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L is for Larimar

After a bit of a break, we are back for our 12th instalment of the A-Z Gemstones Uncovered series. This time we're taking you to the warm, lush Caribbean Island known as the Dominican Republic where Larimar is exclusively produced.

So let's delve into the origins of this unique stone...

Larimar, like Kunzite in our previous instalment, is considered a new stone, only being mined since 1974. However, its history goes further beyond this.

The first mention of Larimar (not under this name, it was just a blue rock) was documented in 1916 when a priest called Father Miguel Domingo Fuertes de Loren came across the blue rock and reported his discovery to Archbishop Nouel. He requested permission on 23rd November, of the same year to explore and use the mine where he found the blue rock however the stone at this time was unknown and not valued therefore the Dominican Ministry of Minding denied permission to operate the mine. After Father Miguel's rejection, the blue rock and its mine laid dormant until 1974.

Local inhabitants of the region and their ancestors had supposedly been aware of the stone for many years with stories circulating about blue rocks being found on the beach. Supposedly one day these blue rocks disappeared so locals explored upstream of the beach, eventually finding a rock formation that appeared to produce these blue rocks. These stories held some truth, as in 1974 Miguel Méndez, a local, and a member of U.S. Peace Corps, Norman Rilling, discovered a blue rock on a beach at the foot of the Bahoruco Mountain Range. They decided to venture upstream to see if they could find the source of the blue rock. As they followed the river up the mountain, they came across the source deep inside the mountain.

They began to extract this stone, naming it "Travelina" at first, however, Méndez renamed the stone to its current name "Larimar" in homage to his daughter, Larissa. He combined the nickname of his daughter "Lari" with the Spanish word "Mar" (translating to Sea in English) due to its intense blue colouring.

It wouldn't be until 1979 that Larimar was officially classified as a semi-precious stone. The only Larimar mine in the world is located in Los Chupaderos, in the National District of Bahoruco which is 23km away from Santa Cruz de Barahona.

So why was the mining request rejected back in 1916?

In November 1974, initial research into the blue rock was conducted by scientist, Paul E. Desautels who was the Chief of the Mineral Department at the Smithsonian Institue, along with several other scientists. They came to the conclusion that the blue rock corresponded to the Pectolite's family however the blue colours of Larimar were the first to be discovered in the whole world.

Although Pectolite's were first discovered in 1828, the Dominican Republic were not aware of this rock variety so did not see the importance or value initially of granting mining permission to Father Miguel.

So what is special about Larimar, and how is it actually created?

After the discovery on the beach, it was thought for a long time that Larimar came from the sea, however after the source was found, it's now believed through soil erosion, pieces broke off their host rock and were moved down the mountain via its rivers depositing them in the Caribbean Sea, eventually being washed up on the shore by waves.

Larimar is formed in the Bahoruco Mountain Range's volcanic vesicles (basically small holes left behind after lava cools and turns into volcanic rock). It is thought Larimar is a product of extremely hot mineral-rich fluid that was forced into the cracks and fissures which were originally formed by tectonic activity, as this fluid in the cavities/vesicles cooled, small crystalline structures called spherulites formed. As the fluid continued to cool, the spherulites mixed, eventually forming a gel that ultimately hardened into Larimar.

Various studies have shown that fine elongated needles in Larimar indicate that rapid cooling occurred, whereas the larger grains in the white areas on Larimar indicate more fluid entered the void and cooled at a slower rate.

Scientifically, Larimar is a special stone due to its uniqueness and rarity. Pectolite is the common name for Sodium Calcium Silicate Hydroxide, it is not rare and is found all over the world as a white/grey translucent mineral. However, Larimar differs due to only being found in the Dominican Republic, along with being found in cavities of serpentinised ultramafic rocks (a super fancy-sounding, special rock that does not fit into the three common categories of rocks: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic).

Various elements influence the properties of Larimar such as Copper, Vanadium, Hematite, Phosphorus and Silica. How Larimar forms exactly is still relatively unknown and debated. A fancy analysis, called Electron Microprobe Analysis indicates that the different coloured parts of Larimar have a relatively uniform composition which means it is not the chemistry of Larimar that results in its colour but other factors. Copper is mostly believed to be responsible for its colour, however, Copper concentrations have been found to be lower in the blue spherulites compared to the paler white areas. Therefore it is thought the concentration of Copper is not high enough to be responsible for the colour in Larimar.

So what exactly is responsible for its lush sea-like colours? That is still unknown. A lot about Larimar is still unknown/uncertain, only time will hopefully teach us more about this precious stone. Larimar has been referred to as a Caribbean fairytale. With its combination of discovery and its uncertain creation it truly is a magical stone.