Here are ten of the
WORLD’S RAREST and
MOST EXCLUSIVE GEMSTONE SPECIES,
listed in no particular order except that the most expensive one is at the
bottom. I’ve excluded stones that are too soft to wear, hazardous, or just
plain uninteresting. Some of the following are surprisingly affordable,
simply because the general public doesn’t know or care about them and thus
demand is relatively weak.
PAINITE has in years past been described by the Guinness Book of
World Records as the rarest gem mineral. As of early 2005 there were eighteen
known specimens, all numbered and accounted for. Specimen No. 5 has been faceted
into an oval and weighs 2.54 carats. Pricing can be fickle with such oddities, but in
2011 I saw a very fine one on sale for about $1800.00 per carat.
Painite is pink to red to brown in color, very strongly pleochroic
(showing different hues from different angles) and it fluoresces a lovely green
under short wave UV. It comes from Mogok and Kachin State in Myanmar and was
named after its discoverer, British gemologist
Arthur Charles Davy Pain.
not to be confused with serandite, is a cyan colored stone that comes from
Sri Lanka. It boasts an unusually complex formula consisting of calcium,
magnesium, aluminum, silicon, boron and oxygen. So far there exist three
faceted specimens of 0.35 carats, 0.55 carats and 0.56 carats. The first two
were discovered by rare stone specialist D. P. Gunasekera and purchased by
the late Prof. E. J. Gübelin of Switzerland. The larger of those two is
shown to the left; the smaller was sold for about $14,300.00 per carat. The
name comes from the old Arabic term for Sri Lanka, Serendib, as referenced in
The Sixth Voyage of Sinbad and elsewhere.
A faceted 3-carat purple gemstone from
Magok, Myanmar, was discovered to be a
POUDRETTEITE in 2000. By December
2004 nine more gem-quality pieces had been found there, including a pale pink one that
has been faceted to 9.41 carats. The
sample shown to the right is 5.05 carats.
At a Mohs hardness of 5 poudretteite is the softest stone on this list — too
scratchable for a ring but suitable for earrings, a pin or a pendant if care is
exercised. Previously this substance had been known as a rare mineral of tiny
colorless crystals, discovered in 1987 and named after the Poudrette family that
operated the source quarry at Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec.
GRANDIDIERITE is a bluish green mineral found primarily in Madagascar. The
first and so far only clean faceted specimen, from Sri Lanka, was originally
mistaken for a serendibite and subsequently purchased in May 2000 by Prof.
Gübelin from Murray Burford. Shown to the right, it weighs 0.29 carats.
Grandidierite is trichroic, transmitting blue, green and white light. The
mineral is named after French explorer and natural historian Alfred
Grandidier, who among other things unearthed bones from the extinct half-ton
elephant bird in Ambolisatra, Madagascar.
JEREMEJEVITE, pronounced ye-REM-ay-ev-ite, is a colorless, sky blue or pale
yellow stone, the highest quality of which comes from Namibia. In nature it occurs
in small obelisk-shaped crystals and has in the past been mistaken for aquamarine.
It was named after Russian mineralogist Pavel Jeremejev [Павел Еремеев] who discovered the mineral
in 1883. Prices for eye-clean specimens hover around $1400.00 per carat.
The oval-cut sample at near left, provided by Jehan Fernando, weighs 59.58 carats (23.8 x 21.8 x 16.3 mm).
Closely related to emerald and aquamarine, but vastly rarer than either, is
BERYL. Mineralogist Maynard Bixby discovered this treasure in an area
near Beaver, Utah in 1904. Since that time it has been commonly known as bixbite
in his honor; but since the term can be so easily confused with bixbyite, a
different mineral also named for Bixby, the World Jewelry Confederation
now strongly discourages it.
Beryl is a compound of beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. As with most
gemstones its various colors derive from trace metals: in this case iron for
aquamarine and golden beryl, chromium (and sometimes vanadium) for green beryl
and emerald, cesium and lithium for pezzottaite, and manganese for morganite and
red beryl. Like emerald, facetable quality red beryl generally comes with mild to
moderate inclusions which simply add to its visual novelty and make each stone
Sources are limited to several small plots in Utah which have always proven
excruciatingly difficult to exploit economically, so supply is strained at best.
According to some published estimates, ruby of similar caliber is
around 8000 times as plentiful. So even at $2,000 to $10,0001 per carat, many
might consider red beryl quite underpriced.
TAAFFEITE, pronounced TAH-fite, is a mauve to purple to red stone named
after Bohemian-Irish gemologist Richard Taaffe who discovered the first one from a box of
Sri Lankan spinels in 1945.
The stone displayed a double refraction which was uncharacteristic of spinel. If you could
round up all the faceted
taaffeites currently in existence they would fill about
half a cup. Of the rarest red variety there are fewer than ten specimens.
Clean colorless-to-mauve stones go for between $500.00 and $4000.00 per carat depending on the
color strength, cheap for something that is literally over a million times scarcer
than diamond. The record holder appears to be the 9.31-carat specimen shown to the
right [site at link currently under reconstruction].
There is another species
chemically and optically similar to taaffeite,
MUSGRAVITE, which is even
rarer. Facetable musgravite was first reported in 1993; as of 2005 there were
eight such specimens, three of those identified by Murray Burford. The
mineral was discovered in 1967 at the Musgrave Range in South Australia, but
has since then turned up in Greenland, Madagascar and even Antarctica. It’s
not unlikely that some stones thought to be taaffeites by their owners are
actually musgravites. Micro-Raman spectroscopy, which uses a green laser, can
quite handily distinguish the two.
found only in San Benito County, California. The stone is a strong blue with
a dispersion similar to that of diamond, and fluoresces an intense blue-white
under UV light. The largest faceted
benitoite weighs 15.42 carats, but stones
over one carat are rare. In 1974 someone stole a flawless 6.52-carat pear-shaped specimen
from the Zurich airport and it’s still missing. (I wouldn’t hold out much hope. They
probably fenced it by cutting it down into two or more smaller stones.) In 1985
designated the state gemstone of California. Like taaffeite, benitoite in
small sizes goes for between $500.00 and $2000.00 per carat.
How’s this for a Scrooge McDuck fantasy: Imagine you’re the first human on
record to witness an erupting kimberlite pipe. Along with an earsplitting roar
you’d see a kind of geyser shoot into the sky and shower the immediate area with
sand, stones, and what would appear to be fragments of glass.2
Though the most recent such event likely dates back at least 10 million years,
DIAMONDS, in general, are not at all rare. Annual world production of gem-quality
diamond exceeds sixty million carats. This equals twelve metric tons and would fill
about 145 bushel baskets. (Keep that in mind the next time you pony up several grand
for an engagement ring stone.)
But strongly colored diamonds, called fancies, can be genuinely scarce. About one
carat out of every 10,000 sold is a fancy. These shades include yellow, green, blue,
orange, brown (“champagne”), purple, gray, black (called carbonado,
recently shown to be meteoric), milky white, pink and red. Red is by far the rarest.
There are around thirty-five red diamonds currently known and most weigh under half a
carat. The largest is the Moussaieff Red at 5.11 carats, cut from a 14-carat rough
found by a Brazilian farmer and displayed at the Smithsonian in 2003. Per carat prices
for natural, untreated
red diamonds have so far ranged from about $800,000.00
to $1.9 million which makes this substance one of the world’s most concentrated
nonradiological forms of wealth. Most of the time these stones are unavailable at any
price, though there were reports in 2002 of a new discovery in the Lipetsk
region of Russia.
1. Red beryls at the high end of this range will be large, exceedingly clear, and deeply colored. Proper certification would be essential, though, since there’s similarly clear, chemically identical red beryl coming out of factories for around $7.00 per carat rough. (It can be distinguished from the natural article microscopically.)
2. Speaking of such things, here’s a volcano that spews GOLD (stale link alert).
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|Text © Peter Blinn
Jeremejevite (emerald cut) and red beryl photos: courtesy Steve Perry Gems;
jeremejevite (oval cut) photo: courtesy Jehan Fernando;
left taaffeite photo: courtesy 1001 Originals;
right taaffeite photo: courtesy Jeffery Bergman of www.primagem.com;
musgravite photo: courtesy Chada Soph;
painite photo: Wimon Manorotkul, courtesy Mark Kaufman;
serendibite and grandidierite photo & info: courtesy Murray Burford of www.sinhalite.com;
benitoite gemcutting & photo: courtesy Robert Spomer of Buena Vista Gem Works.
Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482) portrait is by an unidentified Northern Renaissance painter.