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.
You may hear of other colours of Kunzite existing aside from the pinks/violets/purples. Although Yellow Kunzite and Blue Kunzite are versions of Spodumene, these are of a different variety and are thought to only be called Kunzite to ride on the popularity of the name.
Where is Kunzite found?
After its initial discovery in California, it can now be found across multiple locations and has been sourced from Madagascar, Myanmar, Russia, Mexico, Australia and Canada. However, the most important and most abundant deposits come from Brazil, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is often found in similar areas or close by to Beryls (Morganite) and Tourmaline.
5 Facts About Kunzite:
Although Kunzite is suitable to wear daily, it is considered an "evening stone" due to its sensitivity to light. Even though the effect of colour fading is very slow, with prolonged exposure, Kunzite has a habit of fading which its become notorious for.
In 1963, American President John F Kennedy ordered a 47 carat Kunzite ring surrounded by diamonds to give to his wife Jackie Kennedy for their 10th Christmas together. Unfortunately, he was assassinated before he was able to give it to her. In the days after his death, the ring was delivered to the White House and Mrs Lincoln, JFK's personal secretary, gave the ring to Jackie. It was later auctioned for over $400,000 in the Sotheby's auction of Jackie's estate.
Some Kunzite stones can glow in the dark due to an effect known as phosphorescence. it gains this luminous appearance due to the way Kunzite can absorb energy and slowly release it in the form of light. When the stone is placed near radium bromide, Kunzite will glow and continue to do so long after the radium is removed. This has gained a lot of attention from scientists in the past, especially Marie Curie.
In 1989, when Tiffany & Co.s 150th anniversary approached they asked Paloma Picasso, daughter of Pablo Picasso, to design a piece of jewellery to mark the special occasion. She chose to use a 369 carat Kunzite stone from Afghanistan as the centrepiece of an 18ct gold necklace with diamonds and baroque pearls. Tiffany & Co. gifted the necklace to the Smithsonian Institution, and it is now on display at the National Museum of Natural History.
The largest faceted Kunzite in the world, weighing a whopping 880 carats is owned and on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
If you're interested in learning more about how Kunzite is mined, and its journey from a rough stone to a glittering stone used in jewellery, we recommend watched GIA's videos on it which you can find here.
If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest in our series: A-Z Gemstone's Uncovered.
We'd love to hear your thoughts, what's your favourite thing about Kunzite or which gemstone would you like us to feature next! Comment below, like or share this post.