Gemology is a relatively young field of study compared to some of the older, more developed sciences. It should come as no surprise then that many now-famous gemstones were discovered fairly recently, even within the last hundred years. Discover the top 9 most significant moments in crystal history during the 20th century.
You will learn the following:
- Black opal crystal history
- Kunzite crystal history
- Morganite crystal history
- Red Beryl crystal history
- Tsavorite crystal history
- Tanzanite crystal history
- Larimar crystal history
- Chrome Diopside crystal history
- Paraiba Tourmaline crystal history
Black Opal History
Our timeline begins in 1902, with Dan Under in Lightning Ridge, Australia. This now-famous locale is the site of the first discovery of black opal.
The first mine shafts were dug here by Jack Murray and Charles Nettleton, and a year later, Nettleton sold his first parcel of black opal for a mere $30.
By the 1920s, black opal production had declined but saw a resurgence in the late 50s with the introduction of mechanization.
Black opal saw another boost in the 80s and 90s with demand from the Asian market. Since its original discovery, black opal has been found in a few other places worldwide, like Nevada in the U.S., Hungary, and recently in Ethiopia.
In 1902, another discovery was being made on the other side of the world: kunzite, the pink variety of spodumene and the most famous variety, was found in trace amounts in Connecticut.
But the first commercially viable deposit was in California. It’s named after the legendary gemologist and gemstone author George Frederick Kunz.
Kunzite is sometimes referred to as the evening stone because its color can fade in sunlight. Fun fact: the stone was originally to be named after prominent money man J.P. Morgan, but he couldn’t be contacted in time for permission to use his name. But don’t worry, he got his stone, and it’s on this list.
We’re staying in California for this next gemstone, benitoite.
Imagine having a failing melon farming business, turning to prospect out of desperation, and discovering one of the rarest gemstones in the world. That is exactly what happened to James Marshall Couch in 1907.
Benitoite is named after the only commercially viable locale in the world, San Benito County, California. It’s so rare that this mine has only produced about 5,000 carats of faceted material over its lifetime, and stones are usually less than one carat.
Our next gemstone was discovered in 1911 and isn’t quite as rare. Morganite was found initially in Madagascar, but commercial deposits have been found in Afghanistan, China, Brazil, Russia, and the U.S.
As the name suggests, this was the year that J.P. Morgan got his stone. It was George Kunz’s idea to honor the financier and gem collector by naming the stone after him. Maybe he felt like he owed him after the whole kunzite thing.
Red Beryl History
This next gem was technically discovered in 1904, but gem-quality crystals weren’t discovered until 1958 in the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah. Originally named bixbyte after Maynard Bixby, it’s now referred to as red beryl to avoid confusion with the other mineral named after the same guy, bixbyite.
This gemstone is even more rare than benitoite. According to the Utah Geological Survey, one red beryl is found for every 150,000 diamonds, and most red beryl crystals are less than one carat and too included in facet. No wonder it was only discovered in the last 70 years.
Next is a member of the popular garnet group. This minty green garnet was originally spotted in Zimbabwe in 1961, then rediscovered in Tanzania in 1967.
After being unable to secure an export permit, Campbell Bridges, the man who first found the stone, was forced to expand his search to Kenya, where he found another deposit in the Savo region, giving the stone its name.
Mining tsavorite is tricky though, seams of the material will suddenly disappear without giving much of a clue as to where to look next.
Sometimes tsavorite will be trapped inside quartz or scapolite lumps known as potatoes, and these taters have to get mashed to get to the green garnet goodies inside.
Tanzania was the place to be in 1967 because that same year was when tanzanite was first discovered.
This now famous blue-violet stone was found at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro by the same Campbell Bridges while consulting for Tiffany.
Show me someone who had a better 1967 than Campbell Bridges. Since its discovery, tanzanite has exploded in popularity to the point where it’s been added as a birthstone for December.
This next stone was first mentioned in a rejected mining request from 1916. It wasn’t mined and discovered until 1974 though. It’s larimar.
Originally, it was assumed it came from the ocean, given the abundance of it on the seashore. Still, after following the river back up the mountain, the true source was found in Baraona, Dominican Republic.
Its name is a combination of the name Larissa and “mar,” the Spanish word for sea. Miguel Mendes gave it that name for the two things he loved most – his daughter and the sea.
Chrome Diopside History
This next gemstone is found in a region with such brutal weather that it can only be mined a few months out of the year. Chrome diopside was discovered in 1988 in Siberia where, other than the few warmest months of the year, it’s just too cold and hostile to mine.
Exportation of this stone began after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. This bright green stone is often a bit included, but it’s a great alternative to emerald if you still need big three money.
Paraiba Tourmaline History
The last stone on our list was discovered in 1989 in Brazil and is one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. They are twenty thousand dollars per carat for top-quality stones. It’s none other than the vivid electric blue variety of tourmaline known as paraiba tourmaline.
It was discovered by a miner named Barbosa in Paraiba, Brazil. Since then, stones of similar composition and color have been found in Mozambique and Nigeria.
Those are our top 9 crystal histories for the 20th century. Which of these gems today was your favorite? I hope this post about crystal history may help you.