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Kunzite is a much maligned beauty. At its best a deep-pink lavender, this spodumene is hard to set and, once set, inclined to fade. Nonetheless, kunzite deserves a place in the sun.

No, make that shade. Hot lights can, and do, turn this stone a whiter shade of pale, although color loss is usually very gradual. However, worn with an understanding of its high-strung traits, top kunzite can give enduring beauty equal to that of Ceylonese pink sapphire and Brazilian pink topaz for vastly less money.

Unfortunately, the deep-pink/lavender varieties of spodumene are rarely seen except in the Japanese market. Most kunzite seen on the market has a pale pink that is hardly comparable in strength to those of fancy sapphire. But it is not these wash-outs that we are praising here, nor even next-step-up stones with a pleasing blush of lilac.

No, what we have in mind are kunzites with an electric-lavender. This hue is rarely encountered in stones under 10 carats and can be the object of somewhat intensive searching in sizes below 15 carats. Once you get to sizes above 20 carats, the search for deep colors eases considerably. At 30 carats, fine color is more common, but certainly not commonplace.

The trouble is that few consumers are in the market for 30-carat stones, even ones as relatively inexpensive from a per-carat price perspective as kunzite. Matters aren’t helped much when shoppers hear that this spodumene, discovered in California early in this century and named after the pioneering gemologist and Tiffany’s vice president George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932), has a reputation for brittleness and color instability.

However, a growing number of jewelers think these negatives are overemphasized. “Kunzite is like opal,” says one specialist from Wyoming. “You’ve got to handle it with care. But that doesn’t stop people from wearing and enjoying it.”

Can’t Stand the Heat

The Wyoming dealer, who has cut at least 5,000 carats of kunzite since 1970, believes the stone is a victim of “bum raps.” Its reputation for brittleness, he says, comes from the fact that spodumene, very much like diamond, is plagued with cleavages (planes of crystal weakness). If cut improperly, these cleavages simply give way. “You just can’t pick up a kunzite and start grinding it,” the Wyoming dealer explains. “But the same can be said of tanzanite, a stone which can cleave even more easily.” The need for extreme care also extends to setting polished stones.

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