Moldavite is a somewhat mysterious substance in that scientists are still not entirely sure what it is or where it comes from. The principle theory right now is that moldavite is a type of tektite, and probably formed because of the impact of meteorites.
While moldavite is not one the most well-known gemstones, it is beautiful and unique and makes for an excellent collectors’ piece.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Moldavite?
To answer this question, we must also discuss what tektite is. Originally, moldavite was actually believed to be a type of artificial glass, but now most researchers postulate it is a kind of tektite.
Tektite derives its name from the Greek “tektos,” which means “molten.” Tektites are bodies of gray, brown, black, or green natural glass. They are formed in nature when meteorites slam into the earth, heating terrestrial debris to melting point. Moldavite is the only gem-quality tektite in existence.
While most scientists accept this terrestrial-origin theory for the formation of tektites, not all researchers agree. Some believe that tektite has a non-terrestrial origin. Perhaps for example it was ejected from the Moon by lunar volcanic eruptions. Most of the evidence stands against such theories, but they enjoyed some popularity in the 1960s.
Other far less likely theories also abounded in those days. One Russian mathematician, Matest M. Agrest, proposed that the tektites formed as a result of extraterrestrials bombarding the planet with nuclear blasts!
Even though nowadays most scientists (and the general public) agree that moldavite and other tektites have a terrestrial origin, the extraterrestrial mystique is something which has hung onto moldavite, making it a prized gemstone among metaphysical practitioners.
Moldavite Properties and Color
Moldavite’s chemical formula is SiO2(+Al2O3). This makes it a kind of glass. As such, its properties are similar to other forms of glass, and its hardness is around 5.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. This is not particularly hard, so it can easily shatter, just like anything else made of glass.
What is most extraordinary about moldavite and what will stand out most to the average buyer however is the gem’s appearance. Moldavite may be transparent or translucent, and is a mossy green color. Moldavite’s shapes are extraordinary. Characteristic moldavite features all kinds of unusual folds and swirls and bubbles. In fact, this is yet another way in which the gem features a mossy appearance. If you hold it back from your eye, the texture looks very much like growing moss.
This extraordinary texture was one of the hints that tipped scientists off to the unique process which formed moldavite. These whimsical patterns could not have been formed through typical erosion processes. The highest-grade moldavite gems are those which feature “flower burst” shapes.
It should be noted that moldavite comes in two typical varieties:
- Regular grade: These pieces are lower in quality. They are closer to opaque and are often a very dark green, and may appear almost black. They usually have a “pitted” texture.
- Museum grade: These pieces are usually a lighter, more translucent green, and have the mossy or fern-like patterns or the flower burst shapes. These pieces are much more valuable than the regular grade moldavite stones.
Moldavite is typically used to create jewelry. Some pieces are simply collected and may be displayed in museums or in private collections, without being set in jewelry. Moldavite may be used in other crafts as well.
This stone tends to be more popular with the “alternative” crowd for a couple of reasons. The first is that extraterrestrial origin mystique mentioned previously. The second is that moldavite’s beauty is tied to its structure and shape more than its sparkle and shine.
Most mainstream jewelry is cut and polished. While you can cut and polish moldavite (seen to the right), it is at its most spectacular in raw form.
Moldavite Buying Guide
Shopping for moldavite is considerably different than shopping for other types of gemstones. With most gems, it is advisable to look for the four C’s: cut, clarity, carat, and color. While in a way some of these considerations are still relevant to moldavite, the gem is valued for different reasons than most.
- Carat: Heavier, larger moldavite gemstones will generally be worth more than smaller ones, but only if other aspects of quality are comparable.
- Clarity: The higher-grade moldavite does exhibit more clarity than the lower grade specimens, but you should not be looking for “clarity” in any typical sense here. Even the most transparent moldavite stones are still more in the “translucent” vein. Look for a stone that light shines through well, but do not expect it to be see-through.
- Color: The lighter, more vivid greens are prized above the darker greens that are closer to black.
- Cut: You can buy cut moldavite, but you should not expect it to be like other cut gemstones. It will be translucent, not transparent, and will have a glassy look to it and a certain “roughness” to the facets. Generally, you will also see many flaws, especially bubbles. If you like the cut look, by all means, go for it. But most moldavite collectors are shopping for raw gemstones. There, what you are looking for is simply something that pleases you. Every moldavite piece is entirely unique. While the “flower burst” patterns are generally considered the most aesthetically exciting and the most valuable, each museum-grade moldavite gem has something extraordinary to offer.
It is estimated that there are around 275 tons of moldavite on the planet. Expect to pay around $20-$30 for a small low grade moldavite specimen (that is pretty affordable). Museum-grade moldavite on the other hand is rarer, and will be more expensive to purchase.
One piece can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, size notwithstanding. Because of the uniqueness of raw moldavite shapes, it is hard to put a single cost estimate on these high-quality pieces. There can be quite a subjective range on the cost.
Because moldavite is essentially expensive green glass it has tempted many people to create (very real looking!) fakes. Most fakes are rather easy to spot because they are simply too perfect and often for prices that are unrealistically low. However, if you are looking to buy a high grade specimen worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars it pays to do your homework regarding fakes. A good place to start is a recent GIA article on fake moldavite.
While some museum-grade pieces of moldavite are too precious to be made into jewelry (doing so would disrupt their beautiful formations), many pieces are entirely suitable to use. Moldavite makes for beautiful and unusual pendants, rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.
Tumbled and faceted pieces are sometimes used (tumbled and rounded moldavite stones are particularly popular for bracelets), but many pieces use raw stones.
The reason of course is to preserve the unusual textures and shapes that make moldavite such a unique gem. This is one of the few types of gemstones you will find which may actually be more valuable in a raw form than a cut form, depending on the quality of the stone.
Moldavite Engagement Rings
You will not find a whole lot of moldavite engagement rings for sale, but they are out there! Moldavite engagement rings typically feature cut gems, often in a gold or sterling silver band. Accenting with diamonds helps to keep the ring a little more traditional, and adds even more value and elegance to this unique statement of undying love.
- A moldavite engagement ring is totally unique. You will probably never meet another person who has one. It makes for a great conversation piece.
- Moldavite may be a particularly exciting choice for a recipient who is into natural history. Moldavite tells a compelling geological story.
- The beautiful forest green color of moldavite may be an appealing choice for a partner who loves that hue.
- A moldavite engagement ring, while beautiful and unique, is not traditional, and some recipients will still prefer a diamond engagement ring. If you are interested in an option which unites tradition with uniqueness, a moldavite ring with diamonds encrusted around the central stone is a great choice.
- Moldavite does not have much to display in the way of shine or brilliance. A cut gemstone will display visible flaws (usually bubbles) and wavy contours. It will not sparkle. For many recipients, this is too big of a detractor.
- Some recipients may not appreciate the fact that moldavite is technically glass.
- Since moldavite is not particularly hard, it may easily shatter. This does not make it the world’s most durable option.
For these reasons, moldavite probably should only be your choice for an engagement ring if you have a partner you know in advance will absolutely love it.
How to Clean and Store Moldavite
- Cleaning moldavite is a task to be undertaken with great care. Since it rates only a 5.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness, it is much more fragile than many other gemstones which are commonly used in jewelry. For this reason, it is far too delicate to clean with an ultrasonic cleaner or even a steam cleaner. Stay away from all harsh chemicals. Use a very mild soap and warm water. You can wipe the stone using a soft cloth. To clean the metal setting or get dust out of grooves in the stone, you can try submerging it or gently using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Rinse well so that no soap residue remains. If you need to, you can follow up with a polishing cloth on the metal.
- Storing moldavite must also be done with care. Choose a soft jewelry box which is fabric lined. You may wish to take the additional precaution of wrapping the item itself in cloth. Keep it separate form other jewelry, and store it in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Fluctuations in temperature can weaken the glass. Never wear moldavite while doing work with your hands or while exercising. Make sure that you apply any cosmetics before you put on the gem, so that you don’t get any chemicals on the stone.
Dr. Josef Mayer is the first reported person to discover moldavite. Mayer worked as a professor of natural history at Charles University in Prague in the Czech Republic in the late 18th century.
While at the Vltava River near Týn nad Vltavou, he found what he originally believed to be a form of beryl formed by volcanic activity. When he appeared before the Bohemian Scientific Society in 1786, he presented the moldavite as “chrysolites.”
For some time, moldavite was referred to as “Bouteillen-stein,” a reference to its bottle-green color. Many people believed it was a kind of artificial glasswork byproduct.
The distribution of the pieces overturned this theory however, and in 1900, F.E. Suess pointed out that the pittings on the surface were worth a second look. These markings could not be attributed to standard fluvial erosion, but they did resemble the markings found on meteorites.
This was how the theory began that moldavite was from space, and was itself a kind of meteorite. Suess was also the one who proposed the name “tektite” for these cosmic materials. Still, many other scientists asserted that moldavite and other tektites were a form of obsidian glass.
Over time, researchers investigating the origins of moldavite reached a consensus, which is that the majority of moldavites were formed during the impact of a giant meteorite in Nördlinger Ries around 14,700,000 years ago. This impact melted the mineral material in the region and scattered it in a huge splatter pattern. As the splattering molten material was flying through the air, it cooled.
These pieces landed mostly in Bohemia, in particular in the southern reaches as well as western Moravia and the Cheb Basin. Other pieces landed in Lusatia in Germany and Waldviertel in Austria. Scientists studying the materials have found that they have a similar composition to other types of tektites discovered in other parts of the world. Analysis of all of these materials has helped scientists to reach the conclusion than tektites begin their lives as loose terrestrial sediment. The velocity and heat of the impact melts them, and they then cool into glass.
Because moldavite was formed from a particular impact, 99% of it is found in South Bohemia. Only 1% is found in nearby South Moravia. A handful of pieces have been found at the other locations previously mentioned. It is easy to see why moldavite can be so expensive at the higher-quality end. Each piece has a uniqueness which goes beyond its unusual appearance; the occurrence of the stones was itself a unique phenomenon. There are a very finite number of these stones. The biggest moldavite ever discovered was found in Slavic in the Czech Republic, weighing 265.5 grams.
If you happen to be traveling in the Czech Republic, you can visit the National Museum in Prague. This is where the largest public collection of moldavite is on display, including the largest collection of vintage moldavite jewelry (you can view another large moldavite jewelry collection in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague). There are also smaller collections you can see if you visit the Moravian Museum in Brno or the South Bohemian Museum located in České Budějovice. The local museums where moldavite was first discovered in Týn nad Vltavou and Trebic also house collections.
Moldavite has been used in jewelry and other crafts for a very long time, possibly as far back as 10,000 years! Baroque jewelry from the 17th century has also been discovered featuring moldavite, and during the latter part of the 19th century, moldavite became quite popular. Fakes ran rampant on the market, which led to its decline. Recently, moldavite has seen another upsurge in popularity, though not in the mainstream jewelry market.
Moldavite’s meanings tend to run toward the esoteric owing to its “extraterrestrial” origin. Despite the fact that it is now known that moldavite was formed out of earthly materials, the association with meteorites keeps the extraterrestrial mystique strong. Many buyers still talk about moldavite as if it actually comes from space.
Moldavite is associated with spiritual ascendance and because of its green color, it is also connected to the heart chakra and the emotions. It is considered a soothing stone which counteracts anxiety, and is believed to connect the wearer with the wonders of the universe.
Does it? One way or another, with certainty! While moldavite may not have fallen to earth from outer space, it is still a wonder of geology, and it is still the result of extraterrestrial events. Moldavite’s unique contours reflect a violent geological process as if that moment were frozen in time.
This video shows a high grade moldavite specimen. This particular stone weighs 32 carats and like all high grade moldavite it was found around Besednice in the Czech Republic.
- Chrysolite: This refers to gem-quality olivine, also known as peridot. Chrysolite is not actually similar to moldavite in any meaningful way, but it is included in this list because Dr. Josef Mayer originally mistook moldavite for it. Unlike moldavite, chrysolite is not a form of glass. It is a silicate mineral with the formula (Mg, Fe)2SiO4. It is always an olive green color, with the dark olive pieces being the most highly prized. It is easy to understand how its glassy luster and dark olive green color would lead Dr. Mayer to assume that the moldavite he had discovered was actually a form of chrysolite.
- Ivory coast tektites: Researchers have discovered that moldavite is similar in composition to tektites discovered on the Ivory Coast. These tektites have been found in dense forests, which makes them difficult to retrieve. Because of this, they are quite rare and valuable, despite their dull appearance. They tend to be black or gray and occur in egg shapes with pockmarked surfaces. They actually look like little meteors themselves.
- Australites: These tektites also bear no outward resemblance to moldavite, but researchers have discovered they have a similar composition. They generally are black or dark gray in color, and occur in bizarre and regular-looking shapes like discs or bowls. They look rather like miniature flying saucers. Here is an extraordinary piece of unexpected trivia: NASA actually modeled the Apollo re-entry modules after the “flanged button” shape of australites! As with moldavite, it was once believed that australite was a form of obsidian.
- Obsidian: Obsidian is a popular gemstone which actually is a form of volcanic glass. When lava cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth, you get a piece of obsidian. Obsidian has a smooth, shiny, vitreous texture and is usually black and translucent. It forms very sharp edges and was used in ancient times as a cutting tool. When scientists thought that moldavite might be a type of obsidian, they assumed it was the result of volcanic activity on the moon.
- Fulgurite: Fulgurite does not look like moldavite at all. However they are also a type of glass, but they are formed by lightning strikes instead of a meteor impact.