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Kyanite: Eyes On, Hands Off

If looks were everything, kyanite, the blue gem whose color can be likened to that of Sri Lankan and sometimes Kashmir sapphire, would be a godsend. Tanzanite prices are stationed in outer space, sapphire is plagued with treatment scandals, cobalt-blue spinel is rarer than hen’s teeth, and iolite fails to excite the public.

Alas, say cutters of this material, kyanite is strictly a look-but-don’t-touch gem with directional hardness ranging from 4 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale and perfect cleavage that can make the slightest tap a calamity. One could use it for earrings or maybe a pendant. But anywhere on the human hand and wrist is no-man’s land.

Nevertheless, don’t rule out this aluminum silicate, especially if you have customers who are collectors or want one of every blue gem under the sun. There’s never been a better time to make the case for kyanite. Around 1995, miners in Nepal (sandwiched between Tibet and India) hit what is arguably the best deposit of this gem, quality-wise, ever found. Prior to this find, faceted kyanite tended to have more medium and light tones. Now, says importer Michael Schramm, based in Boulder, Colorado, “We’re seeing rich cobalt blues that make you think of superb sapphire.”

Don’t get the wrong idea. There isn't a flood of deep-blue kyanite. In fact, there’s scarcely a trickle. But there’s enough to make dealers who would have scoffed at plans to write an article on this gem a decade ago greet my intention with enthusiasm. Every one of the four dealers consulted for this profile when kyanite was still a candidate for coverage urged me to publicly sing its praises. What’s more, each boasted of recently adding Nepalese goods to their own private gem collections.


For as long as people have been mining and cutting kyanite, they’ve been comparing it to sapphire. According to gemologist Max Bauer, the gem was commonly sold in Europe as sapparé at the turn of the 20th century. As he wrote in the 1905 edition of his book, Precious Stones: “Kyanite is comparable to a certain extent with sapphire. It has, indeed, been occasionally mistaken and sold for the stone; and the name sapparé, by which it is known to jewelers, recalls the same stone. This latter name arose out of an error made by the Geneva mineralogist, Saussure, junior, who read the label attached to a supposed specimen of sapphire as sapparé; the mistake has long been recognized, but the name remains, having become firmly established, especially among French jewelers.”

Today, of course, the term sapparé is no longer used and the gem is sold everywhere as kyanite, a modernization of the name “cyanit” (as in cyan, for blue) originally given the gem in 1789. The change of spelling is understandable. Cyanite invites confusion with “cyanide.” Names aside, the idea of seeing kyanite in finer French jewelry salons a century ago has a certain shock value. So do the recent offerings of this gem on ACN Jewelry Television, a shop-at-home station that sells only loose gems and finished jewelry.

Like most sellers of kyanite that we talked to, ACN does not restrict itself to Nepalese goods. It has offered fine cut stones from North Carolina and Brazil, the two most celebrated western hemisphere sources of the gem. Cutter Mike Gray of Coast-to-Coast Gems in Missoula, Montana, presently stocks kyanite from Brazil and Switzerland, as well as Nepal. Before Nepal grabbed most of the attention focused on kyanite, Kenya was also an important producer—so much so that when the country honored its own considerable gem wealth with a series of 15 postage stamps in 1977, kyanite was the third to be commemorated.

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