies. So it may come as a surprise to some why Australia has not been recognized among the major sapphire gemstone producing nations. The simple answer is history. The development and access to mining technologies from smaller nations with vast sapphire deposits began to eat away at Australia’s lead. A country, that in the 1980s, which accounted for almost 2/3 thirds of the total supply of sapphires began to lose ground to new upstarts in Asia. In recent times the sapphire mining industry in the land down under has started to stage something of a comeback. With a growing number of large commercial and smaller sapphire suppliers entering the market. Though competition is now greater, countries in Africa and the United States also entering the fray. This is an overview of Australian sapphires, the character of their gemstones, the nature of their mining industry and some of the more recent developments that have been taking place.

What Distinguishes Australian Sapphires From the Rest?

Whilst the fundamental mineral character of sapphires are universal, sapphires gemstones in terms of their elemental character, colour tend to differ from country and region of their origin. The sapphires that are unearthed from the land down under in this regard also come with a set of characteristics. Australia, like other top gem producing countries like Ceylon (Sri Lanka), has become renowned for a certain sapphire range that is broadly distinguishable from the rest, which has started to make its way into the fine jewellery market for engagement rings. If one speaks of the distinct character sapphires, based on the country of origin, the focus tends to be on the predominance of certain features in the stones that are sourced from that particular region. Whilst there will always be outliers: those that contain characteristics that are similar to those from other parts of the world, here are features that predominate in Australian sapphires.

Darker Hues

Australian sapphires have become renowned for their darker hues, which are more pervasive in proportion to those from other countries. Since Australian sapphires tend to contain higher iron content, the variety of colours come in darker, and more distinct hues on average; such as those with deeper blue, green hues. In addition to the darker blue and green variants, Australian sapphires are also found in a variety of yellow, and deep purple shades. The distinct darker tone of sapphires from Australia has been supplemented by what has come to be a trademark variant of the Australian sapphire family: the parti sapphire.

Parti Sapphires

Parti Sapphires are an interesting addition to the sapphire family owing to the distinct character of colour that is present in the gemstone. Parti sapphires, also known as polychrome sapphires, are known for the combination of two, sometimes three colours that are present in the stone: usually blue, green and yellow. Colours are found in a variety of combinations, with the hues present at various levels of concentration, and combinations.

Distinguishing Features of Parti Sapphires

A key feature of parti sapphire is their iridescent character: Where the nature and effects of the colour(s) change according to the angle of viewing. Owing to the presence of multiple colours, this effect is far more pronounced in Australia. Another feature of parti sapphires is the nature of colour zoning. Colour zoning, or the concentration of colours in certain parts of the gemstone, is often viewed as an undesirable trait in most gemstones, particularly in sapphire varieties. However, in parti sapphires, colour zoning works in the gemstone’s favour, as it helps supplement the varying colour intensities that present throughout the gemstone, producing a disco or mirror ball-like effect. However the quality and economic value of this variant in the sapphire family, despite its unique characteristics, is determined by the main factors that affect a sapphire’s quality: Its carat, cut, clarity and colour.

Wattle or Mimosa Sapphire

Within the popular parti sapphire family, Australia has come to be known for certain unique conundrum gemstones known as the wattle or mimosa sapphire. Named after Australia’s national flower; this gemstone contains a distinct yellowish-green colour tone, that divides carefully to display its contrasting hues, producing a beautiful effect. Though the quality of the gemstone to display these features comes down to its effectiveness of its lapidary, that is able to accentuate the gemstone’s colours.

Australian Sapphire Treatment

The heat treatment of gemstones is an industry-standard practise that is employed to enhance its natural properties like colour and durability. Whilst the process of gemstone heating has a longer, more mature history in sapphire producing countries like Ceylon, Australia has also developed a distinct curing process that is suited for its sapphires. Since Australian sapphires are overwhelmingly darker in colour, the method of treating (heating) the gemstone is often focused on lightening the colour of the gemstone. Hence Australian sapphires are usually heated at lower temperatures.

How Valuable are Australian Sapphires?

When it comes to determining the value of sapphire, there are a number of factors that work into this equation. For no matter the country of origin, a sapphire’s quality and value as a gemstone is based on how well it scores when it comes to colour, clarity, cut and carat; to which there are another two variables, the country of origin and the type treatments the gemstone has undergone. Australian sapphires as noted, are known for their darker hues, which are not as rich in their intensity as one may find in, for example, Ceylon sapphires, which have become greatly valued for the richness of their natural colours. However, the deeper shades carry their unique appeal, which when combined with the efficient gem cutting, transforms the rough corundum stones into jewellery ready cut sapphires with high market value. However colour alone is not a sufficient indicator of value. For a gemstone with a lower carat, no matter how good its colour will be valued lower. So larger stones in principle are valued. This is important in parti sapphire variants whose features are more prominent in a larger stone. 

Distinct Measure of Sapphire Clarity  

Then there is the question of clarity that relates to the number and prevalence of inclusions and other unwelcome blemishes. Poor clarity in gemstone will greatly undermine its colour, and how it would interact with light, thus affecting its quality. In Australian sapphires the principles that determine the value of sapphires with respect to clarity still hold. However what differentiates certain Australian sapphire varieties like parti sapphires, is how clarity is measured, since the value that is associated with parti sapphire variant is different from a single-coloured gemstone, since the ability of the stone to reflect its colours as it interacts with light values more. So when seeking a valuable Australian sapphire, like a dual coloured parti sapphire with strong colours, one is must analyse its in relation to the stone’s clarity, cut, colour and carat.

Advantages of Purchasing Australian Sapphires

The decision to go for Australian sapphires will come down to a number of factors. As noted, Australian sapphires are known for the darker colours, in addition to the presence of novel multi-coloured varieties like the parti sapphires, and those with rarer hues like the wattle parti sapphire variant. So if one wishes to go for a darker sapphire tone Australian sapphires are a good choice. However there a few other factors that make sapphires from this part of the world stand out.


So for those looking for distinct deep blue tones or sapphire that is darker blue, but also come with green shade Australian sapphires are a good choice. Even yellow and purple sapphire varieties can be found in darker hues. The other key advantage is the price. Australian sapphires, owing to the dominance of sapphires from parts of Asia that tend to have richer hues and hence the higher prices, tend to be a more affordable option. Whilst this would depend on the quality of the select gemstone; however on average Australian sapphires are a better bet when it comes to value, with respect to darker gemstones.

Are Australian Sapphires an Ethical Option?

Then there is the country of origin question. In this context, it applies to the nature of the business processes and the legal environment that surrounds them. Australia like the United States is a developed country, hence it is renowned for its strong laws and regulations when it comes to mining and other practices. Hence those who are ethically minded might be tempted to consider sapphires that are mined from the land down under. However, this factor alone is not a reliable guarantor of the stones’ ethicality. As countries like Ceylon have built up a strong reputation in sourcing quality, ethical sapphires. However for those gemstone seekers, especially Australian nationals who want a national option, then those that provide local sapphires as gemstones or in jewellery are the way to go.

Sapphire Mining in Australia

Most of Australia’s sapphires are sourced from the Eastern regions of the country. With the States of Queensland and New South Wales being the main centres for extraction. The Corundum mineral from which sapphire and rubies are made, form deep in the Earth's crust and are brought to the surface in igneous rocks, which then combine with other chemical elements which are present in the same environment, whose combination contributes to their colour. In Australia, in the Eastern parts of the country, where basaltic rocks that result from volcanic activity are prevalent, have been a major source of corundum gemstones. With the gemstone bearing ingenious rocks, such as basalt carry mineral remnants, including precious stones. 

Famous Australian Sapphires

Despite its long, but less known history in the sapphire mining industry, Australia has not always been recognized for its source of world-renowned corundum gemstones. However, Australia owing to the fact that it has been a top gemstone exporter, in its time has produced some world-class stones. Two notable Australian sapphires that have gained fame are the Tomahawk Tiger sapphire and the Black Star of Queensland. The Tomahawk Tiger sapphire is yellow in colour, with notable dark shades giving the impression of the fur of the tiger. This gemstone measures 43mm in length and weighs nearly 83 carats. The sapphire was found in Tomahawk creek, Victoria in 1976; and is a special gemstone, which is known to have no inclusions. The Black Star of Queensland is a monster 733-carat rough cut (also known as cabochon) sapphire. The story behind the Black Star of Queensland is an interesting one. It started out with its accidental discovery in 1938 by a young boy named Roy Spencer. He found the gem in Klondyke Ridge, New South Wales; but the find was dismissed by his famous father, a renowned mineral expert. Eventually, the stone’s value was recognized and it was sold to two Armenian Brothers for almost $18,000. The near priceless gemstone eventually found its way into the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, in 1969, and is worth tens of millions of dollars.