Why Rock Collectors are Crazy about Labradorite

2014 June 9
by Jasper Sterling

labradoriteJust one look at the description for Labradorite on the Pikes Peak Rock Shop catalog and it’s obvious why this mineral is so fascinating to the average collector.  The description on the site says, “Labradorite is a mineral whose charm is not fully noticed and may be overlooked if not viewed from the proper position.”

It’s true that this mineral might even look dull and dark, with no special virtue, until that iridescent and colorful schiller is seen glowing on the surface.  Labradorite produces a colorful display of light, known as “labradorescence,” particularly across cleavage planes and in sliced sections. 

What is labradorescence?

When exposed to the right light from the right angle, labradorite just glows.  The usually intense colors range from the typical blues and violets through greens, yellows and oranges.  Some rare specimens cam display all these colors simultaneously.  The highest quality labradorite is mined in Madagascar. From a metaphysical perspective, labradorite is believed to provide clarity, attract success and aid in the use and interpretation of dreams.

How has labradorite been used throughout history?

The use of labradorite in decorative objects and jewelry is nothing new; it was used even before the year 1,000 by Native Americans in Maine.  However, it wasn’t until the 1770’s that labradorite was officially named by the Moravian Missionaries of Labrador.  What makes this stone so unique is its natural iridescence, which has been compared to the play of colors on the wings of tropical butterflies.

How do the colors change on the surface of labradorite?

It may not be a gemstone that is mined in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, but it certainly bears an unmistakable resemblance to a Colorado sky.  The colors of labradorite change in the light, but they can reflect a combination of teal, purple and orange against a slate gray backdrop.  Named for the region in which the gemstone was first found (Labrador Canada), these large crystal masses are found in anorthosite rock and display an incredible array of colors.

Blue labradorite has an iridescence that comes from layers of semitransparent minerals on the surface of the gemstone.  When the numerous reflections that come from these layers intersect with one another, the stone emits parallel bands of shimmering “spectral color.”  Flashes of blues and greens give off a hue that is reminiscent of turquoise jewelry – or an Arizona sky.  Perhaps this explains the popularity of labradorite in rock shops throughout the American Southwest.

What is the composition of labradorite?

Labradorite is composed of 30 to 50 percent albite (a sodium aluminum silicate) and 50 to 70 percent anorthite (a calcium aluminum silicate.)  A member of the feldspar group, another multicolor variety of labradorite can be found in Madagascar, where it is referred to as a “rainbow moonstone.”

Highly iridescent versions of labradorite are often named “spectrolite” because they display a brilliant range of spectral hues.  One popular offshoot of this variety is called heliotite, where the schiller effect gives off flashes of red, blue, green and orange.  Keep in mind, that most of these dark gray gemstones only display one or two iridescent colors, the most common ones being green and blue.

How is labradorite used by jewelers and crafters?

Most gemstones are used as specially-cut unique large centerpieces for designer labradorite pendants. These are generally set in a sterling silver pendant or sterling silver pendant. This gemstone is also used in carvings, decorative wooden articles and decorative wall tiles.

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