Throw (gently) virtually any gemstone at a Gemmologist and we can tell you what it is. It is certainly a happy day if the stone in question is natural corundum but with so many other possibilities we can never assume.
Amethyst occurs is a huge variety of forms, patterns and purple hues and being so well-known, it is often confused with all purple stones. Sugilite, one of the lesser-known purple minerals, is one which is often met with the question “Is this Amethyst?”
A relatively rare gem mineral that can be a particularly vivid violet shade, Sugilite always commands attention. First described by Japanese petrologist Ken-ichi Sugi in 1944 who first noted an occurrence in Japan, the deposits there were a brownish-yellowy grain and not the violet material we know today. Found in a small handful of localities across the globe, it is the manganese rich deposits of massive Sugilite from Wessels mine South Africa that has produced the gem quality stones for our Sugilite jewellery collection.
The Wessels mine is located in part of the Kalahari Desert and is one of many important Manganese ore sites in the region. This source produces bluish purple, to purple, to pinkish purple Sugilite, gaining its colour from surrounding Manganese rich rocks present at the time of crystallization.
In contrast to single-crystal gem materials, the Sugilite deposits unearthed here are massive in habit and both polycrystalline and polymineralic; meaning it consists of an aggregate of tiny individual grains of Sugilite and other manganese dominant minerals.
This variable content results in a wide variety of material from opaque dark purple to translucent pinky purple stones. Specimens from the Wessels mine can range from samples that are predominantly Manganoan Sugilite to others that contain major quantities of Chalcedony mixed with or coloured by Sugilite, the latter producing impeccably vivid purple ‘gem quality’ specimens.
Bunny Bedi, owner and designer at Made in Earth, has been fortunate enough to obtain this rare and wonderful gem. “The stone trade is built on relationships, it’s not always about the money you have to spend but whether the person selling it wants you to buy it and Sugilite in particular is a tricky stone to buy unless you know the right people.”
“I met a Sugilite supplier many years ago and helped him out by creating Sugilite pendants for his children. He was very grateful and in return sold me 10kg of magnificent Sugilite rough that I am still cutting and polishing for my Sugilite jewellery rings and pendants today.”
Stones are generally cut into cabochons although it is not uncommon to find small carving and beads. Material with higher translucency and paler colour can be brittle and difficult to successfully cut and polish without casualties. Large 20 carat plus stones are common due to Sugilite’s massive formation and make for stunning statement jewellery. With a MOH hardness of 5.5 – 6.5 stones must be worn with caution to avoid surface scratching.
Don’t be fooled by first impressions, it always pays to be patient and curious, particularly in the gem and jewellery industries.