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Taaffeites

Taaffeites

Taaffeite is one of the rarest and most desirable of collector's stones. Only a very few stones have been found, most of them originally misidentified as spinel. Sri Lanka and Tanzania appear to be the only sources for this material this time. However, because of the geological connection between the deposits in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and East Africa, we expect to find the stones in Madagascar as well.

We make no secret of our love for gemstone rarities, so it seems appropriate that we would choose Taaffeite to be a profiled stone. Pronounced TARF-ite, the stone is named for its discoverer, Count Charles Richard Taaffe (1898-1967) who first came across a faceted stone (one of the few gems to be discovered not as rough, but as a faceted stone) while sorting a parcel of Spinel in 1945.  For many years after, Taaffeite was known only in a few samples and became famous as one of the rarest gems in the world.

The confusion between Spinel and Taaffeite is an understandable one, the two gems share very similar gemological properties. The crucial difference being that Taaffeite is doubly refractive while Spinel is singly refractive; the  gemologist is able to see pleochroism in Taaffeite. Moreover, the color range is also similar for the two gems, Taaffeite usually being found is fairly unsaturated (think grayed out) shades of mauve and lavender. Unusual examples have been found both colorless and in deeper, more attractive reds and purples.  See the photos below for some examples of Taaffeite's color range.
 
Sri Lanka remains the primary source for Taaffeite where it is found in the island's famed alluvial deposits. With more aggressive mining and increased gemological awareness in East Africa more Taaffeites have been coming from Tanzania in recent years.  Naturally this means slightly greater availability and more attractive prices for collectors and admirers.  While no longer the extreme rarity that it once was, Taaffeite remains an extremely rare gem material.  Among this select group, Taaffeite is rarer still for its durability; most collector's stones require care in handling and are of very limited use in jewelry.  Taaffeite, with it's hardness between that of Chrysoberyl and Topaz could easily be set in all types of jewelry.
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