We’re fortunate enough to work with some of the world’s most beautiful gems every day, so we always take the time to stop and appreciate the stones we’re holding while we still can. There have been plenty of beautiful jewels in our vaults over the years that we can’t source anymore, Russian Alexandrite being just one example. Recently, it has seemed increasingly likely that Csarite, the gemstone known as the ‘Turkish Miracle’, would be joining that list.
We adore Csarite. It is one of the most effortlessly gorgeous gemstones we’ve ever seen, made even more spectacular by its scarce ability to shift colour. Thanks to a wonderful relationship with the Csarite mine owner, Murat Akgun, we’ve visited this region several times and seen the inside of the underground mine with our own eyes. That mine, as it was, is no longer open, although bold new attempts are being made to retrieve further supplies of the stone, as we shall see.
This unique, beautiful, and highly prized jewel now enters a period of uncertainty as significant changes occur at the world’s only mine. As we await the outcome of these changes, we’ve jumped into the Gemporia archive to tell the Csarite story so far, starting with a little history.
A Brief History of Csarite
In 1801, the imperial beauty of Csarite was glimpsed in the Ural mountains of central Russia for the very first time. Almost 200 years later, in the mid-1980s, the same scarce jewel was discovered once again, 2,000 miles southwest of the Urals in the snow-capped Anatolian mountains of Turkey. Initially, mining yields of the stone looked promising from the new Turkish source, but over time this failed to translate into anything approaching a regular supply of high-quality stones.
Sadly, in 2017, against dwindling yields and rising costs, the mine owners made the difficult decision to close the mine.
This remote mine sits 1,200 metres above sea level and seven miles from the nearest village. It is the only place in the world that can supply this remarkable treasure. The gem, which is an exceedingly rare variety of Colour Change Diaspore, was still mined in underground tunnels until recently at this exact location, in the Milas county of Muğla near the village of Selimiye in the southwest of Turkey. Just a few years ago, Csarite gems were still mined in tunnels and shafts by hand, with a small and incredibly dedicated team using chisels and pick-axes to retrieve the rough material carefully. Sadly, in 2017, against dwindling yields and rising costs, the mine owners made the difficult decision to close the mine.
The Allure of Csarite
At the time the mine closed its doors, the gem was already the very epitome of rarity, sought after the world over by connoisseurs and collectors of only the very best gemstones. It earned its nickname as the ‘Turkish Miracle’ not only because the gem is at least 10,000 times rarer than a Diamond, but it also features many incredible and beautiful optical phenomena. If you were to list all of the optical properties you could want in one of the rarest gemstones on the planet to possess, Csarite would tick almost every single box. Its colour is natural, and it changes colour in different lighting conditions where it doesn’t just demonstrate one additional hue, but anything up to five in the top grades. On top of that, it has dispersion and brilliance like a Diamond. It is also pleochroic, meaning it exhibits varying hues when viewed from different angles.
With so many exceptional and unusual optical phenomena, the gem rarely looks the same two days in a row. It has been described as being a chameleon gemstone, even looking different at sunrise than it does at sunset. And it goes further. Many collectors have told us over the years that their gem seems to look different when viewed in different rooms of their house, or at many different times of day when outdoors. Every slight change in location and light will give the gem a different but equally alluring character. Rudi Wobito, a world-class master gem cutter and artist, says, “Everywhere you go, it will look a little different.” Rudi and his brother Ralph, both third-generation cutters with roots in Idar-Oberstein, regularly work with the most beautiful gemstones in the world. Rudi has always commented just how much Csarite strikes him and enjoys cutting high-quality rough Csarite at his workshop in Ontario, Canada. It is the ultimate collectors stone, a natural wonder that defies explanation. To truly appreciate its beauty, you have to see it with your own eyes - it almost defies written description. Still, we’ll do our best.
The beauty and intrigue of this regal gemstone lie in its different colours and exceptional brilliance and lustre. Csarite can change from kiwi greens to purplish raspberry pinks, depending on the light source. This colour change is often described as ‘five-point colour change, as the stone can broadly show off kiwi, chrome green, canary, padparadscha and raspberry hues, not to mention countless variations and combinations in between. Imagine gazing into a long fluted glass of champagne that has just been poured, and is lit by a stream of sunlight passing through it. The resulting effervescence of the light, fresh fizz and mixing of beautiful colours like gold, honey and olive goes some way to capturing the unique colour of Csarite. By candlelight, the same decadent glass would now tease you with indulgent strawberry blushes that swirl around. The kiwi greens, often with canary flashes, are noticeable under sunny skies, while traditional indoor lighting will elicit the more vibrant champagne colours. Candlelight will then reveal the beautiful, previously hidden pink hues. Just wearing Csarite unveils its breathtakingly diverse colours, which will subtly appear to change in appearance from day to day.
One of Csarite’s most unique characteristics is that unlike other colour change gems, Csarite’s colour shift is not dependent on dark tones. Some prefer the colours of Csarite because they like the more subtle pastel contrast and find they complement earth tones and are more wearable than the stronger, contrasting colours of Colour Change Garnet or Alexandrite. If one phenomenon wasn’t enough, some Csarite stones also possess the coveted cat’s eye effect, something that will become of great importance before the end of this feature. This effect is sometimes also known as chatoyancy and is remarkably rare in varieties of Diaspore such as this.
‘Turkish Miracle’ isn’t just a marketing slogan; Csarite truly is a wondrous act of Mother Nature. Before the old mine closed, several Gemporia hosts were fortunate enough to visit the mine, including Drew Nicholls, Ruth Linnett and Adina Stubbs. After returning from her whistle-stop visit to Turkey, Adina described her Csarite experience beautifully. “I don’t know whether it was because I was so high up in the Anatolian Mountains, or so taken by Csarite’s ability to absorb the colours of its surroundings with flashes of gold, apricot, peach, olive and copper pink, but a night in Turkey and a day in the Csarite mine was enough to make me truly appreciate how lucky we are to have this natural and miraculous gem in our hands.”
- Colour: Light olive to greeny-yellow in daylight
- Family: Diaspore
- Mohs Scale Hardness: 6.5 - 7
- Specific Gravity: 3.1 - 3.4
- Refractive Index: 1.70 - 1.75
- Lustre: Vitreous
- Crystal System: Orthorhombic
- Transparency: Transparent to translucent
- Chemical Formula: AlO(OH)
- Composition: Aluminum oxide
Visiting the Old Mine
Csarite had been mined here for some time already when we launched Gems TV in October 2004. The story of the mine took a turn in 2006 when Murat Akgun bought the mine off the Turkish government. It wasn’t long after this that our founder Steve Bennett first met Murat and formed a business relationship and friendship with him that lasts to this day. Working with Murat and his company for so long has allowed us to become the sole UK supplier of Csarite, a fact of which we remain incredibly proud. As already mentioned, this has allowed us to access the mine on several occasions, including a trip in late 2012 that Steve is only too happy to relive.
“The first thing I remember is how hidden away, how remote the mine was,” Steve tells us. “We were many miles from the nearest village in a very steep, hilly area, with huge rocky outcrops and forests. It didn’t seem like the kind of place where you’d stumble on a gemstone by accident.” Murat explained to Steve that miners discovered the gemstones as they were extracting bauxite. They had found the mineral, which is used in the making of the metal aluminium, by following a sizable underground vein of bauxite into the mountainous forest. There are three long veins of bauxite in the area, and it was in one of these veins that Csarite had first appeared. Unlike other varieties of Diaspore, which is often more opaque, Csarite was immediately observed to have excellent clarity and, under different lighting conditions, change colour. Steve continues, _ “At mines such as this, it would be impossible for anyone other than a professional mining company to extract the gemstone. Bauxite is a very tough mineral, and the seams where Csarite is found are some 40 metres deep inside the hillside.”
Even back in 2012, Csarite was becoming increasingly hard to discover. Murat had just invested heavily in state of the art mining equipment when Steve made his trip to the mine. “The sorting tables where all of the rough bauxite was checked were as sophisticated as the very best that I have ever seen,” Steve tells us. Murat explained to Steve that part of his commitment to the Turkish government was to continue to extract a certain amount of bauxite every year. Murat’s team of eagle-eyed gem spotters made sure that every single piece of bauxite was examined on the sorting tables, ensuring that not a single Csarite crystal, no matter how small, was lost in the process. So far, Csarite has only ever been discovered in this one mine. While several other gemstones are only found in one region (Tanzanite in Arusha, Tanzania and Mookaite in the Mooka Creek, Australia for example), Csarite is the only precious gemstone that is only found in just one single mine. It’s worth noting at this point that the word ‘Csarite’ is a trademark owned by Murat, which is only applied to gemstones from this source. Low-grade Turkish Diaspore from elsewhere in the country should not be traded as Csarite. At Gemporia, it is only the rare, natural and utterly exquisite jewels from Murat’s mine that we set into our jewellery.
Unlike other varieties of Diaspore, which is often more opaque, Csarite was immediately observed to have excellent clarity and, under different lighting conditions, change colour.
Steve continues, “The mine had just two entrances and was operating on three different levels when I visited. The ceiling of the mine was supported with logs from the local forest. On the ground floor tunnel, they had built a small track on which Indiana Jones-style carts carried the bauxite to the sorting tables.” As the bauxite miners tunnelled along, they occasionally found small seams in the dense rock filled with a mud-like compound. These are the areas where there was a chance of finding rough Csarite crystal. “Murat explained to me that for every 100 grams (500 carats) they found, only one or two per cent would be of gem quality.” Of all the rough stones screened at the mine over many years, only about 40% was suitable quality for cutting into faceted pieces. Of this 40%, only very few stones were considered top grade. Add to this that even those jewels that made it as far as the high-end cutting houses, as much as 98% of each crystal would be cut away to achieve perfection in the finished stone.
Above: Our Csarite documentary, made on location in Turkey at the mine.
“We never lose sight of how fortunate we are to be working with Murat,” Steve continues. “From Erica Courtney in the USA to Stephen Webster in the UK, the world’s top jewellery designers have been captivated by Csarite’s array of magical properties.” In Las Vegas in 2011, Stephen Webster unveiled a necklace featuring the largest Csarite unearthed to that point. Weighing in at 96 carats, the gem was set in 18k gold and was on sale at $1.5 million, approximately £1 million at the time. Three years later in 2014, a 2,000ct piece of rough yielded a finished gem weighing 121.65 carats, which remains the biggest Csarite ever found to this day.
Steve concludes, “When you take into account the closure of the original mine in 2016 and the more recent developments at the mining site, the prices we’ve been selling top-grade Csarite for begin to look even more fantastic. I just hope that anybody who wants to own the very best of our Csarite has done so by now.”
Recent Developments at the Mining Site
What Steve is alluding to above is something of a silver lining to this story. Murat, convinced there are still treasures to be unearthed but no longer able to support a financially unviable method of mining, is in the process of transforming the mine into a giant open pit. David Troth, Gemporia’s gem expert, takes up the story. “An open-pit mine is essentially a large hole in the ground. Some gemstones have been mined this way for many years, such as Emeralds at the Kagem mine in Zambia, and Rio Tinto Diamonds at the Argyle mine in Australia. This involves digging all the soil out and creating a vast pit, rather than continuing to create tunnels in the ground where the chances of finding more Csarite have been decreasing for many years.” Tunnel mining is very slow and painstaking, and missing pockets of quality gemstones is a real possibility. By digging down and searching through every grain of soil, it becomes almost impossible to miss the treasures hidden beneath. David continues, “Murat and his team needed to secure significant multi-million dollar investment for this venture and, taking this into account along with how deep any remaining supplies could be situated, this means it will cost even more per carat to retrieve each gemstone.” Murat plans to go up to a kilometre deep into the earth and firmly believes that top quality Csarite is hidden down there somewhere. Such is his confidence, Murat sold off his best quality stones last year to help fund the mine expansion. At the Hong Kong show in September 2019, Murat had the biggest stand at the show for his remaining Csarite pieces. David continues, “Even at the JCK show at the beginning of the year, any Csarite that we saw was being quickly snapped up by high-end jewellery designers. Csarite has never been so popular but so limited at the same time.”
So the silver lining comes at something of a price - Csarite is not about to get more affordable. But what of the new mining method so far? David shares the latest news with us, “The newly mined stones are not, so far, as high grade as the stones you may be used to seeing. But, we have bought more Csarite for a big show later in the year during our 2020 birthday event in October. As soon as we’re able to safely re-open our Jaipur workshops in India after the global pandemic, our best cutters will be cabochon polishing these new Csarite stones and setting them into 18 karat gold designs.” Some of these polished cabochon stones feature the chatoyancy effect that is so rarely seen in Csarite, and we cannot wait to bring them to your screens later this year.
David concludes the latest chapter of this fascinating story, “We couldn’t be more delighted that Murat’s confidence in converting his mine is already beginning to pay off. But so far, the kind of stones Gemporia collectors are used to seeing are not coming out of the ground. Admittedly, there’s still a great deal of digging to be done, and we remain optimistic that Murat will find more top-quality stones. The only alternative will be that the grade and quality of cut we’ve been fortunate enough to bring you for the past 14 years will be a thing of the past.”
The Future of Csarite
It seems we are destined for much higher prices for this luxurious jewel in the future if the incredible team in Turkey fully realise their challenging new goal. Conservative estimates would place the cost per carat of Csarite at between double and triple what we’ve been used to seeing. But let’s end on a positive note. Even if the mine were to shut permanently and the remainder of our Csarite gems were to sell out before the end of the year, we should count ourselves incredibly fortunate that we were part of the generation that got to appreciate, enjoy and own this perfect single-mine jewel. With its unique provenance, endless character and visual splendour, there’s just nothing else in the gemstone world that is comparable to owning a Csarite of your own.
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