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K is for Kunzite

In our next instalment of A-Z Gemstones Uncovered, we will be featuring a relatively young gemstone. In fact, it is the youngest one we've featured yet! So this post may be a little more quick and punchy compared to our previous ones, but not any less interesting... K is for Kunzite!

Where it all began...

The history of this stone only dates back approximately 120 years ago, first being discovered around 1902. As the story goes, an unknown stone was found in the Pala District of San Diego, California. A specimen of this pink crystal was sent to a gemologist named George Frederick Kunz, a legend in the gemmology world, who worked for the iconic jewellery brand Tiffany & Co. Kunz's expertise in his field had led him to become their vice president at the young age of 23.

Kunz would be the first to identify this stone, discovering it was a new variety of the mineral Spodumene, in a colour never seen before. However, it is important to note and emphasise that he was not the first person to actually "discover" this mineral. The discovery was disputed at the time between a miner named Frederick M. Sickler and Frank A. Salmon who both independently found this variety around the same time, however, it was Sickler who ended up sending the first specimen to Kunz to be identified. Now, these two miners seem to be a part of forgotten history in Kunzite's history even though they played a huge part in its discovery.

In 1903, Kunzite was officially named by a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina, in honour of Kunz. Before this name came into existence it was initially traded as "California Iris"

It wouldn't be until 1990 that it would start entering the mainstream, since then it is only getting more popular.

So let us get into how this stone is made...

As mentioned above, Kunzite is a variety of Spodumene, which is interesting in itself. Spodumene is a source the lithium which is all around us in the form of batteries, manufacturing and what not (historically glass/ceramic production, medicine, etc). So we have a real contrast here of something that is undoubtedly beautiful but made from something we would deem as toxic, and ugly.

Spodumene is a silicate mineral formed in pegmatite rock formations which are a direct result of magma rising from the earth's crust to the surface. During this process, the magma experiences a range of temperatures, therefore, cools down pretty quickly once it is exposed. Gas bubbles start to form inside it, along with cracks/fissures where it cools at different rates. The gas in the bubbles try to escape, and when they do they leave gaps in the cooled magma. These gaps are then vulnerable to liquid seeping. Over millions of years, the liquid eventually dries out leaving behind silicone crystals that grow, taking up all the space. The chemical composition of the liquids which seep in is what aids the making of Kunzite, typically there tends to be lithium, sodium and aluminium which makes the crystal when mixing the basic silica, along with varying amounts of manganese which provides the stunning shades of pink/lilac.

But don't worry, Kunzite isn't toxic to wear in the form of jewellery!

Fascinatingly Kunzite has strong pleochroism. When viewed from different angles, the colour of the stone can appear pale pink, nearly colourless to greenish, or intensely pink. Skilled lapidary artists will take this phenomenon into account so that the finished gem will show the deepest pink colour. Generally speaking the darker the colour, the more valuable it tends to be. However, this phenomenon is not present in all Kunzites.