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Some gems seen to be victims of that oft-repeated childhood proverb: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Andalusite, found principally in Brazil but named after Andalusia in Spain, its earliest source, is one of them.

For sure, this gem has its devotees. But most of them keep their devotion low-key and Platonic. With friends like that, it is hardly surprising that andalusite stays a victim of the silent treatment. Even those landmark studies of gemology, Max Bauer’s “Precious Stones” and Robert Webster’s “Gems,” pay scant attention to this member of the silicate family.

Certainly, one can easily make a case against andalusite. For starters, stones are often afflicted by annoying amounts of gray and brown. Next, fine qualities are hard to find in sizes over 5 carats. No matter what the size, rutile needles are often visibly present, detracting further from this stone. Last, distinct cleavage (susceptibility to breaking along certain crystal planes) can pose a problem when setting this gem in jewelry.

Yet one can just as easily make a case for andalusite. At its best, it offers unique, lovely color for very little money. “You don’t look to andalusite to find perfection in any one color,” says a Virginia collector and gem specialist. “You look to it to find vivid color contrast.”

That’s because andalusite is a pleochroic stone, meaning it gives off different colors when viewed in different directions. With most pleochroic stones, cutters try to minimize this effect, concentrating on obtaining one predominant color. For example, when cutting tanzanite, they will shoot for an optimal Kashmir blue, extinguishing as much as possible the stone’s strong violet component.

Cutters change the rules when it comes to andalusite. Here they shoot to maximize pleochroism. The stone’s two basic hues, yellowish green and orangy brown, aren’t very often pleasing enough in themselves to emphasize one over the other. But when cut to be played off against each other, stones take on new life through sharp color contrast. The intensity of this contrast is what beauty in andalusite is all about. Yet this unique aesthetic makes andalusite an acquired taste.

The “Phenomenon” Fallacy

Education is the key to connoisseurship of andalusite. But it is hard to educate consumers about andalusite since its best colors are difficult to describe. Try to imagine, if you will, a cushion or emerald-cut stone with a pronounced middle area of a light, sometimes steely, yellow green that gives way abruptly on each side to sharply contrasting end areas of bronze or purplish orange-brown. This is how the dramatic color-play in this gem appeared in the finest specimens we were able to see.

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