Labradorite: Aurora Borealis Gemstone
Labradorite is an unusual gemstone. So unusual that its play of colors was given its own name: labradorescence.
Labradorite is mostly used for beads, but high quality labradorite can also be used as a centerpiece in jewelry.
It is not an expensive gemstone and is suitable for gem lovers as well as collectors.
Table of Contents
- Properties, Color & Uses
- Buying Guide
- Care & Cleaning
- Image Gallery
- Similar Gemstones
What is Labradorite?
Labradorite is a feldspar mineral that is similar to sunstone and moonstone.
Labradorite is named after the region Labrador in Canada where the mineral was identified for the first time. Gemstone quality labradorite is also known as ‘spectrolite’.
Only gemstone quality stones from a locality in Finland used to be named spectrolite. Over time however gemstone quality labradorite from all over the world has been called spectrolite.
The most famed property of labradorite is its play of colors. Usually the main color is blue, but you can also see red, orange, yellow and green colors in many stones. The play of colors effect is called iridescence.
It is so strong in labradorite that it received its own name: labradorescence. Sometimes it will also be referred to as the schiller effect.
This effect is the result of small fractures that have a prismatic effect on incoming light. The light will disperse into the beautiful colors you can see in the pictures in this guide.
Labradorite is a fairly hard stone with a hardness of 6 to 6.5. Despite its hardness it is not very durable, it is easy to crack or chip it if you are not careful. In some cases it can even break. This is because labradorite has perfect cleavage in multiple directions.
Labradorite is usually found in blocks or fragments. It can be found in crystals, but these are rather rare. Faceted gemstones with a high clarity exist, but is very rare. These are mostly made for collectors as they do not display the famous play of colors.
Most labradorite only shows a range of blue colors. This is the type used most in beads. The stones that show red, orange, yellow and green colors are often used as cabochons in jewelry.
Red labradorite, also known as andesine and andesine-labradorite, is almost never natural. The basis is natural labradorite, but it is combined with copper through diffusion treatment. This gives the stone its soft red color.
If a seller claims it is a natural gemstone you should be very wary. The same applies to the so-called “green labradorite”.
Note: There is a natural andesine source in Oregon, they market the stones as “sunstone”.
For more information on this issue click here.
Labradorite was first found in Canada in 1770. More recently deposits have also been found in Ukraine, Madagascar, Australia, Italy, Finland and the United States (NY).
Finland and Madagascar in particular have produced very high quality stones. Most gem-producing countries will have at least some deposits, but few of these are being mined.
Labradorite is not a modern or traditional birthstone.
Labradorite is only used in jewelry and as an ornamental stone. Beautiful carvings are sometimes made from it as can be seen to the right.
A more recent trend is labradorite tabletops. These tabletops can display the stunning play of colors of labradorite. It does not come cheap though: a high quality tabletop can easily cost $2500/m2 ($250/sq. ft).
You can find some beautiful pictures on Houzz.
Labradorite Buying Guide
Labradorite is not an expensive gemstone, but it is still important to know a few things before you go out and buy it.
The value of labradorite is almost completely based on the play of colors. The more obvious and vivid the colors, the higher the value.
Any stone that shows a color other than blue will be more valuable. Red and orange are particularly sought after and are mostly found in stones from Finland or Madagascar.
High quality cabochons with mostly blue colors will sell for $2-$5 per carat. If the stone shows other colors as well the price per carat can go up to $10. Top quality stones that will not look out of place in a pendant could go for up to $20 per carat.
Keep in mind that these prices are for free-form cabochons. A decent sized cabochon for a pendant will weigh at least 10 carats.
Prices for beads are generally much lower than those mentioned above, but so is the quality. A good option is to buy fairly cheap beads and then mix in a few high quality beads. This way you can save money, but still have a necklace that stands out.
Sometimes you will see faceted labradorite for sale that is opaque. These should sell for roughly the same prices as labradorite cabochons. Only buy these if you really like the look, because in general their color is not as good. A typical example can be seen above.
Faceted labradorite made from crystals is also available. These are quite rare and not that popular, so it could take some time to find one you like. Usually these stones are champagne colored. High quality stones will generally sell for $20-$50 per carat. An example of this type of gemstone can be seen to the right.
Synthetic Labradorite and Simulants
There is no synthetic labradorite on the market. Simulants may exist, but are easy to spot if you have ever seen real labradorite. Shop around if you think a particular stone looks suspiciously good (or bad).
There are no synthetics or simulants on the market because it is not an expensive stone and the labradorescence is very hard to reproduce.
Labradorite is sometimes oiled or waxed to improve its color and durability. Always ask the seller for full disclosure, because oiled gemstones require different care and should be cheaper.
Generally the larger the stone, the better the play of colors will be. So while it is possible to wear any piece of labradorite jewelry a pendant is the ideal choice. In a pendant you can place a large cabochon without it looking out of place. Pendants have the added bonus of not being as prone to accidents as rings.
Rings and earrings are certainly options, but for best effect you should go for bold statement jewelry.
How to Clean and Store Labradorite
- Cleaning labradorite is not hard, but you should be careful. The best way to clean it is with warm water and a mild soap. Yes, in theory you could use an ultrasonic or steam cleaner, but we advise against it because labradorite can be fragile. Do not use jewelry cleaner. Any harsh chemicals should be avoided.
- Storing labradorite is easy. Store it in a soft pouch or padded jewelry box and keep it away from other gemstones. With a hardness of 6 to 6.5 it can easily be scratched by many other gemstones such as amethyst.
- Be careful when wearing labradorite. While it has a medium hardness it is easy to scratch or chip. In both cases it can likely be re-polished, but usually this will not be free. The color is not the same throughout the stone and re-polishing could change its appearance. You should avoid physical labor while wearing labradorite jewelry as a sharp impact could break the stone. This is because it has good or perfect cleavage in multiple directions.
Labradorite was first found in 1770 at Paul’s Island in Labrador, Canada. Since that time it has been in use as a gemstone. In the 18th and 19th century it was often used to represent metallic or iridescent materials, like the wings of certain birds and insects.
In 1940 a deposit of high quality labradorite (spectrolite) was discovered along the Finnish-Russian border during the construction of defenses.
In Inuit lore labradorite is a piece of Aurora Borealis (northern lights) that fell to the earth. It was a stone that could act as a guide between realms and offer protection to the wearer.
Labradorite Image Gallery
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This video shows the stunning labradorescence of high quality labradorite from Madagascar.
There are no gemstones with an effect that comes close to labradorescence. Moonstone, closely related to labradorite, has a similar effect, but its colors are not nearly as vibrant.