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Scientists found a way to improve sapphire extraction

Diamonds are forever, but there is a larger variety of natural precious stones that people pay huge amounts of money for. For example, high-quality sapphires that are so desirable that even Queen Elizabeth II wears them on special occasions. However, they are hard to find, but that is about to change as a new research from the University of British Columbia is promising a breakthrough.

Blue sapphire is the most desirable, but this gemstone can be pink, clear or even yellow. Image credit: Gemsphoto via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Those little stones are rather pretty, whether you like jewellery or not. And, of course, they are hugely expensive as demand for them is spectacularly high. This new research from UBC is promising to make them easier to find. Canada’s only known deposit of sapphires is near Kimmirut, Baffin Island. It is a quite peculiar place, because of marble-related deposit that hosts these gems. Scientists say that conditions and circumstances have to be very specific for the sapphires stones to form – it is a recipe of sorts that nature has to follow to make these precious little rocks.

Scientists looked into the formation of sapphires in the area to see what conditions where necessary. Essentially, they wanted to know the recipe so that they could locate other spots where similar conditions occurred and thus they could be rich in sapphire as well. Researchers say that temperature and pressure had to be very specific so that formation of precious gems in marble-related deposits in the area would be possible. They recorded these conditions and set out to look through Earth’s history to see where conditions were similar. And, sure enough, scientists managed to pinpoint several locations in Canada that are promising in terms of sapphire deposits.

These locations are near a fault that separates the Lake Harbour Group and Narsajuaq terranes. Scientists believe that this geologically peculiar location could be decently rich in sapphire – enough so that extraction would be financially viable. UBC mineralogist Lee Groat, one of the authors of the study, said: “This research has enabled us to identify the areas of greatest potential for Kimmirut-type sapphire deposits in southern Baffin Island, which will facilitate gemstone exploration in this part of the Arctic. But it’s also a deposit model that can be applied to exploration worldwide”.

The most desirable sapphire is obviously the blue one, but there are some other colours too. In fact, sapphire can be completely transparent as well, showing no colour whatsoever. Synthetic sapphire is used by industry to make glass for watches and, in some rare cases, smartphones. Sapphire is also useful in electronics, but, of course, it is mostly used for jewellery. Sapphires range in price from US$200 to $2,000 per carat – an impressive price range, but some other precious stones are much more expensive.

You should not think that this research has no implications for you. In one way or another you use sapphire as well – in your electronics, medical equipment or maybe in your wrist watch. Also, Queen will be happier to know that there are more of her beloved stones that can be extracted in Canada.

 

Source: University of British Columbia

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