Could sapphire screens make smartphones crack-proof?

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Here’s an idea with some real value.

Smartphones of the future might be coated in industrial sapphire instead of glass -- it's made from corundum, one of the hardest natural minerals in the world, second only to diamonds.

The lab-grown substance, made by GT Advanced Technologies, is a natural for today's smartphones given its scratch-proof properties. The company claims GT ASF Grown Sapphire is about two and a half times the strength and scratch resistance of the popular Gorilla Glass, which is currently used to protect iPhones and other high-tech smartphones.

It's virtually scratch-free," said Jeff Nestel-Patt, marketing director for the company.

And screens wearing these gems may come as early as this year, said Eric Virey, an analyst for market research firm Yole Developpement

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“I’m convinced that some will start testing the water and release some high-end smartphones using sapphire in 2013,” Virey said.

Nearly unbreakable smartphone screens would be a welcome change for anyone who’s ever dropped a new Android-powered gizmo or iPhone only to watch their expensive gadget crack or shatter.

But let the buyer beware: Sapphire-fronted smartphones are likely to be even more expensive. Gorilla Glass screens cost less than $3, according to Technology Review, while a sapphire display could about $30.

Expensive, yes. But that’s an asset you can hold in your hand.