Color Change Magic
One of the most fascinating gemstones throughout history is alexandrite: a gem variety of the mineral chrysoberyl that actually changes color from green in daylight to red in incandescent light. The first time you see it, it is hard to believe your eyes! Gems that show special optical effects are known as phenomenal stones.
Chrysoberyl dominates this category, because not only is alexandrite the most spectacular color change gem, cat's-eye chrysoberyl has the most dramatic eye. Alexandrite has a distinguished and glamorous past: it was discovered in 1830 in Czarist Russia. Since the old Russian imperial colors are red and green it was named after Czar Alexander II on the occasion of his coming of age.
Alexandrite can be found in jewels of the period as it was well loved by the Russian master jewelers. Master gemologist George Kunz of Tiffany was a fan of alexandrite and the company produced many rings featuring fine alexandrite in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including some set in platinum from the twenties. Some Victorian jewelry from England features sets of small alexandrites.
Alexandrite is also sometimes available as an unset stone but it is extremely rare in fine qualities. The original source in Russia's Ural Mountains has long since closed after producing for only a few decades and only a few stones can be found on the market today. Material with a certificate of Russian origin is still particularly valued by the trade. Some alexandrite is found in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and Brazil but very little shows a dramatic color change. For many years, alexandrite was almost impossible to find because there was so little available.
Then in 1987, a new find of alexandrite was made in Brazil at a locality called Hematita. The Hematita alexandrite shows a striking and attractive color change from raspberry red to bluish green. Although alexandrite remains extremely rare and expensive, the production of a limited amount of new material means a new generation of jewelers and collectors have been exposed to this beautiful gemstone, creating an upsurge in popularity and demand.
When evaluating alexandrite, pay the most attention to the color change: the more dramatic and complete the shift from red to green, without the bleeding through of brown from one color to the next, the more rare and valuable the stone. The other important value factors are the attractiveness of the two colors - the more intense the better - the clarity, and the cutting quality. Because of the rarity of this gemstone, large sizes command very high premiums.
A Royal Purple
Purple has long been considered a royal color so it is not surprising that amethyst has been so much in demand during history. Fine amethysts are featured in the British Crown Jewels and were also a favorite of Catherine the Great and Egyptian royalty. Amethyst, transparent purple quartz, is the most important quartz variety used in jewelry.
Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that amethyst was able to dissipate evil thoughts and quicken the intelligence (it obviously worked pretty well for him!)
Because amethyst was thought to encourage celibacy and symbolize piety, amethyst was very important in the ornamentation of Catholic and other churches in the Middle Ages. It was, in particular, considered to be the stone of bishops and bishops still often wear amethyst rings.
In Tibet, amethyst is considered to be sacred to Buddha and rosaries are often fashioned from it.
The Greek work "amethystos" basically can be translated as "not drunken." Amethyst was considered to be a strong antidote against drunkenness, which is why wine goblets were often carved from it! The gemstone still symbolizes sobriety.
The legend of the origin of amethyst comes from Greek myths. Dionysus, the god of intoxication, was angered one day by an insult from a mere mortal and swore revenge on the next mortal that crossed his path, creating fierce tigers to carry out his wish. Along came unsuspecting Amethyst, a beautiful young maiden on her way to pay tribute to the goddess Diana. Diana turned Amethyst into a stature of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The god's tears stained the quartz purple, creating the gem we know today.
Amethyst ranges in color from pale lilac to deep purple. The pale colors are sometimes called "Rose de France" and can be seen set in Victorian jewelry. The deep colors are the most valuable, particularly a rich purple with rose flashes.
Amethyst is mined in Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina in South America and Zambia, Namibia, and other African countries.
Generally, amethyst from South America tends to be available in larger sizes than African amethyst but amethyst from Africa has the reputation for having better, more saturated, color in small sizes. Very dark amethyst, mostly in small sizes, is also mined in Australia.
Amethyst is available in a wide range of calibrated sizes and shapes, including many fancy shapes. Large fine stones may be sold in free sizes but generally amethyst is cut in standardized dimensions.
Spinning Purple into Gold
Do you love both the purple of amethyst and the sunny gold of citrine? Are you a rabid Minnesota Vikings fan? I have the perfect gem for you! Sometimes amethyst and citrine colors are found in the same crystal of quartz. These bicolor yellow and purple quartz gemstones are called ametrine.
With ametrine, you can have both gem colors for the price of one! Ametrine is especially inexpensive when you consider that it comes from only one mine in the world.
The Anahi Mine in Bolivia is the major world producer of ametrine. The mine first became famous in the seventeenth century when a Spanish conquistador received it as a dowry when he married a princess from the Ayoreos tribe named Anahi. Ametrine was introduced to Europe through the conquistador's gifts to the Spanish queen.
Ametrine is most typically faceted in a rectangular shape with a 50/50 pairing of amethyst and citrine. Sometimes a checkerboard pattern of facets is added to the top to increase light reflection. Ametrine can also be cut to blend the two colors so that the resulting stone is a mix of yellow, purple, and peach tones throughout the stone. Ametrine is also popular among artistic cutters and carvers who play with the colors, creating landscapes in the stone.
Ametrine is a very durable gemstone suited for a variety of jewelry uses. Most sizes and shapes are available but the color contrast is most pronounced in sizes over seven carats.
So why compromise when you can have two varieties of quartz for the price of one!
Gem of the Sea
Aquamarine, the gem of the sea, is named with the Greek word for sea water. The reference is obvious: aqua sparkles like the sea and it color is pale to medium blue, sometimes with a slight hint of green. Aquamarine is the birthstone for March.
Legends say that it is the treasure of mermaids, with the power to keep sailors safe at sea. Aquamarine is said to be a particularly strong charm when immersed in water (which is a good thing, since that is when sailors need its power most!)
Aquamarine was also said to have a soothing influence on land, especially on married couples. Its power to help husbands and wives work out their differences and ensure a long and happy marriage makes it a good anniversary gift. Aquamarine also protects against the wiles of the devil. A dream of aquamarine means that you will meet new friends.
Aquamarine is found in Brazil, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, and other countries.
Aquamarine is always a pastel blue but the darker the color, the more valued it is. Connoisseurs also prefer a pure blue, with no green in it. If you prefer a greenish tinge, you will find that these stones are less expensive.
Because the color is generally pale, aquamarine should have a good clarity. These stones are often cut in ovals and emerald cuts. More saturated colors are unusual in small sizes: usually it takes some size for the color to hold in a darker shade.
Aquamarine is a durable and lively gemstone that is appropriate for all jewelry uses. Its pale fire is flattering to most skin tones: even if you are not a mermaid, you will want to add it to your treasure chest.
Citrine is one of the most affordable gemstones, thanks to the durability and availability of this golden quartz. Named from the French name for lemon,"citron," many citrines have a juicy lemon color.
Citrine includes yellow to gold to orange brown shades of transparent quartz. Sunny and affordable, citrine can brighten almost any jewelry style, blending especially well with the yellow gleam of polished gold.
In ancient times, citrine was carried as a protection against snake venom and evil thoughts.
Although the darker, orange colors of citrine, sometimes called Madeira citrine after the color of the wine, has generally been the most valued color, in modern times, many people prefer the bright lemony shades which mix better with pastel colors. Citrine is generally more inexpensive than amethyst and is also available in a wide range of calibrated sizes and shapes, including very large sizes.
Most citrine is mined in Brazil. Supply of citrine is good from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, particularly from the Serra mine, which is producing 300 kilos a month of hammered goods. The Ira' mine produces an additional 100 kilos a month of hammered goods.
Sometimes you will hear citrine referred to as topaz quartz, which is incorrect. This name was used in the past in reference to the color, which is sometimes similar to the color of topaz. Since topaz is a separate mineral, this type of name can be confusing and should not be used. However, citrine is considered an alternative to topaz as the birthstone for November.
Since most citrine on the market started its life as amethyst which was heated to turn its color to gold, citrine jewelry, as well as amethyst jewelry, should be kept away from prolonged exposure to strong light or heat. With this precaution, citrine jewelry will last for many generations.
Gem of Eternal Spring
Because the rich green color of emerald is the color of spring, the ancients prized it as the gemstone symbolizing love and rebirth. Treasured for at least 4,000 years by different cultures all around the world, emerald is said to quicken the intelligence as well as the heart. Legend gives its owner the gift of eloquence.
Cleopatra prized her emeralds more than any other gem. She may have dropped her pearls in her wine for Mark Anthony but she kept her emeralds for herself! The ancient emerald mines of Cleopatra, long a mystery, were discovered again a hundred years ago near the Red Sea. Some tools found in the mine were dated at 1650 B.C. but no quality emeralds were found: the mines were exhausted thousands of years ago. Mummies in ancient Egypt were often buried with an emerald on their necks carved with the symbol for verdure, flourishing greenness, to symbolize eternal youth.
The Romans also loved emeralds because, as ancient scholar Pliny said, "nothing greens greener." Pliny said that emerald was the only gem which delighted the eye without fatiguing it. He said his eyes were restored when gazing at emerald. Emperor Nero wore emerald sunglasses to watch the gladiators.
One legend says that Satan lost the emerald from his crown when he fell. The emerald was shaped into a bowl which the Queen of Sheba sent to Nicodemus. Christ used the bowl at the last supper and Joseph of Arimathea used the bowl to catch blood from the cross, founding the order of the Holy Grail.
The Moguls of India, including Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, loved emeralds so much they inscribed them with sacred text and wore them as talismans. Some of these sacred stones, called Mogul emeralds, can still be seen in museums and collections today.
Emerald is the birthstone for May, the month of springtime romance, and the anniversary gemstone for the twentieth year of marriage, the perfect emblem of an enduring love.
Gem for All Seasons
The oranges of autumn leaves, the glowing red coals of a winter fire, the sparkling green of a summer field, and the beautiful pinks and of spring flowers, garnet is a gemstone for all seasons. garnets are a closely related group of gemstones that are available in every color but blue. Dark reds, tangerine orange, vivid lime green, soft bluish-pink, garnet is all these colors and more.
There are garnets that change color in different light, translucent green garnets that look like jade, garnets with stars, garnets that have been mined for thousands of years and garnets that were just discovered in the last decade.
Garnets have long been carried by travellers to protect against accidents far from home. In ancient Asia and the American Southwest, garnets were used as bullets because the glowing red color was said to increase the ferocity of a wound. Garnets in legend light up the night and protect their owners from nightmares. Noah used a garnet lantern to navigate the Ark at night. The ancient world is full of praise for the carbuncle, the glowing red coal of a gemstone we now know as garnet.
The name garnet probably comes from pomegranate. Many ancient pieces of garnet jewelry are studded with tiny red stones that do look a lot like a cluster of pomegranate seeds! Jewelry set with garnets from Czechoslovakia was extremely popular in the nineteenth century and Bohemian garnet jewelry is still popular today, although today the garnets are mined elsewhere. When you say garnet, most people think automatically of small dark red gemstones, even though this is only one corner of the world of garnets.
Garnet is the birthstone for January, which means that January babies have a lot of choices! Varieties available, some mineral differences and some color descriptions, include rhodolite, malaya, demantoid, grossular, hessonite, spessartite, hessonite, almandine, mandarin, and combinations beteen these varieties.
One of the most popular is rhodolite garnet which ranges from pink to purplish red in color and is mined in Africa, India and Sri Lanka. Tsavorite garnet is a bright yellow green to grass green, and is mined in Tanzania and Kenya. Legendary demantoid garnet combines a bright green with dazzling brilliance that won over the Tsars of Russia, who used it lavishly. Unfortunately demantoid garnet was only ever available in small sizes and is extremely rare today.
Malaya garnet, another popular mixed variety, ranges from orange to gold and is mined in Tanzania and Kenya. Pyrope garnet is a very saturated red: beautiful small pyrope garnets found in Arizona are called anthill garnet because they are mined by ants, who carry them up when they are excavating their anthills.
One garnet growing in popularity is a newly discovered garnet from Namibia, which is a bright orange spessartite, is called mandarin garnet because its color is a true orange. Hessonite and Spessarite garnets mostly come in golds, oranges and browns that are sometimes called cinnamon garnets. Grossular, the variety of garnets that gives us tsavorite, also is available in pale pinks and greens and yellows.
Garnets are fairly hard and durable gemstones that are ideal for jewelry use, except for demantoid, which is softer and requires more protection.
In jewelry design as in fashion, colors look crisper against a background of black and black and white always looks right. In fine jewelry, the black backdrop is often supplied by onyx, a chalcedony quartz with a fine texture and black color. Some onyx also displays white bands or ribbons against a black background. If the layers are even, this type of onyx can be carved into cameos.
Onyx was very popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The name comes from the Greek word onux, which means fingernail. The story is that one day frisky Cupid cut the divine fingernails of Venus with an arrowhead while she was sleeping. He left the clippings scattered on the sand and the fates turned them into stone so that no part of the heavenly body would ever perish. True, black isn't normally the color one associates with fingernails. (Did Venus wear Vamp?) But in Greek times, almost all colors of chalcedony from fingernail white to dark brown and black were called onyx. Later, the Romans narrowed the term to refer to black and dark brown colors only.
Onyx which is reddish brown and white is known as sardonyx. Sardonyx was highly valued in Rome, especially for seals, because it was said to never stick to the wax. Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio was known for wearing lots of sardonyx.
Black onyx especially shines when used as a backdrop for color play. Its fine texture also makes it ideal for carving, making it a favored material for today's lapidary artists. Onyx was often used as the perfect foil for carved rock crystal or the drop dead red of rubies in Art deco designs. It is also popular in marcasite jewelry. So if you would like to add a little black magic to your jewelry design, consider onyx.
Mysterious opals contain the wonders of the skies - sparking rainbows, fireworks, and lightning - shifting and moving in their depths. Opal has been treasured throughout history around the world. Archaeologist Louis Leakey found six-thousand year old opal artifacts in a cave in Kenya!
Roman historian Pliny described the beauty of opal as the combination of the beauty of all other gems: "There is in them a softer fire than the ruby, there is the brilliant purple of the amethyst, and the sea green of the emerald - all shining together in incredible union. Some by their splendor rival the colors of the painters, others the flame of burning sulphur or of fire quickened by oil." Opal was much loved and valued highly by the Romans, who called it opalus.
At the same time, opal was also sought in what would become the Americas. The Aztecs mined opal in South and Central America.
Opal was also treasured in the Middle Ages and was called ophthalmios, or eye stone, due to a widespread belief that it was beneficial to eyesight. Blonde women wore opal necklaces to protect their hair from losing its color. Some thought the opal's effect on sight could render the wearer invisible. They were recommended for thieves!
One gemstone is born in fire: peridot, the volcanic gem. Small crystals of peridot are often found in the rocks created by volcanoes and also can be found in meteors that fall to earth! A few samples of extraterrestrial peridot have even been faceted into gems! Peridot is the gem form of the mineral olivine. Because the iron which creates the color is an integral part of its structure, it is found only in green, ranging from a summery light yellowish green to a 7-up bottle green.
Peridot is the birthstone for August. Peridot was mined in ancient Egypt on an island called Zeberget. Mining was done at night because legend said that peridot could not be easily seen during the day. The island was infested with serpents who made peridot mining a very dangerous occupation until one Pharoh finally had them all driven into the sea. The Romans called peridot "evening emerald," since its green color did not darken at night but was still visible by lamplight. Peridot later was also often used to decorate medieval churches, probably carried back to Europe by the Crusaders. Large peridots, more than 200 carats in size, adorn the shrine of the three magi at the Cologne Cathedral. Peridot had the power to drive away evil spirits and the power was considered to be even more intense when the stone was set in gold.
Peridot was also said to strengthen the power of any medicine drunk from goblets carved from the gemstone. Today most peridot is mined by Native Americans in Arizona on the San Carlos Reservation. Fine large peridot are found in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and peridot is also mined in China and Sri Lanka.
In 1994, an exciting new deposit of peridot was discovered in Pakistan that is among the finest ever seen. The new mine is located 15,000 feet above sea level in the Nanga Parbat region in the far west of the Himalaya Mountains in the Pakistanian part of Kashmir. Beautiful large crystals of peridot were found, some that cut magnificent large gemstones. One stone was more than 300 carats! This new discovery, combined with fashion's passion for lime green, has revived interest in peridot and increased the popularity of this gemstone.
Although peridot is treasured in Hawaii as the goddess Pele's tears, almost all of the peridot sold in Hawaii today is from Arizona, although peridot is produced by Hawaii's volcanoes. The island of Oahu even has beaches made out of olivine grains but unfortunately they are much too small to cut into.
King of Precious Stones
Ruby has been the world's most valued gemstone for thousands of years. Ruby was said to be the most precious of the twelve stones God created when he created all things and this "lord of gems" was placed on Aaron's neck by God's command. The bible says that wisdom is "more precious than rubies," that is to say very valuable indeed. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, ruby is called ratnaraj, or "king of precious stones" and ratnanayaka, "leader of precious stones."
In fact, rubies are today still more valuable and rare than even the top quality colorless diamonds. The record price for a ruby sold at auction is a 16 carat ruby which sold for US$227,301 per carat at Sotheby's in 1988. A 27.37 carat Burmese ruby ring sold for US$4 million at Sotheby's in Geneva in May 1995, or $146,145 per carat. A 32 carat ruby sold for US$144,000 per carat at Sotheby's in 1989. In contrast, eight D-color internally flawless diamonds over 50 carats have been sold in the past six years and the largest, a pear-shape of 102 carats, fetched a mere US$125,000 per carat. Top rubies are so rare even the world's top gem dealers must incessantly comb estate sales and auctions to find them. Sizes above five carats are particularly rare.
Ruby is the gem quality of the mineral corundum, one of the most durable minerals which exists, a crystalline form of aluminium oxide. Corundum has a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale and is also extremely tough. In its common form, it is even used as an abrasive.
Gem of the Heavens
Sapphire, the celestial gemstone, has been treasured for thousands of years. The ancient Persians believed that the earth rested on a giant sapphire and its reflection colored the sky. Sapphire is found in all the colors of the heavens: from midnight blue to the bright blue of noon sky in the Mediterranean, golden sunrise to firey reddish-orange sunsets, and the delicate violet of twilight. The most famous and valuable sapphires are a rich intense blue, a truly royal hue.
The Truest Blue Sapphire has long symbolized truth, sincerity, and faithfulness. Tradition holds that Moses was given the ten commandments on tablets of sapphire, making it the most sacred gemstone. Because sapphires represent divine favor, they were the gemstone of choice for kings and high priests. The British Crown Jewels are full of large blue sapphires, the symbol of pure and wise rulers.
Since sapphire symbolizes sincerity and faithfulness, it is an excellent choice for an engagement ring. When Prince Charles chose a sapphire engagement ring for Princess Diana, couples all over the world were inspired to revive this venerable tradition.
Sapphire is also the birthstone for September, the month when the most babies are born. Ancient lists also name sapphire as a birthstone for April and the gemstone for the sign of Taurus.
"Fine blue sapphires are tremendously undervalued," says David Federman, United States author of Consumer Guide to Colored Gemstones and other gem books. "Fine Kashmir and Burma sapphires are much rarer than Burma rubies and yet they are available for much less. Even fine Sri Lankan sapphires are rare to see these days. There is nothing more restful to the soul than a fine sapphire."
Gem of the Setting Sun
The Egyptians said that topaz was colored with the golden glow of the mighty sun god Ra. This made topaz a very powerful amulet that protected the faithful against harm. The Romans associated topaz with Jupiter, who also is the god of the sun. Topaz sometimes has the amber gold of fine cognac or the blush of a peach and all the beautiful warm browns and oranges in between. Some rare and exceptional topaz are pale pink to a sherry red.
Wear topaz only if you wish to be clear-sighted: legend has it that it dispels all enchantment and helps to improve eyesight as well! The ancient Greeks believed that it had the power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink. Its mystical curative powers waxed and waned with the phases of the moon: it was said to cure insomnia, asthma, and hemorrhages.
Perhaps the most famous topaz is a giant specimen set in the Portuguese Crown, the Braganza, which was fist thought to be a diamond. There is also a beautiful topaz set in the Green Vault in Dresden, one of the world's important gem collections.
Brown, yellow, orange, sherry, red and pink topaz is found in Brazil and Sri Lanka. Pink topaz is found in Pakistan and Russia.
Today we also have blue topaz, which has a pale to medium blue color created by irradiation. Pale topaz which is enhanced to become blue is found in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and China.
Topaz is a very hard gemstone but it can be split with a single blow, a trait it shares with diamond. As a result it should be protected from hard knocks.
Blue topaz is the birthstone for those born in the month of December.
Most Colorful Gem
Tourmaline's name comes from the Sinhalese word "turmali," which means "mixed." Bright rainbow collections of gemstone varieties were called "turmali" parcels. Tourmaline, occurring in more colors and combinations of colors than any other gemstone variety, lives up to its name. There is a tourmaline that looks like almost any other gemstone! Many stones in the Russian Crown jewels from the 17th Century once thought to be rubies are actually tourmalines.
Perhaps this is why this gemstone is said to encourage artistic intuition: it has many faces and expresses every mood.
The Empress Dowager Tz'u Hsi, the last Empress of China, loved pink tourmaline and bought almost a ton of it from the new Himalaya Mine, located a long way from the Middle Country in California. The Himalaya Mine is still producing tourmaline today but the Dowager went to rest eternally on a carved tourmaline pillow.
Tourmaline is also of interest to scientists because it changes its electrical charge when heated. It becomes a polarized crystalline magnet and can attract light objects. This property was noticed long ago before science could explain it: in the Netherlands, tourmalines were called "aschentrekkers" because they attracted ashes and could be used to clean pipes!
Tourmaline occurs in every color of the rainbow and combinations of two or three colors. Bicolor and tricolor tourmalines, with bands of colors are very popular. Sometimes the colors are at different ends of the crystal and sometimes there is one color in the heart of the crystal and another around the outside. One color combination, pink center with a green rind, is called "watermelon tourmaline" (seedless, of course!) Sometimes designers set slices of the crystal instead of faceted stones to show off this phenomenon.
Almost every color of tourmaline can be found in Brazil, especially in Minas Gerais and Bahia. Pink and green colors are particularly popular. In 1989, miners discovered tourmaline unlike any that had ever been seen before. The new type of tourmaline, which soon became known as Paraiba tourmaline, came in incredibly vivid blues and greens. The demand and excitement for this new material, which soon fetched more than $10,000 per carat, earned more respect for the other colors of tourmaline.
Pink and green tourmaline are now widely available and are especially popular in designer jewelry. Blue tourmalines are also very much in demand but the supply is more limited.
Tourmalines are most often cut in long rectangular shapes because of their long and narrow crystal shape. Tourmaline crystals are beautiful, pencil thin and ridged, and they are also sometimes set in jewelry. Some designers also set rainbows of tourmaline in each color of the spectrum. Tourmaline is strongly pleochroic: the darkest color is always seen looking down the axis of the crystal.
In addition to Brazil, tourmaline is also mined in Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and California and Maine in the United States. Maine produces beautifule sherbet colors of torumaline and spectacular minty greens. California is known for perfect pinks, as well as beautiful bicolors.
One particularly beautiful variety is chrome tourmaline, a rare type of tourmaline from Tanzania which occurs in a very rich green color caused by chromium, the same element which causes the green in emerald.
Tourmaline is a hard and durable gemstone which can withstand years of wear. You might want to avoid steam cleaning or heat (unless of course you need to clean your pipe!)