Where to Find the Gem World’s Finest Sunsets

Talk about a crazy schedule! In the past two weeks, I’ve flown across the country twice, making pit stops in Puerto Rico, New York City, Los Angeles, and, as of this past weekend, five states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey—that figured into a mostly-for-pleasure road trip.

As you can imagine, my days have been exceptionally varied. My conversations, however, have had a few recurring themes: One esoteric gemstone, the intriguingly named padparadscha (pronounced pod-pa-rod-sha) sapphire, has come up on a couple of occasions. And because it’s a personal favorite of mine, this seemed like a good opportunity to remind readers why it’s so special.

The crux of my fascination with “pads” boils down to this conviction: Over the course of my 13 years covering the gem and jewelry business, I’ve run across many exotic stones, but if you were to ask me what stone I’d nominate as the most exotic of all, padparadscha would be it.

Padparadscha is “a rare and valuable pinkish-orange sapphire named from the Sinhalese for lotus blossom,” according to GIA’s excellent Gem Encyclopedia. It’s one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it colors. Historically, the gem has been sourced in Sri Lanka, although in recent years, the Tanzanians have turned out some striking specimens.

After hearing dealers wax poetic about the gem, however, you’ll come to understand, like I did, that padparadscha’s appeal is about so much more than its unusual hue and exotic pedigree.

“While lotus flowers occur in many colors, the original species was pinkish orange,” according to a write-up on the website of gem dealer Mayer & Watt. “A Padparadscha sapphire is a delicate blend of these two colors. The effect is breathtaking—as magical as a tropical sunset. However, unlike tropical sunsets, Padparadscha sapphires are exceedingly rare.”

In the past two weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a couple specimens up close and personal. One encounter with the gem took place at the beautiful Bond Street boutique of Mish Tworkowski, whose Mish New York brand of jewels is sought after by socialites and gem collectors.

Mish showed me a new pair of earrings he designed featuring two “pads” of 6.34 cts. t.w., cut in elongated cushion shapes, and framed by two rows of pavé sapphires in shades of apricot. At $68,000, the earrings are a good indicator of how expensive padparadschas can be—and why.

Ava earrings with 6.34 cts. t.w. padparadscha sapphires in 18k rose gold with two hues of apricot sapphire pavé; $68,000; Mish New York. (photo courtesy of Mish New York)

“They’re way rarer than rubies,” says Walter McTeigue, cofounder of McTeigue & McClelland, a fine jeweler based in Great Barrington, Mass. Last Friday, the “Mc2” boutique was where I saw my next padparadscha specimen.

As we talked about the fine gemstones that distinguish the Mc2 oeuvre, my eyes were drawn to a box of sapphires Walter had brought out from the back office and placed on the glass showcase. It contained 25 loose corundum specimens, ranging in color from red (aka ruby) to pink to yellow to orange to green. (The blues got their own box.)

A box of sapphires at the McTeigue & McClelland boutique in Great Barrington, Mass., shows the gem’s diverse color spectrum. One stone, on the far left, third row down, was everything I had come to look for in a padparadscha sapphire: a bright and saturated lozenge colored equal parts pink and orange.

Listening to Walter explain how difficult (read: impossible) it would be to find 10 matching padparadscha stones—as opposed to 10 matching diamonds or rubies—I was reminded of how this remarkable stone with its singular blend of rarity, beauty, and durability (sapphires are a 9 on the Mohs scale) is the quintessential gem: It’s the perfect distillation of Mother Nature’s alchemy.

Of course, humans have attempted their own alchemy to fool buyers into believing heat-treated sapphires are natural padparadschas. The issue surfaced around 2001, when the labs identified a diffusion process involving beryllium that was used to enhance the color of certain stones. Scores of buyers in Japan, where padparadschas go for a premium, were duped into paying the same prices they typically pay for all-natural goods. The tainted stones trickled into Tucson, and the market was abuzz with speculation about who was selling the treated goods, and whether or not they had disclosed the treatment.

The labs were able to get the situation under control and today, pads once again command the prices they deserve. If my hunch is right, we’ll be seeing more of them next year, not because there will be a rush of them coming out of the ground, but because stones already in the market will be recognized for their attributes and shared with the world rather than being socked away in a safety deposit box.

At least that’s my sincere hope—I’m thoroughly obsessed with the gem. While researching this blog, for example, I stumbled across a Pinterest page devoted to padparadschas and now I’m on the verge of being sucked into a vortex of pretty, sunset-colored images from which there’s no escape. (But who’s complaining?!)