A gem that twinkles like the stars on a dark cloudless night.
New discoveries in the gem world are few and far between these days. The likes of George Kunz at the turn of the twentieth century and Campbell Bridges in the sixties and seventies seem to have discovered most of the treasures that Mother Nature has so cleverly hidden beneath the Earth’s surface. So when my good friend and gem hunter Joao Salvador told me his colleagues had discovered a new gemstone in Bahia; Brazil, I was brimming with excitement.
Astraeolite’s name is derived from Astraea who in Greek mythology was the daughter of Zeus and was known as the “Star Maiden”. When you study a piece of Astraeolite you can’t help but feel like you are looking into a star filled sky, studying the galaxy through a network of shining and glimmering distant golden suns.
As I write this piece, we are not sure of how much of this new gemstone we will be able to unearth. Joao and I have entered into a joint venture and at this stage are still exploring the surrounding area from where the first few pieces of Astraeolite were discovered to evaluate the potential of opening a full scale mining operation. Right now, we have only been able to cut and polish a few thousand carats, but as always with gemstone miners, we are positive that we will soon hit the pay dirt (pay dirt is a phrase used by miners to describe the reaching of a gem rich pocket or layer).
So what is this wonderful gemstone? It is a beautiful transparent quartz that has small snowflake type of inclusions of Fool’s Gold (Pyrite) magically suspended within. These are not like rutile inclusions, but are small cubic pieces of Pyrite. The miracle of nature is that these small flakes of Pyrite, rarely measuring more than one millimetre, tend to be scattered individually. Anyone who has seen mineral specimens of Pyrite will tell you how unusual this is. The colour of the Pyrite is a gorgeous golden colour with a hue similar to that witnessed when the gem is unearthed in Spain.
When sunlight hits Astraeolite the gem visually explodes like no other gem I have seen before. Its inclusions come to life: they dance and sing. And once viewed through a microscope you become totally addicted. The gem, just like the galaxy of stars that it portrays, is nothing short of a miracle.
Our initial thought was to cut and facet the gem in traditional shapes, however when I showed the gem to my good friend Glenn Lehrer (Glenn is probably the world’s most renowned contemporary gem artist/lapidarist), he suggested that if we cut the gem into more inverted shapes such as those seen in Scribbling Rings or even more simple cabochon cuts, then Astraeolite’s starlight effect might be better displayed. Thanks to Glenn’s advice, we have just cut our few pieces as he recommended and the results are awesome.
As the gem has so far only been discovered in one location and as of yet we are unsure of how much is hidden beneath the ground, when you see a piece you like, my advice is to grab it!