With the exceptions of Diamond and Peridot, which are formed in the Earth’s mantle, almost all other inorganic gemstones were formed due to the combination of heat and pressure associated with huge tectonic events.
Often these events brought together diverse rock types – the number of possible chemical compounds increased significantly as animal life grew beyond microscopic size (635-542 million years ago), their skeletons increasing the calcium and carbon content of soils. This occurred at around the same time as the Pan-African orogeny, during the formation of Gondwana.
These events created the perfect conditions for the formation of gemstones. Between this event, the Uralian orogeny (circa 300 million years ago) and the Himalayan orogeny (circa 50 million years ago), almost all gem deposits were created. Many of these gemstones have been known since the earliest days of human history, but others were only unearthed recently. Here are some of the most significant gemstone finds of all time, in the order in which they were first discovered.
AMBER (8000 BC)
The oldest Amber dates back to approximately 320 million years ago, but was not discovered until approximately 8000 BC.
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LAPIS LAZULI (4500 BC)
Historians believe the link between humans and Lapis Lazuli stretches back more than 6,500 years, when the gem was treasured by ancient civilisations who valued it for its vivid, exquisite colour.
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EMERALD (3500 BC)
The most famous Emerald mines of antiquity were in Egypt. Known as the Cleopatra Mines, they were worked as early as 3500 BC.
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In Brazil in the 1500s, a Spanish conquistador washed the dirt from a green Tourmaline crystal and confused the vibrant gem with Emerald. His confusion lived on until scientists recognized Tourmaline as a distinct mineral species in the 1800s.
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Legend has it that a Spanish conquistador discovered Ametrine's location in the 1600s in a mine that was given to him as a dowry when he married a native princess named Anahi. It was then lost for more than three centuries and began appearing on the market again during the 1970s.
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The first documented discovery of Aquamarine took place in 1723 in the Adun-Chalon Mountains in Siberia. Deposits found at this site were relatively abundant and it quickly became the primary site for mining.
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Alexandrite was discovered in 1830 in Russia’s Ural Mountains by miners who thought they’d found Emeralds. That was until the gemstone's trace elements turned it red by the light of the campfire. You can imagine their surprise the next morning when their red gemstones had turned back to green!
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In 1902, the now world-famous gemmologist, George Frederick Kunz, was the first person to give a complete description of what became known as Kunzite when he discovered it in California.
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Following the discovery of a new locality for rose coloured Beryl in Madagascar in 1910, George Frederick Kunz proposed the name 'Morganite' at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences to honour his friend and benefactor JP Morgan.
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In 1967, a chance discovery in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro changed the gemstone world forever. Manuel de Souza discovered this extraordinary beauty while prospecting one weekend. A rare blue variety of the mineral Zoisite, this gem is named after the location of its discovery.
Explore our Tanzanite collections here.
CHROME DIOPSIDE (1988)
In 1988, a major new find of chromium-bearing Diopside was discovered in Russia. Known as Chrome Diopside, the material didn't start to reach the market until after the Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989.
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From the Anatolian Mountains of Turkey, Csarite® was first mined in 2006. Supply has been sporadic ever since. In terms of numbers, for every 10,000 Diamonds cut and polished each year, there is only one piece of Csarite® unearthed.
Explore our Csarite® collections here.
This brand new, vibrant variety of Chalcedony was discovered in 2014 at an undisclosed location in Africa, and was named 'Aquaprase™', meaning 'blue-green'.
Explore our Aquaprase™ collections here.
Want to learn more about gemstones? See our article archive here.