Gemstone Information: What is Charoite?

| 4 min read

There are many gemstones that are easy to get mixed up. At a quick cursory glance, it is hard to tell a White Topaz from a White Zircon, or a Red Spinel from a Ruby. However, there are some gemstones that can’t possibly be confused with anything else. Charoite definitely falls into this second category. With swirling stormy patterns and the most inviting purple tones, Charoite looks like nothing else on the planet.

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it. Most people won’t have. It was only discovered in 1978 and only comes from one place – a small deposit close to the Chara River, near the small town of Aldan, in Siberia, Russia. Due to the extreme cold, they are only able to mine for a few months every summer – a blanket of snow covers the mine for most of the year.



If you love the colour purple and you love oil paintings, you will love Charoite. People often think that this extraordinary gem isn’t natural when they first see it. It’s a forgivable assumption to make –the swirling and dappled violet to lavender patterns, and oily to pearly lustre, make it look like these patterns have been painted on. But they haven’t been – this is a completely natural gemstone. This fascinating look is actually caused by the gem’s complex chemical makeup. A compound of potassium, calcium, barium, sodium, strontium, hydrogen, silicon and oxygen – it is no wonder that this beautiful gem has only been discovered in one place!

Have you ever seen a photo of a waterfall taken with a long exposure? The water looks almost solid, a moment frozen in time. This is what Charoite always makes me think of. It has a mysterious, almost ghostly quality that is truly captivating. This pattern is actually made by the movement of hot water percolating through rock and creating a chemical alteration in its chemistry. I really enjoy looking at a piece of Charoite and being reminded of how it was created by water – it looks exactly like it was, because it was.

To add to the unusual look of this gem, it is also slightly chatoyant. This is an optical phenomenon whereby as light hits a gemstone it is refracted off its surface. It is more obvious in several other gemstones – Cat’s Eye Alexandrite or Tiger’s Eye are both more chatoyant than Charoite, for example. However, what I find with gemstones that are mildly chatoyant is that it gives them a very subtle beauty. The gem’s patterns can shift and move slightly as you turn the gem in the light. There is a depth and a sense of perspective that looks slightly dreamlike. For this reason, Charoite can remind you of storm clouds moving across the sky. This subtle chatoyancy makes it one of the most evocative gemstones you are likely to find. With its surreal, brooding, stormy appearance, it is unlike any other gem.


Perhaps the most important thing to know about Charoite is that it not only has a unique chemical composition, but that every piece of Charoite is itself unique. This is technically true of every one of Mother Nature’s gemstones, but there are some gemstones where you can see their uniqueness easily to the naked eye. Charoite is definitely one of those. Every single piece has the precise fingerprint of Mother Nature. The unique fractal patterns created by Nature as her waters flowed through the host rock can be seen within the gemstone itself. Charoite is truly a work of the finest and most awesome artist of all.

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