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It’s white and bright, clean and clear—all the attributes you associate with diamond. Yet no one would mistake it for the king of gems. Hey, you want a natural gem that people would swear is diamond, try white sapphire or colorless topaz. So, then, why write about danburite?

Designer Sharon Curtiss at The Gem Vault in Flemington, New Jersey, can give you lots of reasons. And since she recently won first place in the Jewelers of America’s annual design competition, and uses danburite as frequently as any jewelry artisan in the world, it can’t hurt to hear her out. To begin with, she insists, “White doesn’t have to mean diamond. I can do things with danburite I would not do with diamond or a gem I think of as a diamond substitute.”

Like what? I pester. “Like this,” she answers, and then shows me a pair of knockout earrings, each featuring a danburite weighing around 2-3/4th carats set in 14k white gold and discreetly studded with melee diamonds. The woman who bought them told Curtiss she knew the feature stones weren’t diamonds, but was fascinated by their non-diamond look—then won over by their non-diamond price: $899. “There was no way the customer could buy two decent diamonds with a total weight of 5 carats for the price of this piece,” Curtiss says. “Affordability became a big incentive to fall in love with the earrings.”

All of which brings Curtiss to the next, and possibly main, reason for using this calcium boron silicate as often as she does. “Danburite gives me the chance to create a big, white, classic look—elegance that can be worn with anything,” she says.

And she can do so for under $20 per carat—one tenth the current rising cost of increasingly scarce white sapphire. Of course, with a hardness of 7, as opposed to sapphire’s Moh’s scale rating of 9, danburite probably shouldn’t be equal in value to corundum. After all, a 7 rating for danburite sends hands-off signals for ring use—or, at least, everyday ring use. Aware of the gem’s borderline suitability for rings, The Gem Vault’s designers restrict danburite mostly to earrings or pendants. But white on the ear or on the neck is just as noticeable and nice as white on a finger.

Nevertheless, if price is a determining factor in the choice of danburite, why not use better-known and less expensive white topaz, I ask Curtiss. “I don’t want to get mixed up with topaz at the moment,” she says, alluding to the widespread use of irradiated and coated topaz. “Danburite is untreated and it is rare—two wonderful strengths on which to build a reputation.”

By now, you may want to know more about this obscure but jewelry-worthy gem named after its place of first encounter in the 19th century near the southern Connecticut town of Danbury. Read on.

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