Libyan desert glass - King Tutankhamun’s pectoral
Libyan desert glass - King Tutankhamun’s pectoral

Tektite Value, Price, and Jewelry Information


Tektite is a natural glass formed from the ejected debris of meteorite impacts. Though most pieces are very small, some tektite varieties have been cut and used for jewelry since prehistoric times.

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Tektite is a natural glass formed from the ejected debris of meteorite impacts. Though most pieces are very small, some tektite varieties have been cut and used for jewelry since prehistoric times.

Libyan desert glass - King Tutankhamun’s pectoral
In 1996, this piece on display at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo caught the eye of a mineralogist. As it turned out, the yellow-green gem in the middle of this pectoral of King Tutankhamun’s (1332–1323 BCE) was Libyan desert glass, a variety of tektite. Photo by RolandUnger. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0. (Cropped to show detail).

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Tektite Value

Tektites are popular as “raw stones” for jewelry or as display pieces. The value of these rough specimens depends greatly on their shape, size, and visual appeal.

Tektites large enough to be cut into gemstones are rare. The value of cut tektites depends mostly on their size, transparency, color, and cut quality. Most tektites are opaque and have dark colors. Thus, translucent and lighter gems tend to sell for higher prices. However, opaque and dark gemstones also have their aficionados.

gold ring with tektite and rubies
This gentleman’s 18k gold ring features an inverted, oval-shaped tektite (16.30 x 13.95 x 10.35 mm) accented by inverted, square-shaped rubies. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Heritage Auctions.

Although very rare, moldavites are the tektite variety most likely to be sold as gemstones. They’ll likely command the highest prices of all tektites, though they’re still relatively inexpensive.

tektite - moldavite
Tektite (moldavite), Czech Republic (6.4). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Are Tektites Meteorites?

Scientists have proposed different theories about the origins of tektites. For example, it has been argued that tektites formed from an explosive event on the Moon and were thrown all the way to the Earth's surface. However, current scientific consensus holds that tektites formed from the impact of meteorites on the Earth's surface. Material from the Earth, melted on impact, was ejected into the atmosphere, then fell back to the surface and cooled into tektites.

Unlike stony, iron, and stony-iron meteorites recovered on Earth, tektites have terrestrial origins. Although formed by meteorite impacts, the tektites themselves have never been in outer space. The composition of tektites is consistent with terrestrial materials.

Philippinite
Philippinite (rizalite), 3 x 2 x 1 cm, 10 g, Paracale, Camarines Norte, Luzon, Philippines. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Tektite Varieties and Sources

The following table contains information on tektites most likely of interest to gemologists and jewelers.

The refractive indices (RI) of tektites seem to vary (positively) with iron content.

Name

Locality

Largest Known Size

Specific Gravity

Refractive Index

Color

Moldavite*

Czech Republic (also Austria, Germany, Poland)

235 grams

2.27-3.40

1.48-1.54

bottle green, yellowish green, brown-green

Australite*

Australia

218 grams

2.38-2.46

1.50-1.52

black, brown edge

Darwin glass

Tasmania

-

2.75-2.96

1.47-1.48

green, black

Javaite

Java

-

2.43-2.45

1.509

black

Billitonite

Billiton Island (near Borneo)

-

2.46-2.51

1.51-1.53

black

Indochinite*

Cambodia, Southern China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

3200 grams

2.40-2.44

1.49-1.51

black

Philippinite (Rizalite)

Philippines, especially Luzon

-

2.44-2.45

1.513

black

Ivorite

Ivory Coast

-

2.40-2.51

1.50-1.52

black

Libyan Desert Glass*

Egypt, Libya

4500 grams

2.21

1.462

pale greenish yellow

Bediasite*

Gonzales County, Texas

91.3 grams

2.33-2.43

1.48-1.51

black

Georgiaite*

Georgia

-

2.33

1.485

light olive-green

Massachusetts tektite*

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

-

2.33

1.485

light olive-green

* Lapidaries have faceted this material.

georgiaite
A translucent georgiaite, found in Dodge County, Georgia. Photo by Megan.ruffin1. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Distinguishing Tektites from Other Glass Varieties

Vendors may sell manufactured glass pieces as natural tektites, particularly moldavites. (Of course, these are the most well-known variety and most likely to appear in jewelry or as cut gems). Examining inclusions and testing for fluorescence are the easiest ways to begin identifying them. See the moldavite gem listing for more information.

Tektites may be confused with another variety of natural glass: obsidian. While tektite is rare, obsidian is very common, which may lead to some misidentifications. This volcanic rock has many properties that overlap with those of tektite: color, hardness, specific gravity, and RI.

Analyzing obsidian and other natural glasses with an Ultraviolet-visible-Near Infra-Red spectroscope (UV-vis-NIR) will show sharp bands at 1380 and 2210-2250 nm, which indicate the presence of water. Tektites won't have these bands because they contain virtually no water.

This near total absence of water makes possible another, more dramatic, way to distinguish tektites from obsidians. Jim Tobin explains this procedure in his 2003 article on tektite testing. When gently heated with an oxy-acetylene flame, obsidians will froth and become pumice. In contrast, tektites won't froth. However, after cooling down, they'll invariably shatter within a few hours due to thermal stress. (Obviously, this test isn't recommended for finished gems).

Tektite Sizes

Lapidaries have faceted moldavite gems weighing up to 25 cts. Other, more rarely faceted tektites are typically much smaller, although large pieces of rough indochinite and Libyan desert glass have been found.

pear-cut indochinite - Laos
An unusually large, pear-cut indochinite, 8.4 x 22 x15 mm, 12.75 cts, Laos. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Jasper52.

Caring for Tektite Jewelry

Tektites range in hardness from 5 to 6.5, which makes them susceptible to scratching. (Household dust, with a hardness of 7, would easily scratch their surfaces). As ring stones, they should receive protective settings and only occasional wear. However, other jewelry uses, such pendants and earrings, should present no problems.

Since tektites can contain numerous inclusions, don't use steam or ultrasonic systems to clean them. Instead, use a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water. Consult our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide for more recommendations.

tektite varieties - Libyan desert glass and moldavite
Tektites: Libyan desert glass, Libya (4.12); Moldavite, Czech Republic (6.05). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Joel E. Arem, Ph.D., FGA

Dr. Joel E. Arem has more than 60 years of experience in the world of gems and minerals. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Mineralogy from Harvard University, he has published numerous books that are still among the most widely used references and guidebooks on crystals, gems and minerals in the world.

Co-founder and President of numerous organizations, Dr. Arem has enjoyed a lifelong career in mineralogy and gemology. He has been a Smithsonian scientist and Curator, a consultant to many well-known companies and institutions, and a prolific author and speaker. Although his main activities have been as a gem cutter and dealer, his focus has always been education. joelarem.com


Donald Clark, CSM IMG

The late Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters “CSM” after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff’s ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book “Modern Faceting, the Easy Way.”


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