This family of gemstones is identified primarily by its unusual crystal structure which is known as tetragonal dipyramidal (the only two other minerals on Earth that share this structure are the even lesser-known Powellite and Scheelite). Its structure provides a prismatic shape and its name is derived from the Greek word “scapo” meaning ‘rod’ or ‘shaft’. Normally found in colours similar to Rose-de-France Amethyst or Lemon Quartz, Scapolite is a gemstone that is highly prized by both gem collectors and jewellery connoisseurs. When the gem’s appearance is similar to Amethyst it is thought to help the wearer make important decisions, whereas the more lemony, citrus colours are said to provide relief from aches and pains.
Historically the gem was known as Chrysolite, which was a name given to many greenish yellow gems including Peridot (see also the Breastplate of Aaron). During the last century, the gem has also been known as Wernerite, Mizzonite, Dipyre and Marialite. Today its new name Scapolite is widely recognised throughout the gem industry.
Some believe Scapolite was first discovered in Burma, but others maintain it was originally found on Egypt’s St. John’s Island (once known as Topazios and today renamed Zeberget) in the Red Sea. The confusion surrounding its discovery is likely to be due to its previous identification as Chrysolite.
In addition to purple and yellow the gem can be discovered in various attractive colours including, pinkish purple, blue, grey and colourless. In its transparent form it is often brilliant cut and when discovered translucent it is normally cabochon cut, which occasionally enables the gem to display chatoyancy (a cat’s eye optical effect). The finest samples on the market today are from the Umba River area of Tanzania; other locations for the gem include Australia, Madagascar and the USA.
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