Rediscovering the Hidden Gems of Latin America and the Caribbean

Forget emeralds, rubies and sapphires. According to the song “Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend”, but if you really want to impress, how about the beautiful blue …

Forget emeralds, rubies and sapphires. According to the song “Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend”, but if you really want to impress, how about the beautiful blue of Larimar, said to have healing properties and often called the Atlantis Stone. Found only in a one square kilometre area of a remote mountainous region in the Dominican Republic, Larimar is one of the rarest gems in the world, but it is not the only rare gem to hail from the Caribbean and Latin America. If you want something different, try Amazonite and Chrysoberyl from Brazil, or the rare Trapiche Emerald from Colombia.

Larimar

Larimar, the Atlantis stone, is one of the rare gems found in the Caribbean.
Larimar, the Atlantis stone, is one of the rare gems found in the Caribbean.

As mentioned above, Larimar is a rare blue pectolite which was first discovered in 1916 and can only be found close to the Bahoruco region in the Dominican Republic. It has an extraordinary blue colour similar to the color of tropical seas.

According to Dr Robert Woodruff, an entomologist and lapidary hobbyist, the gem is rumored to “have been found by a Peace Corps volunteer named Norman Rilling in 1974. The history of the stone takes many turns. It was originally named Travelina by Miguel Mendez of Santo Domingo. This name, however, soon gave way to the current Larimar, coined by combining the first of Mendez’s daughter’s name, Larissa, with “mar,” the Spanish for sea, whose color the stone resembles.” Earlier accounts tell of an initial discovery in 1916, by a priest of the Barahona Parish.

Larimar is called both the Atlantis Stone and the Dolphin Stone. Edgar Cayce, a psychic known as the ‘Sleeping Prophet’, foretold that part of Atlantis would be discovered in the Caribbean in the 1960s and that a blue stone with healing properties would be discovered. Many believe that Larimar is that blue stone, hence the name. It was also called the Dolphin Stone because of the association of dolphins to Atlantis. There is even a Museum of Larimar in Santo Domingo.

As a result of its link to Atlantis, many believe that the gems have healing properties and can connect the wearer to the lost knowledge of Atlantis.

Quality grading of Larimar is according to color; white is low quality and volcanic blue is the highest quality. The rarest Larimar gemstone is volcanic blue which is rated AAA and has a distinctive pattern deep in the heart of the gem. Larimar is not only graded according to color but also according to luster, luminosity, clarity, translucence, and chatoyance. Larimar is a relatively soft stone, measuring 4 to 4.5 on the Mohs’ scale, which measures the hardness of a mineral, so great care has to be taken when wearing it.

Amazonite

An Amazonite stone from Brazil. Photo by Tom Epaminondas and Eurico Zimbres.
An Amazonite stone from Brazil. Photo by Tom Epaminondas and Eurico Zimbres.

Amazonite, also called the Amazon Stone and the stone of courage, is a light aqua-green stone with white mottled flecks. It is a gemstone variety of green microline, a feldspar mineral. It is believed to have been a sacred stone of high value, used by the Egyptians.

It was named Amazonite because green stones were found in the Amazon River at one stage but it is actually found mainly in Brazil. Another explanation of its name is that it was named after the legendary Amazon warriors. According to Brazilian legends, these Amazon women (named after the Greek warrior women) would give these stones to all men who came to visit them.

Amazonite colors can vary from green and yellow-green to blue-green. Its unique color is a result of iron impurities that give it its striking bluish green color. The best gemstones are those with evenly distributed and saturated colors. Amazonite is best viewed under soft, warm daylight, such as can be seen shortly after sunrise and just before sunset. They are fairly soft stones – 6+ on the Mohs scale – and are generally cut en cabochon.

Chrysoberyl and Alexandrite

Chrysoberyl is a gemstone discovered in 1789 by the geologist Abraham Werner. Its name was derived from two Greek words ‘chrysos’ and ‘beryllos’ meaning gold-white spar. Despite its name, it is not a beryl but is classified as its own independent mineral group. It is the third hardest natural gemstone, measuring 8.5 on the Mohs scale so it is suitable for most jewellery.

Some of the most notable sources of Chrysoberyl are from mines in Brazil: Minas Gerais, Esperito Santo and Bahia. One of the most famous Brazilian Chrysoberyls is currently displayed in the Natural History Museum in London and is known as ‘The Hope’. It weighs 45 carats.

Alexandrite changes color depending on the light.
Alexandrite changes color depending on the light.

Color-changing Alexandrite is the rarest of the Chrysoberyl family and one of the rarest colored gemstones in the world. It was originally found in the Urals in Russia and named after the Tsar, Alexander II. But since 1967, it is also found in Hematita in Minas Gerais, Brazil. It displays an emerald green color in daylight and a reddish purple or rasberry color in incandescent light. It is regarded as a stone of good omen and is considered mysterious and magical.

Alexandrite under ultraviolet light.
Alexandrite under ultraviolet light.

The rarest Alexandrites are those with the most distinctive change of color. You need to be careful of synthetic stones – these will be the perfectly clear ones with no inclusions. The Brazilian Alexandrites can rival the Russian ones but currently supply is low and thus they are quite rare.

Another rarity is an Alexandrite that has long thin inclusions parallel to each other which create a cat’s eye effect.

Trapiche Emeralds

Forget ordinary emeralds. The rare Trapiche emeralds from the emerald mines in Colombia offer a different perspective on the traditional green gems. Muzo and Chivor were two of the mines that were excavated by the Incas and Aztecs in pre-Colombian times. Muzo is the main source of the rarest of emeralds, the Trapiche. The color green plays an important role in many cultures and religions, often symbolising life and rebirth, meaning that emeralds have been valued throughout history.

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A trapiche emerald from Muzo Mine, Colombia. Photo by Luciana Barbosa.
A trapiche emerald from Muzo Mine, Colombia. Photo by Luciana Barbosa.

Trapiche emeralds, discovered in 1789, are named after the grinding gear used to process sugarcane. They are distinctive because of a radial pattern with a black six-pointed star effect at their core.

The value of Trapiche emeralds depends on the color and transparency of the stone, the completeness of the rays and the quality of the cut. It is a fairly hard stone, measuring 7.5 on the Mohs scale.

If you want to buy a Trapiche emerald, remember that rarity increases as size does. Each emerald differs in its pattern, color (poor color is an indication of poor quality) and cut. Trapiches have inclusions but beware of large ones as they lower the value.

The map below shows some of the areas where these gems are found. Click on the red markers for details.

So if you are looking for something unique and valuable, something beautiful and magical, don’t opt for diamonds; try one of these four rare gems instead or explore more of Latin America and the Caribbean’s rare gemstones.

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