Red hot gemstones
(Extremely rare pinkish-red Taafeite is the only gem that was first identified in cut & polished form)
Red is one of the most evocative primary colours, conjuring powerful images in our imagination of fire, heat, excitement and passion. So it is little wonder that the most popular colour for high performance cars (not least Ferraris) is red! It is also the reason why red gemstones are so hotly desired and their ‘redness’ is often compared to the colouration of blood, such as “pigeon’s blood” rubies. The scientific reason for the deep red colouration of ruby is found in the chemical composition of its crystals, whose high chromium and low iron content combine to form a fusion of deep colour. An interesting characteristic of the ruby is caused by the ultraviolet fluorescence generated by the chromium, which creates a kind of hazy glow, akin to a heat shimmer over the ground on a hot Summer’s day. Red spinel has also enjoyed a long and eventful history and was often mistaken for ruby by many a royal court and gem dealer alike. The most famous example of this was the “Black Prince Ruby,” which still adorns the Imperial State Crown of the British Monarchy to this day. Many of these stones were mined in the Middle Ages in what is modern day Afghanistan and they were often referred to as “Balas” rubies, in reference to the Badhakhshan region, where the gems were prevalent. In more recent times spinel has become valued in its own right and in some cases very fine Burma spinel can even out value ruby of the same quality and provenance.
(Rubellite (pink) tourmaline)
Rubellite (pink) tourmaline is another reddish stone that has attracted a strong following in China, especially since the reign of the Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi, an ardent collector of tourmaline and especially pink tourmaline form San Diego’s Pala District. In fact the majority of the pink and red tourmaline produced by San Diego’s famed mines (notably Tourmaline Queen, Tourmaline Queen, Stewart, Pal Chief and Himalaya) was exported to China, where the finer stones were set into jewellery and the lesser specimens carved into snuff bottles and small curiosities. Red garnet is another interesting example and these fiery stones can trace their use in jewellery all the way back the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, many of whom chose to be entombed with them so that they could continue to enjoy them in the afterlife. The Romans found a more practical use for carved red garnets by setting them into signet rings that could be used to impress a seal into the wax of classified documents and this practice was later employed by the clergy and noblemen of the Medieval period. Discoveries of large garnet deposits in central Europe, so-called ‘Bohemian garnet,’ in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries encouraged their widespread adoption by jewellers for several hundred years.
(An Oregon sunstone)
Another rare and exciting red gem is the Oregon sunstone. Found in the hot, arid desert of eastern Oregon, the Ponderosa, Dust Devil and Sunstone Butte mines are the principal sources of this enigmatic stone, revered by Native Americans as the ‘blood’ of a great warrior wounded by an arrow. It is said that his blood conveyed his warrior spirit into the gem, giving them their distinctive fiery red appearance and mystical properties. Oregon mines sufficient quantities of this stone to provide a regular supply to both local and international dealers, carvers, and fine jewellery designers, who often create bespoke pieces to order. One of the unique properties of sunstone is the fact that it often displays an unusual metallic-like scintillation (sparkle), a phenomena caused by smooth, highly refractive inclusions within the crystal, often referred to as ‘shiller‘ by enthusiasts of the stone. Only in Oregon can you find the red variety of sunstone, due to the presence of copper platelets within the chemical composition of the crystalline structure of the gemstones. Fire opal is another little known red stone, mostly found in Mexico. It is transparent to translucent and exhibits a background colour reminiscent of the smouldering yellow and red hues of a desert fire. Small quantities of fire opal have also been discovered in Australia, Oregon, Nevada, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras and Ethiopia.
The Sweet Home Mine in Alma, Colorado once produced a fascinating bright red crystal called rhodochrosite. The mine initially operated from 1873 to 1967 and then reopened from 1991 to 2005, before its final closure due to declining returns. Over its latter period of operation over $100 million of rhodochrosite gems were won from the ground at the site and many found their way into notable mineral museums and private collections the world over. The largest two examples were named the “Alma King” and “Alma Queen.” Red beryl, otherwise known as bixbite, is another example of a fine red stone that is no longer in production. It was only mined in the Wah Wah Mountains of western Utah and most cut examples are less than one carat. Rhodonite is a rare reddish-pink stone, derived from the Greek rhodon or rose, found in Minas Gerais, Brazil and Russia, USA, Peru and Australia. Rhodonite is also found in transparent form, although examples of more than a gram are extremely rare, and they are very hard, making them easy to cut and work with. An obscure and little known red gem is Taafeite (pronounced ‘tar-fite’), named after its discoverer, Richard Taafe, who spotted it in a jewellery shop window in Dublin in 1945. To date it is the only gem to have been first identified from a previously cut and polished example and it was previously misidentified as spinel. It is thought to be one of the rarest gemstones in the world. The most famous of all red gems are fancy red diamonds. The largest known internally flawless specimen is the 5.11 ‘Mouseaieff’ (originally known as the ‘Red Shield’). It was unearthed by a Brazilian farmer in the early 1990s as a 13.90 carat rough, later cut by the William Diamond Corp and subsequently displayed in the Smithsonian Institute.
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