Most of us are familiar with popular gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. However, the range of precious stones goes far beyond the types that are readily found in jewelry. Many beautiful gemstones are less well known simply because of their astounding rarity. Ten that you might not even have heard of are:
Larimar: Found only in the Dominican Republic, this variety of the silicate mineral pectolite can be white, light blue, blue-green, or deep blue. It was originally discovered in 1916 by a priest, but not mined at that time. The stone was rediscovered by a Dominican and a Peace Corps volunteer in 1974.
Tanzanite: Discovered in 1967 in the Mererani foothills of Tanzania, this variety of the mineral zoisite exhibits strong trichroism (meaning that it can appear either blue, violet, or burgundy, depending on how the crystal is oriented). The only area in which this gemstone can be found is a mere 4.3 by 1.2 miles.
Black opal: While white opals are fairly common, black opals, which have a black background color, are extremely rare. The vivid play-of-color that characterizes the most valuable opals stands out particularly well against a dark background, making these stones highly coveted.
Grandidierite: This mineral was first discovered in Madagascar in 1902, and named in honor of Alfred Grandidier, a French explorer. Grandidierite is a blue-green type of magnesium aluminum borosilicate that gets its color from trace amounts of iron. The few gem-quality examples of this mineral ever found have all come from Madagascar.
Alexandrite: First discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia, this color-change variety of chrysoberyl was named in honor of Alexander II, the heir to the Russian throne. The gem can appear red or green, depending on the light source under which it is viewed. Although new deposits have been discovered since the original source was mined out, this gem is no less rare.
Benitoite: This gem is named for the San Benito River in California, near where it was first found in 1907. While the rare barium titanium silicate mineral has been found in other places, the only gem-quality examples come from a sole source in California, which closed down in 2005, making this gem even more difficult to find.
Painite: Found only in Myanmar, painite was identified as a new type of gemstone in 1957 from a single crystal specimen. Although more painite has been discovered over the last decade, much of it cannot be made into faceted gems due to heavy inclusions and fractures.
Red beryl: This extremely rare type of beryl gets its unusual color from trace amounts of manganese. It is found in gem-quality crystals in only one location in the world, the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah.
Taaffeite: Taaffeite is the only mineral known to have been first identified as a new type of gemstone from a cut and polished stone. The mauve stone had been misidentified as a spinel, but its discoverer, Richard Taaffe, noted qualities that distinguished it from that gemstone. It was eventually traced back to its source in Sri Lanka, but remains exceedingly rare.
Jeremejevite: Although this light purplish-blue mineral was first described in 1883, the first crystals found in Russia were tiny and not suitable for cutting. Sources in Namibia have since yielded jeremejevites that are large enough and of suitable quality for gemstones, but in quantities so small that it is still considered one of the rarest of all gemstones.
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