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Sugilite Gemstones - Pink to purple gemstone


Sugilite is a complex pink to purple cyclosilicate mineral, which is quite rare to find and sometimes goes by the name of Lavulite. Sugilite has been found to crystalize in the hexagonal system, with prismatic crystals. The form of the crystals is usually massive and they are quite rare to find. This is a mineral with a hardness value ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale. It also has a specific gravity ranging from 2.75 to 2.80, and is mostly translucent in clarity.

In 1944, a Japanese petrologist known as Kenichi Sugi, who lived between 1901 and 1948 first described the mineral. It was found in a place called Iwagi Islet in Japan and it was found in an aegirine syenite intrusive rock. The area in which it was found has a similar environment to that found in Mont Saint-Hilaie, which is found in Quebec, Canada. In South Africa, sugilite is mined at the Wessel’s Mine in the Northern Cape Province, and is found in a strata bound manganese deposit. This mineral can also be found in Liguria and Tuscany in Italy; in New South Wales in Australia and Madhya Pradesh in India.

One thing to note is that the name of the mineral is pronounced with a soft ‘g’ like in the ginger. However, you must note that ideally, it should have been pronounced in a similar way to the name of the person who discovered it, and it should have a hard ‘g’ like in the name goose.

So you may find yourself wondering what it is about the name of a gemstone. There is quite a lot of significance when it comes to naming gemstones. You may get excited when you mention some names such as grossular garnet or zoisite. But when these two gemstones are referred to by their common names, tsavorite and tanzanite, then you will have essentially changed the name of the gemstone in much the same way as you would when you turn Frances Gumm to Judy Garland. Tanzanite and tsavorite are the names that were given to the two gemstones by Tiffany’s in order to be able to market them well, and also let people know were the gemstones were first found; in the East African country of Tanzania and in the Tsavo.

Given this fact, it is no small wonder that when Sugilite was first introduced to the American gemstone Market, in 1984, it was known by several names, just like a generic drug would be. The name of the gemstone, sugilite, does not let anyone know the magnificence of this gemstone. One would not be able to tell that it has a deep and majestic purple color and that it is normally found in a remote area within the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. Marketers gave the gemstone names such as Royal Azel, Cybeline, Royal Lavulite and Wesselite. However, none of these names ever caught one, and it is still a relatively unknown gemstone, even when it is mentioned by its official name, sugilite.

Sugilite has many other problems, part from the fact that it does not have a catchy name; it is more of a mineral rather than a gemstone, and it can only be cut as a cabochon and is not suitable for faceting. Of all the opaque minerals on the planet, it is only the Black Onyx, Lapis Lazuli and Turquoise which catch the attention of buyers. However, one should take a second look at this mineral. This is a stone that has three main attractive characters: It has a great story, it is beautiful and it is quite affordable.

The story of sugilite gemstones: Marketing manganese

Sugilite was first discovered by a petrologist professor by the name of Kenichi Sugi, and was subsequently names after him; he specialized in the formation and composition of rocks. He found it in the South West of Japan in 1944. The gemstone was later found in India, but first one that could be used for making jewelry was discovered in South Africa, in 1979; it was found in a Manganese mine in the Kalahari Desert near the Botswana border. It is later that a marketer who was quite zealous decided to give the gemstone a new named and he called it Royal Azel, since the name of the nearest town to the mine was Hotazel. The locals use to say that the name meant hot as hell since the summer temperatures within this region could go to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Kuruman manganese field is the area in which the gemstone is found in this region. The area has several manganese mines dotting its landscape, but it is only the Wessel’s Mine which actually produces sugilite. Since this is the sole source of the mineral, some people named it Wesselite in honor of this fact.

It is around 1975, when the first traces of sugilite were discovered in the Wessel’s Mine, but the find was ignored until about 1979, because that which they initially found was of a low quality and would not warrant any attention as a gemstone. After a while as the miners worked on this ore, just about 1980, they came across a huge mass of sugilite which weighed about 10 to 20 tons. The size alone was enough to make people notice the mineral, and soon they agreed that it would be great as a gemstone. The miners were able to separate this mass of sugilite from the host rock and they placed it in store until the owners of the mine could sell it to the gemstone world.

After specialists in the gemstone world did a lot of tests on the massive deposit, they fund that very few parts of the stone could be cut into facets and most of the rest was opaque and could only be cut into cabochons. The best cabochon material had a deep purple color, that could vary to lavender and then magenta; most of these specimens had some banding on the surface.

Definite color preferences of sugilite soon started emerging as more of the rock was passed on to dealers to turn into cabochon rings. The most popular were the rare reddish-purple colors. Later on, a common blue variety of sugilite was discovered, but this did not excite buyers and they only added the term ‘Royal’ since it looked like it was a very fine amethyst in color. This is the reason why dealers, in the 80s, started marketing the gemstone using the name Royal Lavulite; this was because the gemstone had a rich lavender color. However, the name lavulite makes one think of lava and not lavender.

Ice and Sugilite gemstone

There is no dispute that the South African diamond firm of I. Kurgan, which opened its offices in Los Angeles, is the one that carried out the most innovative and extensive marketing of this gemstone as one that is suitable for making jewelry, between the years of1984 and 1985.

They found out that for the best results, they would have to sell sugilite as a center stone for a ring that would be surrounded by diamonds. They took a rocky step and made a range of jewelry that combined sugilite with diamonds; the range included rings, pendants and earrings with the lowest attracting a price of 300 dollars, and was promoted as Royal Azel jewelry.

Today, the company of I. Kurgan does not deal in sugilite even when it credits itself at having popularized the gemstone in the American market. This is the company that can be accredited with having popularized the gemstone, at all, within the gemstone trade.

In the American market, the gemstone gained quite a following to the point that some companies started making imitations, and the purple ones were the most popular. This raises the question as to the economic sense of producing a plastic replica of a gemstone that sells at only a few dollars per carat and is only suitable for creating cabochon and not facet gemstones. The answer can be found in two aspects; the first is that the simulant was even much cheaper and therefore attracted a huge customer base, and the second, is that the purple variety of sugilite was quite rare to find.

Most of this lesser mineral, it seems, is that of a second type of gem quality sugilite, which was found in the Wessel’s mine. This fact was discovered by the gemological Institute of America, and it was reported in what is still the most respected study of this gemstones. The study was published in the year 1987 in the publication called Gems and Gemology. The GIA said that there were some sugilite specimens which were more pronounced in having sugilite content, while others had a mixture of sugilite and chalcedony quartz. That which had more of sugilite in its content was declared to be purer and was called the Maganoan sugilite, and was said to have a deeper and more uniform coloration of purple, while that which was mixed with chalcedony quartz was lighter and had a mottled appearance. Lapidaries have therefore used more of the pure material in making different creations, making it become rare, and the less pure form is now in abundance.

There is only one consolation and this is the fact that the less pure form of sugilite is much harder than the more pure one. It has a hardness value of 6 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale while the Maganoan variety has a value of 5.5 to 6. However, despite the type which is used, and whatever name is used to market it, sugilite has been found to have rich colors which are quite affordable, and this is what makes it very popular amongst people who want to have jewelry that has a purple color, whether as a cabochon or as an inlaid piece.

Sugilite is a gemstone that is quite uncommon, but can be popular given the right kind of marketing. There should be a standard way of marketing the gemstone, to avoid much confusion amongst buyers. There have been many tales told about this gemstone, as mentioned earlier, but these may only serve to confuse buyers more. Given the proper attention, this is a beautiful gemstone, which is quite affordable to the general public. So next time you take a look into a jeweler’s store and you see a purple gemstone, do not hesitate to find out if it is sugilite, since you may end up being the proud owner of a very beautiful gemstone and not have to pay a lot of money to won it; your friends will be very envious when you tell them about how you acquired the beautiful gemstone that you are wearing, you should also not forget to mention the interesting story of this fascinating gemstone.

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