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A white sapphire is a colorless form of sapphire used in a wide range of jewelry as a diamond substitute. Sapphires tend to be much less expensive than diamonds, and socially conscious purchasers who are concerned about conflict diamonds can avoid political issues by purchasing sapphires instead. Most white sapphires are heat treated to obtain the desired clear color, as it is very rare to find naturally occurring white sapphires. Some may also be chemically treated, depending on the quality of the stone and its intended use.
Sapphires are a type of aluminum oxide which forms in a crystalline pattern. There are numerous uses for sapphires, ranging from industrial lasers to fine jewelry, and the stones also come in a wide range of colors, despite the traditional association with the color blue. Sapphires also come in purple, yellow, and brown, and they may have unusual properties which cause them to reflect light in a star pattern or change color under certain lighting conditions.
There are two major sources for white sapphires. Grey to light yellow natural stones may be treated to become clear, and some companies also grow their own stones, creating synthetic sapphires which are chemically identical to the real thing. A synthetic white sapphire tends to be less expensive, because consumers perceive lab-grown gems as inferior, but it may sometimes be of better quality, thanks to the controlled growing conditions. Natural sapphires are found in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, parts of Africa, the Middle East, and in the Western states of America.
Like a diamond, a white sapphire can be cut and polished to be an extremely brilliant stone, refracting light in a bright and dynamic way. White sapphires are also extremely hard, making them almost as durable as diamonds. These two traits make white sapphires a popular diamond alternative, although sapphires may not have the same cultural value that diamonds do.
When selecting a white sapphire, look for many of the same traits that you do in a diamond. The stone should be cut in a flattering way which frees the brilliance in the stone to create a bright sparkle, and the stone should be truly clear, without clouds of any other color. If size is an issue for you, you should also look for a large carat white sapphire to ensure that your needs are met.