Labradorite Value and Marketing Issues


Labradorite Value and Marketing Issues

I want to clearly state that these are my opinions and observations in this article. I am sure some people will not agree with me and have differing opinions. But for what they are worth here is what I think on the subject of Labradorite.

OK, there are a few things about Labradorite that need to be straightened out. I see a lot of miss information and frankly some pretty out right false information on this subject as a whole, especially from sales people.

What is Labradorite?

Labradorite (Mexico, Oregon, etc.) is a yellow to gold Feldspar material found in many locations. It has a refractive index of 1.52 to 1.56 and a hardness of 6-6.5. Labradorite is a nice material to cut, facet, and set in jewelry and it is a Feldspar. Feldspar is not really a new mineral… It has been around a long time. Natural Feldspar material depending on the type, color, and size can be quite rare and valuable to pretty common and not particularly valuable.

What is Considered Valuable?

Natural red, green, and watermelon (green/red) are considered the most valuable and the only legitimate proven finds of this material are in Oregon, USA. Natural material in these colors are the true rare and valuable collector stones. Red and green in Oregon Sunstone are the most rare with watermelon (green/red) being just about as rare.

Schiller Sunstone is not especially as rare as the red, green, and watermelon, but it is not all that common. Be aware that the schiller can be different make up chemically in the material depending on the location. Schiller in the Oregon material is the copper fleck material, in some types schiller (Indian and African) just refers to other types of inclusion (Hematite) in the Feldspar besides copper.

The gold and champagne material is the most common and called Labradorite in the trade. Gold material commonly called Labradorite does have some value and yes the value may increase as the material is marketed and the public becomes aware of Labradorite and the demand/market grows. That usually does happen in cases like this.

Labradorite, Bytonite, Sunstone (trade name) and Andesine are all in the Feldspar group. Feldspar contains varying percentages of NaAlSi3O8 and CaAl2Si2O8. The percentage of Na and Ca determines the mineral name. To determine exactly which one of these names the specimen is requires a chemical analysis. The percent of chemical difference is usually very minor and is often not conclusive.

Because the chemical differences can be and often are so minor there is some name confusion. Also in my opinion there is name confusion because of bad marketing tactics that have been used to sell Labradorite, in particular on TV, but in the gem trade as a whole too.

The bottom line is this material is all Feldspar. There maybe some slight chemical differences, and some different names depending on the chemistry and/or the marketing, but… it is all Feldspar with basically the same properties.

It is not unusual for there to be some chemical differences in gem materials… For example Aquamarine (most other stone types do too) has varying degrees of different elements in it depending on the mine location and different specimens can have a slight varying of refractive indexes. But they are all called Aquamarine and marketed as such. The chemical difference are relatively minor and do not effect the marketing of Aquamarine.

Note: On the Aquamarine example the various elements can effect the color, that is one reason that some Aquamarine heats bluer and some does not. The point is it is all Aquamarine.

This is the same case with Labradorite, but some how with marketing and the TV people they have done a very good job of confusing the issue trying in my opinion to “push” the material. Bottom line is that unless there is a lab chemical analysis that proves Andesine, Bytonite, or Labradorite conclusively. The golden material is usually defaulted to being Labradorite and that is the name used generally. Sunstone is a trade name and it refers to the colored and schiller Oregon material.

Optically and from a faceting stand point all of these minerals… Labradorite, Bytonite, Sunstone (trade name) and Andesine are basically identical when they are champagne/gold or color (red or green) with no schiller. The Schiller material is generally used more for carving and often takes different cutting techniques because the schiller (copper colored particles in the material) block light transmission and create special optical issues.

With the obvious exception of color(s) and schiller found in Oregon, Tanzania, India, and supposedly (because there is no verification and real proof at this time in my opinion) in China and the Congo region of Africa most of the material found is the champagne/gold type. The natural color and schiller material is more valuable and depending on the color considered rare. As I have stated the only proven finds at this time (March 2008) in my opinion are Oregon, India, and Tanzania.

Note: The Chinese and the Congo mines and materials are not verified by honest reliable sources yet in my opinion and there are serious treatment questions as well as supply questions about both locations. The supply questions are… Is the material really from where it is claimed? Or from other mines… for example located in Mexico? There are some serious doubts.

The value of any of these stones (Andesine in particular) will be less to very significantly less if the material is treated in any way. Much of the Chinese and Congo material (Andesine) is under suspicion of being heated, diffused (copper melted and forced into the stone under heat and pressure), and or irradiated to obtain the red/orange and green color. Heating has been admitted to date, but testing is still under way on the other treatment(s).

Note: As of Jan 2009 most of the Andesine on the market has been proven to be treated, mainly copper/heat treated.

My Opinion

If the material is just heated and that is all, then yes I feel the heating will lower the price… Heat almost always lower price in any other gem material so Andesine will not be any different. Especially considering that there is natural provable unheated material from Oregon available.

If the Andesine is proven to be not only heated (which is now being admitted) but also treated in some other way, most likely diffusion, then in my opinion the treated material is basically worth only a fraction of what natural untreated material is worth. Why? Because they can make as much as they want any time they want and there is no rarity or value. It is man-made color.

If the Andesine is proven to be treated and heated, which I am of the opinion most of it is, then there will be no market except as man-made, no value for any of the stones that are treated.

This Andesine may turn out to be one of the largest frauds in the history of the gem stone industry. I am of the opinion that there are some industry insiders selling and promoting Andesine that know perfectly well that Andesine has been treated and heated all along. Their claims of ignorance are frankly not believable.

All these sellers have gemologist available (if nothing else independent labs) some of them are gemologists themselves and are supposed to be experienced in the trade and experts. Well how stupid are these experts? Or just how stupid do they want us to believe they are?

They did not check any of these stones? Do any tests? Have any questions? They were not interested in the fact that there are no mineral specimens, no rough Andesine any where in 6 years available in the colors that they are selling and promoting… Just cut stones from some not verified vague source and being sold out of China and Bangkok?

Supposed experts that were just this year figuring out that…”well these are heated”. Never checked or asked and demanded to see rough and proof of Andesine stones being natural? Or worse yet just did not want to know? These sellers want us to believe they spent millions of dollars doing business with no real information? They just blindly took the risks?

More likely in my opinion they are passing the buck (like pointing at theirs suppler’s in China and Bangkok, who every one in the trade knows are famous for treatments and non-disclosure of gem stone treatments) and playing “Do not ask, do not tell…” They know better and always have. Sheer greed and lack of ethics in my opinion. Time will tell.

Here is a JCK Blog link where Chris Rose the owner of the Spectrum Sunstone mine has a few things to say about the Andesine treatments. Interesting reading…

“I talked to one of the people from the laboratory in Japan. This person told me that it was copper diffusion. There was no confusion about what copper diffusion meant with him. I told him I was hoping they were simply heating schillers which naturally contain copper rather than introducing foreign copper. It was very clear he was talking about introducing foreign copper. He even described the process that he observed in China, how they put the copper in it. Basically, to get diffusion all the way into the stone, they have to heat it for 30 days, after which time further diffusion is drastically slowed and only partly into the stone because a rind develops on the stone which prevents the further diffusing of copper. To get around this, they take the stones out of the oven and tumble them to get that rind off and they repeat the process 2 more times for a total heating time of 90 days.”

– Chris Rose

Read more JCK Blog

Want real natural untreated material? Buy Oregon Sunstone.

Oregon Sunstone in all the above colors is available rough and untreated and unheated. Buying the natural rough is a good way to pretty much guarantee that what you are getting is natural. In almost all cases the “treated” and “heated” material is quite easy to spot in the rough, or at least the very few piece of rough Congo and Chinese material I have managed to see. The heating and treating leaves very obvious indications of the treatments and heating. Once the rough is cut some of the treatments are more difficult to spot. But frankly in most cases heating should be easy to spot by any competent gemologist.

The Marketing Issues

There is a lot of snake oil sales people and some very questionable sales techniques being used to sell almost all faceted stones. Especially on the TV channels, but quite frankly in the general trade and most jewelry and gem shows also. I have said that the gem business is basically unregulated and unfortunately a buyer beware environment. This is very true…

The best defense a customer has is to be educated and learn about the mineral/gems in question before buying any thing. Do your home work and become and educated customer.

The next question?

Where are the watch dogs and the trade groups that are supposedly there to help protect the public? Well that is a good question and it deserves an answer from these supposedly watch dogs… Why are they not watching and sounding the alarms??? People should ask them. The trade groups and supposed watch dogs like GIA and other labs have been virtually completely absent from any of these issues. Makes me wonder.

I am writing these articles because I am sick and tired of the questionable tactics, bad information, miss-information to plain not truthful information that is being used to sell gem stones in general.

Here is another article you may find of interest: “The continuing questionable Andesine story

Is Labradoite the next Tanzanite? This a phrase I have heard uttered by more than one breathless sales person hyping Labradorite on TV. The answer is NO it is not and will never be. The sales people making these types of claims are either not very knowledgeable, or are being a whole lot less than honest, in my opinion. They should and probably do know better.

Why? Lots of reasons. One of the major reasons is that Tanzanite is basically found in one (1) location and mine (at least now). That mine is in Tanzania and like I said, it is a single location and a finite resource. At least until another mine is found, if that ever happens. So yes, Tanzanite is fairly rare, although considering the millions and millions of carats of Tanzanite that have been mined and marketed over the last decade or so, one could argue the rarity.

That being said, Labradorite is in the Feldspar group and not only common… But found and mined all over the world. There are many types and many, many locations and mines. Labradorite is not and never has been a single mine source. It is found on virtually every continent in good quantity.

There are well known mines in Oregon, which produce gold, schiller, and colored material which is marketed as “Sunstone”. But along with the small percentage of colored Sunstone they mine… They also get 90% plus of just champagne/gold color material that is basically Labradorite. The color and the schiller are the rare minerals, the gold (Labradorite) is the most common material that they mine and produce.

There are also Feldspar mines in most major gem producing countries, Mexico, Africa (Tanzania, Kenya), India, etc. One note of interest that people may find interesting is that Moonstone is also a Feldspar and as well as Spectrolite. Look here for some examples of Feldspar. There is a lot of diversity in the Feldspar family.

So no Labradorite will never likely attain the rarity of Tanzanite. Never say never, but with literally mines all over the world and Feldspar being one of the most common minerals… Well lets say the next Tanzanite is probably not going to be Labradorite, at least in rarity or value any time soon.

That being said, yes as the Labradorite market increases, the value may and probably will increase some what. Increase like the value of Tanzanite did? Not very likely in my opinion. But Labradorite is a nice interesting material and if faceted and cut correctly can be quite attractive and does have some value. Labradorite can be used in most jewelry applications, although because is not especially hard, a protected setting is a good idea.

How will the all Andesine and Labradorite issues turn out? Well at this point it is up in the air, although like I have said I am of the opinion that a lot of, if not most of the Chinese and Congo Andesine and Labradorite in red and green are probably heated (is now being admitted) as well as treated in some way.

My Advice

From a investment and value stand point in my opinion I would not invest in any colored Andesine or Labradorite unless it is proven to be from the only legitimate source which is Oregon. I do not recommend buying or investing in any material but Oregon’s Sunstone.

As far as the Andesine and Labradorite supposedly from the Congo and China? I will not buy it, I do not sell it (never have) and I strongly recommend against buying it. At least until there is honest and reliable proof of location as well as NO HEATING and NO TREATMENTS on the gem stones.

They will have to prove to me that… NO heating and NO treatments have been done to the gems and all the stones will have to be tested and proven by reliable labs. This will have to be done before I would ever consider buying a piece and I think sooner or later ALL of the material will have to be tested for there to be any value for any of the Andesine and Labradorite in question.

Gram Faceting Archive of Information
This edited version of an article by the late Jeff Graham is part of a special archived informational series from Gram Faceting. Used with permission.