The Bizarre History Of Moonstone (That Makes No Sense)

Moonstone – History and Mythology

“Moonstone” is mentioned by numerous writers throughout history – yet the identity of the stone they were describing is unknown and may or may not be the moonstone of today. The descriptions of these stones often make claims that the stones possessed bizarre properties which would only be regarded nowadays as spurious, pseudoscientific or supernatural. Strangely however, these descriptions persisted for many centuries.

In ancient times, Moonstone was called Selenites (sometimes also Selenite or Silenites). However the identities of stones listed in older texts are not always clear. The exact stone signified by the old term selenites is not known, and may well have been a completely different stone to the moonstone of today, as the properties often ascribed to it are quite different (and often contradictory to modern science.) [8] Indeed the identity of moonstone may have shifted more than once throughout time, and considerable confusion is added by the fact that the name selenite has also been used for the crystalline form of gypsum, a completely different mineral. Oxford English Dictionary (1971 ed., p.2714) informs us that the first recorded use of the word in this latter meaning was from the year 1668.

The word Selenites derives from the Greek Goddess of the Moon Selene, who was the daughter of Hyperion and Thea, Titans that ruled during the Golden Age. [9] [10] Moonstone was alternately called Aphroselene or Aphroselenon by the Ancient Greeks, which meant “Splendour of the Moon”. The Romans named it Lunaris, deriving from Luna, the Latin name for Moon. [11]

One of the earliest known descriptions of moonstone comes from the “De Materia Medica” of Dioscorides, the famous ancient Greek Physician (c.40-90AD). Although revered and considered an authoritative tome for many centuries, Dioscorides’ famous work was not translated into English until the 1600’s – and this translation was not published until the 20th century. Dioscorides gives a brief description of moonstone – yet this is unfortunately not enough to identify it positively with the moonstone of today:

“Lapis Selenites which some have called Aphroselenon because it is found in ye night-time, full in ye increase of ye moon. But it grows in Arabia, being white, transparent, light: filing it they give ye dust for a drink to ye epilepticall; but the women use it to hang it about them for an Amulet, & it is thought that being bound to trees, it makes them bear fruit.”

Part of the reason Dioscorides’ famous De Materia Medica was not translated into English was simply that the European language of medieval scholarship was Latin – and prior to the age of printing, manuscripts were copied by hand. In the case of Dioscorides, many annotations and commentaries were gradually added to the text over the centuries, and these might prove instructive: In Janus Cornarius’ 1557 Latin version of Dioscorides’ text, an extensive commentary appears, referencing Pliny (who wrote at length on gemstones, although he was brief on selenites), Galen, Hippocrates and others. [12] Another greatly extended commentary on Dioscorides was that of Pietro Andrea Mattioli, again in Latin, printed in 1554, which may have taken at least in part from the AD 512 version, the oldest and most famous copy of the work, which is said to have been augmented with the observations of Galen and Crateuas. These commentaries may possibly give further clues on the identity of the moonstone of Graeco-Roman times, as well as many other things; [13] however it seems that the commentaries may never have been translated into English! As my Latin is rusty (and funds are limited) it may have to wait.

Many writers have stated that the selenites of Dioscorides, Pliny et. al. was the selenite of today – however many of the ancient writers also mention both alabaster and gypsum, of which selenite is the crystalline form, in addition to our selenites, lending a little more weight to the argument that the selenites of old is moonstone. [14]

Moonstone – Mysterious, Bizarre And Mystical Tales

At times in history, curious, magical or fabulous qualities have been ascribed to moonstones. Moonstone has long been a popular stone – and was particularly revered in India, where it has long been considered a sacred stone. [13]

The moonstone was also at times believed to have special significance and fortune for lovers and was considered a fine romantic gift. In 1531, Marbodus, writing in his “De Lapidibus”, stated that if a moonstone was placed in the mouth when the moon was full, it would enable lovers to read the future of their relationship. [15] Marbodus also described the stone as increasing and decreasing in size. [11]

In his 1623 English Language dictionary, it was stated by Henry Cockeram that moonstones (i.e. Selenite) contained a “white” shape or color which waxed and waned in accordance with the moon’s phase. [16] This belief appears to have been widespread in that era. Andreas Baccius (presumably writing in his 1603 “De Gemmis et Lapidibus Pretiosis” – “About Gems and Precious Stones”), stated that “The Selenite is a kind of gem which doth contain in it the image of the moon, and it doth represent it increasing and decreasing according to the increase and decrease of the moon, in its monthly changes.” [11]

This strange legend seems to be truly ancient, and to have appeared from the mists of time with Bartholomew de Glanville (aka Bartholomaeus Anglicus)’s 13th century “De Proprietatibus Rerum” (“On the Properties of Things”). Bartholomew’s 19-volume On The Properties of Things was a famous encyclopedia of the 13th century and the first to be published in the English language. It became the most popular work of its kind for several hundred years. It existed in numerous manuscript editions, printed editions and translations – and by 1600 English scholars had hailed Bartholomew as a national treasure. [17]

John Trevisa, writing in his 1398 English translation of this work, states “Silenites is a stone of Perse [i.e. Persia] grene as grasse and shineth with a white specke and this stone foloweth the mone and wexyth and waneth as the moon dooth.” It seems not unlikely that the several writers of the 16th and 17th centuries, repeating this legend, drew from Bartholomew. As for Bartholomew’s own sources; he is said to have been exceptionally well-read, and to have been “the first writer to make conveniently available the views of Greek, Jewish, and Arabic scholars on medical and scientific subjects.” [18] Who can speculate upon what ancient sources Bartholomew may have drawn, and on how old the tale of the waxing and waning moon within the stone?

This legend is most curious – as either the waxing and waning moon was visible in the stone, or it was not. If it was visible, what were these stones that defy our modern science? If it was invisible, why are there numerous accounts of this stone? After all, it would not take much in the way of observation to discredit such a tale. What is it that these ancient writers were seeing?

Perhaps in old times, when the world was a little younger and more innocent, the edges of “reality” were not as strictly defined and fixed as they are today, and the miraculous took place. Writing in his 1571 “Les Secrets de la Lune” (“The Secrets of the Moon”), Antoine Mizauld claimed to have investigated this mystery first hand, stating that he obtained one of these stones, and had observed it carefully for one lunar month. He assures us that the lunar mark… “was like a small millet-seed, increasing in size and moving down the stone, always assuming the form of the moon until, on reaching the middle, it was round and full like the moon; then the mark gradually passed up again as the moon diminished.” [15] Why does such a seemingly ludicrous tale persist for centuries? How can these writers claim in all seriousness to have observed this stone? No rational explanation seems to exist other than that it was a pure fabrication.

Finally, moonstone appears to have been used medicinally in the 18th century. John Hill’s 1751 History of the Materia Medica has a two-page description of the moonstone, also referred to by him as selenite. It was indicated as a treatment for haemmorage and also acquired the nickname staunch in Northamptonshire, England, where it was commonly found. The tradition of the use of gemstones in medicine has very ancient beginnings, and medicinal properties of gemstones are described in Dioscorides, Pliny and others. Certain minerals are still employed in medicine – for example milk of magnesia and bentonite clay.

Ametrine – Myth Busted – Exotic Ancient Past Debunked

Ametrine is a well-known variety of quartz, with the same overall chemical formula: SiO2 (silicon dioxide). [1] Ametrine is a bi-colored stone – a “hybrid” or mixture of citrine and amethyst – hence the name “ametrine”. [1] It is renowned for its quality of having the contrasting colors of amethyst (purple) and citrine (orange-yellow) within the same stone – and ametrine gemstones are typically faceted (or created) in order best to display this attractive quality. The cause of the coloration of ametrine, like that of amethyst, is the result of geological process that are not yet fully understood.

As to the true origins of our pretty ametrine – well, they also turned out to be quite a mystery

Bolivian Ametrine
Bolivian Ametrine, unfaceted

Artificial ametrine can be created by “differential heat treatment of amethyst”. It has also been synthesized (lab created). True ametrine is rare in nature, and much of the ametrine on the marketplace, especially the inexpensive, rainbow-bright material, is quite likely to be either lab created or heat treated. [1] Whether the stone has been treated may be very difficult (i.e. cost prohibitive) to ascertain.

Ametrine – History

Ametrine is a recent name in the world of gemstones. I can find no mention of ametrine prior to the 1980’s: For example it is mentioned in the New York Magazine of Nov. 13th, 1989; describing the “bicolor gem” that is half amethyst, half citrine. Ametrine is there described as having exotic color but being no more expensive than amethyst.

Another (quite obscure) name ametrine has acquired is trystine – but this, too is a recent name; appearing for the first time in gemstone publications in the 1980s. It seems as though this may have been a trademarked name – it appears in the 1981 “Official gazette of the United States Patent and Trademark Office”; although Google Books offers only a snippet preview of this document so I cannot easily ascertain its trademark status.

Almost all of the world’s natural ametrine is found in Bolivia – and for this reason ametrine is also sometimes known as bolivianite. Bolivianite seems at first glance to be the oldest of these names, appearing in the mid to late 19th century; however, descriptions of Bolivianite of the 19th century seem to be referring to a different mineral: The first mention of Bolivianite I can find is from James Dwight Dana and George Jarvis Brush’s 1867 System of Mineralogy – and bolivianite is described as a submetallic lead-gray mineral resembling stibnite. Breithaupt is credited with its introduction to mineralogy. Bolivianite is mentioned in William Crookes’ 1875 “The Chemical News” – in a long list of “doubtful minerals” either requiring authentication or under doubt as to whether they even existed. [2] Another source of 1875 describes Bolivianite as an antimonial sulphide of silver [3] . This Bolivianite of the 19th century is clearly not our ametrine!

It turns out that the name Bolivianita was given to ametrine by Rodolfo Meyer Barraza in 1984 and the stone variety was authenticated to be unique to the world at that time. [4]

The world’s greatest producer of ametrine is Bolivia’s Anahi Mine. It is cheerfully stated all over the internet that this mine became famous when it was given to a Spanish conquistador as a wedding gift – when he married Anahi, a princess of the Ayoreos tribe. [5] Ametrine was said to have been “…introduced to Europe through the conquistador’s gifts to the Spanish queen.” [6] However, the origin of this tale is conspicuous by its absence – and it has all the hallmarks of a clever marketing tale: I can find no mention whatsoever of the Anahi Mine in searchable literature (ie. Google Books) prior to the 1990s – and it seems highly unlikely that an ancient legend such as this has survived until our time, without even a single written mention.

Photo by Wela49
– lic. under CCA 3.0 Unported License

It gets better: One source states that the conquistador in question is “Don Luis Felipe de Urriola”: However, this name also does not appear at all in Google’s search index until 2006, and only then in unreferenced duplicates of the same “legend”.

The Anahi Mine is, at last, described in the 1994 in the Gemological Institute of America‘s Gems & Gemology. [7] It is stated that “large quantities” of ametrine had recently entered the market; and that much of this material was “originally cut as amethyst”.

Another name cited as a possible name for ametrine is “Golden Amethyst”. However, no mineralogical publication mentions Golden Amethyst until 1980, when the discovery and first exhibition of “golden amethyst” from Brazil [allegedly] – unmistakably ametrine – is described: “A stone in which deep puple alternates with wedges of citrine colour”. [8]

The Ayoreo(s) or Ayoreode Indians of Southeastern Bolivia are real, but are barely described in searchable literature until the 20th century. It is said that they were a small, isolated group. Other references to the tribe as the “Aureiros tribe” appear also to have been falsified as there is no historical reference whatsoever to them under that name. One source, which appears to have its finger on the pulse, mentions that ametrine made its debut in the 1970s, when small amounts of ametrine began to trickle through from the Bolivian mines to Brazilian gem traders; and then onto the world gem market – but that the geographical source of the stones was still obscure at that time. [9] The same website, incidentally, shows a photograph of an entrance to the Anahi mine – which is extremely remote. [10]

It looks suspiciously as though ametrine’s “exotic” past may have been a total fabrication – and it seems that even major gemstone associations have been suckered, regurgitating the story of Anahi verbatim without even venturing to question its source! So I’m calling it on ametrine’s “ancient origins”: I don’t think there was ever a princess Anahi, or ametrine gifts to the 17th century Spanish Queen. You heard it here on first.

Ah, the fabrication of mystique – since ancient times the very essence of marketing!

Ametrine possesses many similar mineralogical qualities as regular quartz, including having a hardness of 7 (Mohs). In addition to being found in Bolivia, it is mined in Brazil, and has also been found in Canada, India and the USA. [11]

Ametrine – Sources Referenced:

[7] Vasconcelos PM, Wenk HR and Rossman GR (1994) The Anah’ Ametrine Mine, Bolivia. Gems & Gemology, 30, 4-23.

Star Ruby

A Star Ruby is a type of ruby that displays the optical phenomenon known as asterism. Star rubies reflect a six-rayed “star of light” pattern when viewed from a single bright light source (either sunlight or direct spotlight of any kind).

Star Ruby
Star Ruby

The 138.7ct Rosser Reeves Star Ruby. Photo by Pmei43 – licensed under CC 2.0

The asterism effect is due to inclusions of ultra fine fibres of rutile (titanium dioxide) in the ruby. The star seen in a star ruby usually has six rays and this is because the rutile fibres are structurally aligned in three directions within the hexagonal crystal structure of the stone. As a result of the presence of rutile, “star stones” are typically less transparent. [1]

Occasionally, a star ruby may display 12-point asterism or a double star; such as in the case of the “Neelanjali Star Ruby”.

Like other rubies, star rubies are made from the same overall substance – corundum, which is the crystalline form of aluminium oxide. It is a very hard gemstone, having a hardness of 9.0 (Mohs).

In order to best display the star effect, star rubies, like star sapphires, are often cut en cabochon (i.e. with a domed top and flat underneath). [2] It is very rare to find a star ruby with the combination of perfect color and perfect star – and the stones with the best star are often slightly lighter, reddish-pink.

Star rubies can now be created in the laboratory and these are often seen for sale.

Asterism can vary in intensity – with the most valuable gems being the ones with the strongest “star effect”. [1]

Here is a short list of a few of the world’s famous star rubies:

The “Rosser Reeves” Star Ruby – 138.7 carat, cabochon cut oval, 31.5 x 26.5 x 19.1 mm in size. Considered the largest star ruby in the world.
The De Long Star Ruby – 100.32 carat, cabochon cut oval, excellent color. From the Mogok mines of Burma. Famously stolen in 1964 and recovered in 1965.
The “Star of Bharany Ruby” – 27.62 carat, cabochon cut oval, flawless, purple-red.
The Star of Katandru Star Ruby – 16.21 carats.

I have also read other reports of giant star rubies, such as the 3553-carat “Raviratna Star Ruby”, the 2475 carat “Rajaratna Ruby” and the 1370-carat “Neelanjali Star Ruby”. Reported to have belonged to the Kings of the Southern Indian Vijayanagar Empire, these stones are believed to be of Indian origin – but the exact source remains unknown. However these star rubies are said not to be of “fine” quality such as the stones listed above them – and it is also said that these stones have not been seen by journalists / verified. A furher giant ruby called the “Eminent Star Ruby” weighs 6465 carats but its quality is said to be poor.[3]

Star Ruby Occurrence

Star rubies come from several countries including Myanmar (Burma), India, West Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tanzania, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Prices are very variable depending on the clarity and color of the ruby, and the quality of the star effect – but looking online (Sept 2010), prices seem to be ranged around $100-400 per carat for stones in the 3-12 carat region. [4] As with other “regular” rubies, the “pigeon blood red” color – a very bright and pure red – is considered the most precious and valuable.

Other gemstones that can display asterism include star garnet, star spinel, star sapphire, star diopside, star moonstone, rose quartz and star opal.

Star Ruby – Sources Referenced:


Star Sapphire

A Star Sapphire is a type of sapphire that is typically cut and polished to a cabochon (domed top, flat underneath) and reflects a six-rayed star of light when viewed from a single light source. This phenomenon is known as asterism and is due to inclusions of ultra fine needles of rutile (titanium dioxide) in the sapphire. Asterism can vary in intensity – with the most valuable gems being the ones with the strongest “star effect”. [1]

Star Of India Sapphire
“Star Of India” Star Sapphire
Above: The “Star Of India”, 563.35 carats.
The second largest star sapphire in the world.
Discovered in Sri Lanka.
Photographed by Daniel Torres, Jr.

The star seen in a star sapphire usually has six rays – however, twelve rayed specimens have also been known. [2] If there are areas of the gem in which the rutile inclusions are not present, those areas will show “holes” in the star pattern. The intensity of the star effect in star sapphires varies form stone to stone. [3]

Star sapphires are typically associated with blue sapphire – however the phenomenon can occur in sapphires of any color – including black. Asterism is also seen in rubies, which are formed from the same predominant mineral – corundum – as sapphire. Star sapphire cabochons are commonly seen either as loose stones or in jewelry settings such as pendants and rings.

Famous Star Sapphires

The largest star sapphire yet discovered is thought to be the 733 carat Black Star of Queensland – and it has a fantastic story (isn’t that always the way with famous gemstones?) It was discovered in Australia in 1938 by 12 year old Roy Spencer, exploring a hillside near his home in the sparsely populated gem mining region of Queensland; and when uncut, the stone weighed 1165 carats – over half a pound. Legend has it that the sapphire, incredibly, was used as a door stop for nearly ten years by the boy’s family, who, on account of the dull, dark appearance of the uncut rough, thought it was just a worthless stone – despite having sold other sapphires in the past to jeweler Harry Kazanjian! If you believe in the magical protective powers of stones: Who knows what evils may have been turned away from the door of the Spencer family by this rock? Travelling the world in 1947 in search of valuable gems, Kazanjian, revisiting the Spencers, quickly recognized the sapphire’s virtue when shown the stone – and reportedly bought it from the family for $18,000 [4][5] – a very large sum of money in those days. All praise to him for not attempting to con them out of the stone for some paltry sum – now that’s class!

The rays of the Black Star of Queensland do not extend all the way through the stone, and are of differing lengths. However, the star’s center is very bright and is said to create an amazing effect against the backdrop of the deeply colored stone, when seen in person. [6]

The second largest star sapphire found is thought to be the Star of India. At 563.35 carats (almost exactly 4 ounces and around the size of a golf ball), the Star of India is almost flawless and has the unusual feature of having stars visible on both sides of the stone. The rutile inclusions, aligned in three directions, give this star sapphire both its milky appearance and the asterism effect.

The Star of India was once stolen from its home at the American Museum of Natural History, in 1964, in a famous robbery by thieves who unlocked a bathroom window at the museum during opening hours and returned at night. The thieves were caught within a few days and the star sapphire was located a few months later; but one of the other stones taken, the Eagle Diamond, was never recovered and it has been assumed that it was probably cut into a number of smaller stones. [7] [8]

In addition to naturally-occurring star sapphires, the gem is now also created in laboratories. Gems that are lab created should be described as such.

Other gemstones that display asterism include star garnet, star spinel, star ruby, star diopside, star moonstone, star rose quartz and star opal.

The Star Sapphire was also the name of a bizarre magician’s ritual described by the infamous esotericist Aleister Crowley.

Star Sapphire
Star Sapphire
Above: The “Star Of Bombay”, 182 carats

Star of Bombay
Star of Bombay
Another photo of the “Star Of Bombay” Star Sapphire – Chemicals and Gemstones on your PC – PC Technology Tips – Computing 101 PC Basics – PC Wholesale Inventory – PC Wholesale & Troubleshooting

Star Sapphire – Sources Referenced:


List Of Ancient Books On Gemstones – Gemstone Writers Of History

The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond – photo from Catelle’s 1911 text “The Diamond”

Here is a short list of famous ancient books on gemstones:

PLINY THE ELDER (23/24–79 AD) – “Historia Naturalis” – (Book 37 of Pliny’s famous Natural History deals with gemstones). (Latin, Teubner)

PEDANIUS DIOSCORIDES (c.40-90 AD) – “Materia Medica”. Dioscorides’ legendary, massive work, now almost forgotten by the masses, holds the distinction of being perhaps the single textbook with the longest history of continual use. For around 1500 years it was a staple of researchers. Deals with the medicinal qualities of herbs and other remedies, including some material on gemstones. An English translation from 1655 exists; other manuscript versions from various monasteries still have original margin notes that have never been translated.

THEOPHRASTUS (c.372-c.287 BC) – “Periton Lithon Biblion” (“History of Stones”). Translated by Hill in 1774 with extended commentary.

ALFONSO X (13th cent) – “Lapidary Of King Alfonso X”

GEORGIUS AGRICOLA (1546) – “De Natura Fossilium” (“On the Nature of Fossils”). Agricola’s most famous work is his metallurgical text “De re metallica” (“On the Nature of Metals”)

GERONIMO CARDANO (1550) – “De Subtilitate” Latin text available at Google Books.

GESNER (1516-1565) “De Omni Rerum Fossilium Genere Gemmis” (1565)

HILL, JOHN – “History of The Materia Medica” Has a large section on gemstones. (1751) – pp245-301. Deals also with earths and clays in great deapth.

LAET, IOANNIS DE – “De Gemmis Et Lapidibus” (“Of Gems And Stones”) (1647) – Latin text.

ANSELMUS de BOODT (BOETHIUS) (1550-1636) – “Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia” (1647) (“History of Gems and Stones”)

C.W. KING (1860s) – various books including Antique gems and rings (2 vols), Handbook of Engraved Gems, The Natural History Of Precious Stones And Precious Metals

DANA, James Dwight and BRUSH, George Jarvis (1867) “System of Mineralogy”.

G. F. KUNZ (1856-1932) – famous mineralogist and certainly one of the greatest of his era. The gemstone Kunzite, first identified by him, was named in his honour. Wrote numerous texts on gemstones and precious stones; one of the most notable being “The Curious Lore Of Precious Stones” – available at the Internet Archive.

BURNHAM, Sarah Maria. “Precious Stones In Nature, Art and Literature” (1886)

FARRINGTON, Oliver Cummings – “Gems And Gem Minerals” (1903)

CLAREMONT, Leopold – “The Gem Cutter’s Craft” (1906)

CATTELLE, Wallis Richard – “The Diamond” (1911)

WADE, Frank B. – “A Text-Book Of Precious Stones For Jewelers And The Gem-Loving Public” (1918)

Further reading: Wikipedia has a full list of mineralogists –

Black Diamond

Uncut Black Diamond
Uncut Black Diamond
23.95 cts : 15 x 15 x 15 mm. From Sierra Leone (in West Africa)
Photo by Rob Lavinsky,
image lic. under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Who would guess that this is an ultra-rare precious diamond?

Black Diamond, also known as carbonado, is a polycrystalline variety of diamond and is extremely rare – the rarest of all diamond types: Since 1900, around 600 tons of “regular” diamonds have been mined [1] whereas only around 2.5 tons of black diamonds have ever been discovered. [2]

Black diamond is made up of a porous aggregate (mixture) of minute black crystals. [3] Not only is black diamond an extremely rare gemstone, it can quite rightly claim to be the world’s most mysterious gemstone – as there is still so much about it that is not known for certain.

Black Diamond Origins

Black diamonds have an air of mystery around them which is strangely appropriate to their shadowy color: Their true origin is still unknown to geologists. Several interesting theories exist in this regard; including the hypothesis that a supernova occurring several billion years ago ejected a mass of material – of which some fell to earth in the form of a meteor. The latter event is believed to have occurred prior to the separation of the continents, in a region which later split into Brazil and Africa. The majority of black diamonds have been found either in Brazil or in Africa (principally the Central African Republic). [3]

Other theories for the origin of black diamonds include: Formation under high pressure inside the Earth (as with other diamonds); metamorphism induced by meteorite impact; and formation caused by fission of uranium and thorium. Black diamonds also do not contain traces of “mantle minerals” that are commonly included in clear diamonds [3], yet contain unusual concentrations of “highly reduced metals and metal alloys”. [4]

Although many sources state that the only locations in which black diamonds have been found are Brazil and the Central African Republic, the uncut stone in the image (below right) is clearly stated by its photographer Rob Lavinsky, a noted authority on minerals, to have originated in Sierra Leone, a country in the far west of Africa. Other sources state that black diamonds are “almost exclusively” found in Brazil and Africa but that they are exclusively found in alluvial deposits – placers created by running water – which indicates they may once have been at the earth’s surface. [5] Black diamonds are not associated with kimberlites or lamproites, which indicates that a different process led to their formation, [2] however some have been found in placers in which transparent diamonds also occurred.

Recently, black diamonds were discovered in Yakutia, Siberia. A Gems & Gemology article from 2003 reports on scientific analysis on these stones, which were found to have a different chemical composition to the African / Brazilian material. [6] Owing to the mineral differences in the polycrystalline diamonds from Yakutia, the name yakutite has been suggested for these stones; however they are still considered carbonados, with minor differences to the African / Brazilian kind – and their origin is still described as a “conundrum”. [7]

Overall, black carbonado diamonds exhibit several qualities which are incompatible with formation deep inside the Earth, and this has led geology professor Stephen E. Haggerty, publishing in the Astrophysical Journal, to the next logical conclusion: That the black diamond is of extraterrestrial origin. [4] Research using infrared rays (2007) has shown black diamonds to have a chemical spectrum which includes hydrogen, in an amount which suggests that they may have originated inside a star. [8]

Nonetheless, the black diamond’s origin is still a matter of debate – and other scientists have criticized Haggerty’s theory; posing the question that if the black diamonds fell as a meteorite, why are most of them so small in size, and why are there no large pieces?
Haggerty has stated that “No satisfactory explanation exists for their origins. They may reveal a new geological source for diamond formation that hasn’t been recognized.” [9]

The Cause of Color of Black Diamonds

The black color of black diamonds is believed by mineralogists to be caused by inclusions of dark colored material. Some examples were found to contain graphite, however in the scientific study (mentioned above) of black diamonds originating in Siberia, the stones with the most intense black color were found to be those with predominantly magnetite inclusions. Dark grey stones were found to contain inclusions of hematite and native iron. [6] It has been stated elsewhere that the cause of color of the black diamond is that its unique crystal structure absorbs light. [5]

Are black diamonds harder or tougher than regular diamonds?

It has been widely agreed upon for at least a century – possibly much longer – that black diamonds are slightly harder or tougher than the regular diamonds, and it has been said since old times by lapidaries and mineralogists that they can only be polished by their own kind, as ordinary diamonds will not cut them. For example, the “Report of the State Mineralogist” appearing in the 1883 California Journal of Mines and Geology states “Black diamonds are sometimes called “carbonate,” or “carbonado.” They are even harder than the crystallized stones.” [10]

For this reason, and because of their lack of sparkle, their chief use in past times was in drilling and cutting; while clear “gem” diamonds were considered more precious and saved for jewelry. Although claims of slightly superior mechanical characteristics of natural black diamonds (unless severely flawed) over natural diamonds are widespread and generally accepted [7], much of the modern scientific research on superhard materials has focused on synthetic materials; and synthetic polycrystalline diamonds have been created with greater hardness / toughness than natural diamonds of any variety.

The general theory as to black diamonds’ superior mechanical characteristics is that they are made of diamond with ostensibly the same hardness as clear diamond, but as they are formed from a mass of tiny crystals, they do not have the “cleavage planes” which allow clear, monocrystalline diamonds to be split. In gemology, hardness and toughness are different measures – regular clear diamond is extremely hard (can scratch other objects) but is not that tough (can be shattered due to cleavage planes).

Another theory suggests that black diamonds have the same hardness as other diamonds, but that due to their polycrystalline nature, they have more “cutting edges” and are therefore more effective in cutting other material. [2]

The Black Diamond in Couture

The black diamond has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity and renewed consideration in the world of haute couture. As a fashion statement, the black diamond epitomizes dark glamour and the seductive, neo-gothic allure. Black has always been the color of mysterious sophistication – and black diamonds are said to be especially popular with male wearers and anyone who prefers a tone of understatement or something slightly “edgy”.

Faceted black diamonds are said to have a unique luster owing to the fact that light is almost completely absorbed by them. Black diamonds are opaque, and so the cut parameters that are so important to creating the brilliance and fire of clear diamonds, are of no consequence. However, black diamonds still have the “adamantine” luster of transparent diamonds – and color is still a factor: Some black diamonds are “pure” black, while others are greyish or may have colorless or grey areas. [11]

The most noted cutter of black diamonds in the world is undoubtedly Fawaz Gruosi. He has been called the “King of black diamonds” and is reported to have created over 4,000 pieces of black diamond jewelry. [12] Gruosi started the de Grisogono brand in 1993 in Geneva, and is accredited with single-handedly creating the modern popularity for black diamond jewelry. Prior to his work, the black diamond, very rare and difficult to cut, had fallen from popularity and had been disregarded since its previous heyday in the 1930’s. [13]

Despite its rarity, black diamond is generally less expensive than “regular” clear diamond. Perhaps this is because it lacks the sparkle and fire of the clear diamond, and is less infinitely gradable: It cannot be measured by the standard “four C’s” of brilliant diamonds – Clarity, Color, Cut, Carat. However, since the 1990’s and the work of Gruosi, the price of the black diamond has risen dramatically.

Black Diamond Treatments

Some black diamonds appearing on the market have been treated, owing to the rarity of natural black diamonds. Irradiation and high temperature annealing have been known to be used to color a diamond black. Several tests exist to distinguish natural black diamonds from treated stones: Bright light, such as that from a flashlight, can show a green or brown tint to treated diamonds, whereas natural black diamonds still appear black; Natural black diamonds show even color under magnification; and in some cases, a change in electrical conductivity can show that a stone has been treated. [11]

The World’s Largest Black Diamonds

The biggest and most famous cut black diamond in the world is said to be the Spirit of de Grisogono diamond. Weighing in at a mighty 587 carats before cutting, it was cut into a 312.24 carat gemstone – the fifth largest cut diamond of any kind in the world. The Spirit of de Grisogono was discovered in the 20th century in a West African mine. It was cut by the Swiss jeweler De Grisogono, and set into a white gold ring together with 702 small white diamonds weighing a total of 36.69 carats.[14]

Other famous black diamonds include: The Black Star of Africa, weighing 202 carats; the emerald cut Table of Islam, which weighs 160.18 carats; the Gruosi, a 115.34 heart-cut black diamond and the largest heart-cut diamond in the world; the Korloff Noir, an 88 carat stone cut from a 421 carat rough; the cushion-cut Black Orlov, also known as the Eye of Brahma, said to have been once owned by Russian Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov in the 18th century, weighing 67.50 carats and reported to have been re-cut from a stone once weighing 195 carats; and the 33.74 carat pear-cut Amsterdam. [15] [16] [17]

There are reports of gigantic black diamonds from days gone by: The Pharmaceutical Journal of September 28th, 1895 reported a 3,073 carat black diamond which had recently been shown to the Paris Academy of Sciences by a Mr. Moissan [presumably Henri Moissan (September 28, 1852, Paris – February 20, 1907) after whom Moissanite was named]. The black diamond was said to have a hardness greater than that of the brilliant and to be without flaws. The article also stated that this stone was larger than the three largest black diamonds discovered up to that time; 620, 810 and 1,700 carats – presumably these weights were for uncut stones. [18]

The article from the Pharmaceutical Journal is reproduced below; but what became of these four stones? Yet another mystery surrounds the black diamond!

Largest Black Diamond
At 3,073 carats – was this the largest Black Diamond ever discovered in the World?

A little more information on Moissan’s giant black diamond is available from other publications of the day: the “Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Volume 44” of 1896 states that the stone was found “between the Rio a Rancador and the Brook das Bicas, Brazil”, also that the stone was porous and had lost 19 grams (presumably evaporating moisture) since being removed from the earth. [19] The 1895-1896 “Annual report of the United States Geological Survey to the Secretary of the Interior” stated that the Brazilian Government had made a strong effort to obtain the stone for the national museum at Rio de Janeiro. [20] Elsewhere, the stone was described as having a rough surface, and under magnification appeared as though gas had escaped from it while it was still pasty. It does seem from all these articles that this stone actually existed – but where is it now? And where are the other stones mentioned in the Pharmaceutical Journal of 1895?

For our answer we must turn to Popular Mechanics of December 1931, which has a full article on the black diamond. The article has a photo of the “Largest Black Diamond Ever Found” – almost certainly the same stone – stating its weight to be 3,078 carats. The ultimate fate of this stone is discovered in the simple economic factors of the black diamond’s toughness combined with its unattractiveness when rough: The large black diamonds of old were often used for drilling and not considered precious. The Popular Mechanics article states “You can’t give them to your sweetheart, because she would believe you were presenting her with a nugget of charcoal…. Large stones are rare. A 3,078-carat carbon was broken up for the diamond drills used to develop the Mesabi range. The King of carbon has, in the past five years, purchased and broken stones ranging from 100 to 458 carats.” [21] However, here is another mystery: Other black diamonds appear to have been used as jewels since prior to the 20th century; therefore if the 3,078 carat stone was flawless, as Mr. Moissan, a noted mineralogist, states – why would it have been broken up? Fashion trends aside, it seems difficult to imagine that it was worth more to industrial drilling than it would have been to the gem industry – but perhaps that is exactly what happened.

History and Mythology of Black Diamonds

Mountain of Light

Illustration from Punch, 1851 – dry wit on the
subject of the preciousness of black diamond…

A ubiquitous modern falsehood surrounding the black diamond, is that it is said to be a “stone of reconciliation”. Innumerable web pages writing articles about the black diamond in the last decade, state that in Mediaeval Italy it was believed that a black diamond, waved in the face of an angry spouse, would magically bring calm and restoration of peace to a troubled scenario. This is indeed curious when we consider that most scientific sources state the black diamond to have been first discovered in the 19th century! [7]

Searching for the phrase “stone of reconciliation” in older texts, we find that everything prior to the 19th century states that it was not the black diamond that is the stone of reconciliation, but the “regular”, sparkling brilliant diamond! Turning to G.F. Kunz, noted expert on the history and lore of gems, we find that this quality of diamond traces back to Rueus, who stated it in his 1566 work De Gemmis. [22] It appears that the tale is older still: Several sources mention that Dioscorides, the Greek Physician of 40-90AD, called diamond “a Precious stone of reconciliation and of love.” This undoubtedly comes from his famous De Materia Medica, a five volume medicinal treatise.

Not a single one of the old texts or sources I found mentions black diamond in this regard: All refer to the brilliant diamond – leading one to reflect that not a single one of the modern internet articles checked their sources; and on the statement of Winston Churchill, never more true than in the internet age, that “A lie gets halfway round the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.

Black diamond was little mentioned in old literature. It is scarce even now and seems to have been extremely scarce, if known at all, prior to the 19th century. Most modern scientific sources state that it was first found around 1845 in Brazil [7] , however this is highly controversial in the light of some earlier writings – as will be seen below.

The first mention of the phrase “black diamond” I have found is from the 1609 “Harangues et actions publiques des plus rares esprits de nostre temps” (“Speeches and public actions of the rarest spirits of our time.”) This instance does not describe the stone itself, but the phrase is used metaphorically in describing the eyes of a person. However, one is tempted to suggest that the black diamond must have been known at least by fable to the author; how would one have been able to draw a visual parallel to a stone that was not known to exist?

The earliest actual description of black diamond I have found so far is from Joannon de Saint-Laurent’s 1746 “Description Abregée du Fameux Cabinet de M. le Chevalier de Baillou, Pour Servir a L’Histoire Naturelle des Pierres Precieuses, Metaux, Mineraux et Autres Fossiles.” (“Brief Description of the Famous Cabinet of the Chevalier Baillou, with Regard to the Natural History of Precious Stones, Metals, Minerals and Other Fossils.”) This work lists numerous precious stones, and then states “Finally here we have the black Diamond, the hardest of all.” [23] No further descriptive detail appears – and although it appears from the preceding text that the cabinet contained many faceted stones, it is unclear whether the stone in question was faceted.

The next description of black diamond I can find is from the 1763 “Commercium Philosophico-Technicum” of William Lewis, who wrote: “I have been favoured with a sight of this stone, and am assured that it is a true diamond. At a distance, it looks uniformly black; but on closer examination, it appears in some parts transparent, and in others charged with foulness, on which the black hue depends.” [24] He also states on p.321 “I have been informed by a skilful jeweller that he had seen a black diamond, cut and set in a ring; though perhaps the examination made of it was not so rigorous as could be wished for determining its being truly of the diamond kind.”

Of course, we must bear in mind that we do not have the benefit of scientific examination of these stones in order to verify that they were indeed black diamonds; however, further literary mentions all but assure us absolutely that the black diamond had been discovered by this time: Jean Claude de La Metherie, a mineralogist and geologist of note, writes in his 1795 “Théorie de la terre” (“Theory of the Earth”), “Le diamant noir est plus dur que le diamant blanc.” – “The black diamond is harder than the white diamond”.[25]

The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1797 mentions a Mr. Dutens, who related that he had seen a black diamond in Vienna in the collection of the prince de Lichtenstein. [26] This was Louis Dutens (1730-1812), a French writer whose Des Pierres Précieuses et des Pierres Fines (Precious Stones and Fine Stones) appeared in 1776; however turning to his work we are enlightened no further, as he simply states “J’en ai vu un noir dans la collection du Prince de Lichtenstein à Vienne” – “I saw a black one [diamond] in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein in Vienna.” [27] G.F. Kunz, writing in 1917 in “Rings for the finger: from the earliest known times, to the present” describes in the collection of the famous Imperial Kunstgewerbe Museum (Museum of Arts and Crafts), Vienna, a sun-dial ring made in the 17th century, with a lid “studded with black diamond lozenges”. Perhaps this is a coincidence, perhaps not: The faceting of one larger stone often creates several usable smaller pieces and, given the rarity of black diamond, it is not an impossible stretch to venture that these jewels may all have originated in the same stone. If it were a lesser writer describing the sun-dial ring, it would be easy to dismiss the lozenges as probably being made from another mineral altogether; however Kunz was a celebrated gemologist (who even had a gemstone – kunzite – named after him), rendering this possibility less likely.

It’s another oft-repeated “internet myth” that the Duke of Wellington was an aficionado of black diamonds, and once owned one weighing 12.25 carats. [28] Which Duke of Wellington is not stated – but although most unqualified references to “The Duke of Wellington” refer to the first and most famous, Arthur Wellesley, it seems somewhat unlikely to have been him as he lived from 1769 to 1852.

There is, however, more: “The Lady’s realm, Volume 12” of September 1902, describes the “most famous collection of jewels of modern times”, that of the Duke of Richmond, to contain a black diamond that “…did duty for centuries as the eye of an Indian idol.” [29] This diamond sounds suspiciously like the Black Orlov previously mentioned, a stone once nicknamed the ‘Eye of Brahma’ and said to have been prised from the statue of an Indian Deity. The Orlov, like many other diamonds, has controversial origins lost in the mists of time.

From all this it seems abundantly clear that a handful of black diamonds must have been known before the first recognized “official” discovery in 1845. It’s possible that a handful were found many centuries before, and found their way from the treasuries of the Orient and Africa, through to the jewel collections of 18th century Europe. But the first chapter in the history of the black diamond is evidently entirely missing, save for a few scant inscriptions.

All things considered, it seems that after all this research, we can only say one thing about the black diamond for certain: That it exists. In every other regard, it seems, curiously, to resist study as fiercely as it resists the blade. The more we examine it, the less we seem to know – as every statement made about it seems to contradict another. Even after all this time, the black diamond still remains as perhaps the most mysterious gemstone on earth and one of the true enigmas of our time.

Black Diamond – Sources Referenced:

[6] “An Investigation into the Cause of Color in Natural Black Diamonds from Siberia” – Gems & Gemology, Fall 2003
[22] “The Curious Lore of Precious Stones” – G.F. Kunz, 1913.