Created by sunshine after a storm, a natural explosion of color from darkness, the rainbow has become a universal symbol of hope, peace and unity. In ancient cultures, it represented the trace of the gods crossing the heavens, a bridge between our world and the next, a divine promise for the future. Today, the rainbow has become the motif of diversity, equality and social change. It’s no surprise, then, that rainbow jewels — particularly those with rainbow sapphires — are currently so on point.
For British designer Stephen Webster, it’s part of a fast-tracked revival stemming from world events. “Look at how things have emerged from last year — at the change in inequality that was so needed, but nothing ever happened. It takes something massive like a pandemic to create a real revolution. The message of rainbow jewelry is that it’s for everyone.”
He points to rainbow sapphires as “the most obvious gems” for getting the full spectrum of color. “They’re very inclusive and very beautiful, and people are going to embrace them as part of the zeitgeist. I made my first rainbow sapphire tennis bracelet in the ’80s and thought it was a phenomenal concept back then. The time feels right that they’ve come back now.”
And come back they have, more delightful and dynamic than ever. Whereas once it was all about standardized selections and lines of calibrated, channel-set squares — step and princess cuts being the easiest to match across sizes and colors — today’s rainbow jewels offer a spectrum of choice. New cuts, new designs, new gradations — and this time, almost anything goes.
From pavé to palette
In high jewelry, the classics continue. Both Dior and Fabergé are offering rainbow rings as a neon-ized take on the traditional eternity band. “The rainbow trend is here to stay,” says Antony Lindsay, managing director at Fabergé. “The spectrum of colors is fun and lively, and the combination of colors together is perfect for incorporating into everyday wear.”
Elsewhere, it’s not just about lines. A number of British jewelers are leading the way in integrating a kaleidoscope of color into their designs, using sapphires like painters rather than like bricklayers.
“Sapphires come in so many colors and hues, they are like an artist’s palette,” says Vanessa Chilton, one of the trio of friends who founded UK-based brand Robinson Pelham. “With so many colors available, we are able to create textures and shapes using color pavé. We like to set our rainbow pavé in a way that leapfrogs the colors rather than merges them. We call it ‘pixelated pavé.’” The brand’s Rainbow Disco hoops utilize this technique.
In his Voyage Africa line, Webster pavé-sets vibrant sapphires and tsavorites into the bejeweled nocturnal-creature motifs of his iconic Fly By Night collection, creating a stark contrast between color and darkness.
Artist Polly Wales, who originally trained as a sculptor before turning her hand to jewelry, pioneered a “cast, not set” process in which she casts sapphires directly into the metal so they resemble an actual painter’s palette. “I also love how you can use cuts combined with colors,” she says. “It’s like mosaic work, puzzles and stained glass windows.”
‘The perfect medium’
But why so many sapphires in rainbow jewels when the choice of colored gems is more diverse than ever? The discovery of the rich and colorful Madagascar sapphire mines in the 1990s — and to some extent, the earlier deposits in Tanzania — undoubtedly assisted this stone in driving a rainbow revolution. However, the truth may be more prosaic.
“Sapphire is familiar,” says Webster. “Everyone knows the blue variety, but for many people, the extra colors are a wonderful surprise. They fulfill an enthusiasm for education along with the beauty of the material. From the technical perspective, to be able to go to one material and find everything you’re looking for, that really blows people away.”
To many jewelry lovers, sapphire already means something, so new colors — rather than new concepts — are easy on consumer comfort zones as well as on the eye.
For Wales, the added incentive of durability makes sapphire a win-win proposition. Because of her casting process, she can only use good-quality stones that will survive the heat the procedure entails. “Color is so important and central to what I do, so it was such a joy to realize that with sapphires, I could use the full rainbow of colors. Sapphires naturally became the perfect medium for me.”
Hong Kong designer Shahina Hatta produces her own line of rainbow and ombré, or gradient, sapphire jewels. For her clients, the range and variety of colored sapphires expand the scope of design and personal choices.
“Everyone has different taste,” she remarks. “Some prefer more saturation, some softer tones. Sapphire is the only gem family that really allows this in terms of color, quality, availability and price.”
She also sees the rise of the rainbow as the spirit of the age. “In the current economic and political climate, people are looking for something colorful to uplift their mood. People love rainbows and unicorns and mermaids — they’re vibrant and fun — and sapphires fulfill that fairy tale.”