Meet the Gemstones: Labradorite
Opals are the birthstone for October, but opals are not alone in riveting displays of phenomena. Labradorite is another gem that displays beautiful shifts of color.
ABOVE: This pair of labradorites (32.64 carats total weight) exhibits the full range of spectral colors available to labradorite, from red though violet. In the stone on the left, you can see the lamellar structure that results in the changing colors of labradorite. Photo Mia Dixon, courtesy Pala International.
Labradorite is a type of feldspar, one of a group of minerals that includes moonstones and sunstones as well. You might have guessed that it was originally “discovered” in Labrador, the mainland portion of the Canadian province of Labrador and Newfoundland in 1770. Some say it was discovered by missionaries. Of course, the native Inuit of Labrador had known of it for years. They have a story that the Northern Lights were freed from the mineral, leaving just enough behind to give the stones their beauty.
Labradorescence or Play of Color?
It’s this rainbow-like iridescence that makes labradorite unique. The effect is caused by light reflecting from the plates that make up the stone’s structure. (Labradorite is also called spectrolite because of the spectrum of colors it can exhibit.) Because the cause of the phenomena is different from what causes the shifting colors of opal, the phenomena in labradorite is designated “labradorescence” and not “play of color.”
Colors of Labradorite and Rainbow Moonstone
The body color of labradorite is usually a medium to dark gray, which is an excellent contrast to the colors of labradorescence, which are most often green and blue, but can include yellow, orange, and red. Like the adularescence of moonstone, labradorescence seems to float just under the surface. Labradorite with a white to pale gray translucent body color and a blue adularescence (often from Madagascar) is marketed at shows and online as rainbow moonstone.
The Inuit are not the only people to attribute myths to this gemstone. In its fairly short history among Europeans, it has collected an impressive number of alleged metaphysical properties, undoubtedly due to the colorful phenomenon. The one I like is that it’s thought to “bring light”—insight, in other words. But there are other types of “light” it can bring: encourages the positive in people, calming, and bringing peace to them.
Some say that this gem is associated with the throat chakra, which is itself associated with the color blue, the most common color exhibited by labradorite. The throat chakra is said to be vital to self-expression, speech, and communication, not only between people but between the material and spiritual worlds. So wearing a labradorite can enhance your communicative powers.
Labradorite Sources and Attributes
Since its initial introduction in the 1770s, labradorite has been found in places as diverse as Finland, Madagascar, Mexico, Norway, Russia, the US, and Australia, which means it is pretty easy to find at most shows and online. Labradorite is most often cut into cabs, but it is also beautiful in faceted beads that flash different colors are they are worn.
While relatively hard, at 6 to 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, this stone’s durability isn’t very good. The same lamellar structure that causes the phenomena makes the stones tend toward parting. In addition, there is easy cleavage in two directions. While this might make labradorite a bit tender as a ring stone, carefully set, it can make a spectacular centerpiece in necklace or brooch.
It’s easy to accent this color-shifting gem, too. There are any number of gemstones that can be used to emphasize this gem’s spectral colors.
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Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.
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