Ethiopian Opal – The Increasingly Popular Gemstone from Africa

The Emerging Opal Heavyweight of the Opal Family

Ethopian Opal
Image by Varga from Pixabay

The opal has a reputation of being an exquisite mineral that looks fantastic when worn as jewelry. In the world of mystical healing, the opal ensures hope, innocence, and purity.

Over the last 100 years, Australia has been the most prominent force in the opal market. It was estimated that around 95% of the global opal production used to come from Australia. However, things started to change as Ethiopian opal was discovered in 1994. Today, Ethiopian opal is one of the increasingly popular gemstones that is on its way to break the century-old Australian dominance in the opal market. 

Ethiopian opals are not only more beautiful but are also more cost-effective compared to the same gemstone that comes from Australia. This post is all about Ethiopian opals, properties, and the future of this gemstone. So let’s take a closer look at the Ethiopian opals. 

A Brief History 

The journey started when the precious stone was mined in Ethiopia and made its way to the market in 1994. The initial opal deposits were found in the Menz Gishe District on the northern side of the Shewa Province. The precious opal that was mined in this region was found in various colors, ranging from red to orange and brown. Moreover, opal from this region was mined in white, yellow, and transparent body colors. Because of the location of these opals mined, they became known as “Shewa opals.”

This small discovery in 1994 put Ethiopia on the global opal map. Later, more important deposits of opal were identified in Ethiopia in 2008 near Wegel Tena in the province of Wollo. The opals discovered in this region were more stable than those found in the Shewa province, and hence they became popularly known as “Welo opals.”

The third major deposit of opals in Ethiopia was found in the Wollo province again in 2013. The distinct aspect of this opal deposit was the colors ranging from translucent gray to black. 

As a result of the important discoveries in the years 2008 and 2013, Ethiopia has emerged as a major supplier of opal in the global gemstone market. The country is now producing precious gemstones with a variety of body colors and patterns ranging from transparent to yellow, orange, red, gray, and black. 

Welo Opals – Precious Fire Opals 

Most of the opal produced by the Wollo province is yellow, orange, or red in color and hence known as “precious fire opals.” Since the body color meets the criteria of fire opal, and the pattern, also known as the play-of-color fulfills the definition of precious opal. Hence the gemstone is known as “precious fire opals.”

Welo Opals – Hydrophane Opals

Apart from the precious fire opals, the other most prominent category of opals mined in Ethiopia is known as hydrophane opals. The gemstone gets its name due to its ability to absorb water, hence known as hydrophane. 

When the stone absorbs water, the color (or the transparency) of the gemstone also changes. Since this type of opal is porous, its specific gravity is much lower than other types of opal. Some of the hydrophane opals have a much higher ability to absorb water and can gain weight up to 15%. However, given its porous nature, this type of Ethiopian opals has durability issues as they can crack due to excessive water absorption. Due to the porous nature of the gemstone, it is recommended not to immerse them in water. The absorption of water doesn’t take right away and may need a few hours to absorb a significant amount of water. 

However, hydrophane opal can dewater if it is allowed to dry for a few days, and the process may take up to a few weeks before the gemstone returns to its original color and properties.  

Since water can modify the appearance and properties of hydrophane opals, it’s best to examine it thoroughly before you make a purchase decision. 

Treatments for Ethiopian Opals 

While Ethiopian opals are usually sold in their natural state, some of them undergo treatments. Since the gemstone is porous, it makes it a perfect candidate for several types of treatment. However, once the natural gemstone undergoes a specific treatment, its price can decrease significantly compared to opal in its natural state. 

Some of the treatments that Ethiopian opals generally undergo include the following. 

Sugar-Acid Treatment

The treatment involves the soaking of opal in a warm sugar solution, followed by a treatment involving sulfuric acid. Once the opal absorbs sugar water, it is then submerged in sulfuric acid. The acid oxidizes the sugar, resulting in the formation of dark-colored carbon stains on the stone. As a result, the gemstone gets a grayish-brown color. However, the treatment does not go unnoticed and can be detected under microscopic examination. 

Dye Treatment

Another common treatment that Ethiopian opals undergo is the dye treatment. It is particularly common because Ethiopian opals are porous and can easily absorb liquids. The treatment can be used to give color to transparent opals. Moreover, it can also be used to enhance the gemstone’s natural color. 

The treatment can often be detected under microscopic examination. Moreover, it can also be identified by cutting into the gemstone. 

Charcoal Burning Treatment

Charcoal burning, also known as a smoke treatment, causes very fine smoke particles to enter the porous spaces of opal. As a result, the gemstone changes its color. The treatment involves wrapping the gemstone in paper and heating it to a point where the paper releases fine particles of black smoke, which can enter the pores of the gemstone, which causes the color of the gemstone to darken. 

There are several other types of treatments for opal, including oiling and fracture treatment and resin treatment. However, they can also lead to a reduction in the price of the gemstone in its natural state. 

The Future of Ethiopian Opals

Ethiopian opals have emerged as a major force in the global opal market, and there is still a long way to go. The future for this precious stone from Africa is very bright as Ethiopian opals are becoming much more visible in the gem and jewelry market. Moreover, an increasing number of buyers for this gemstone is now acknowledging the precious stone from Ethiopia for its beauty and low price. Furthermore, all of this has happened without the intervention of a multinational mining giant spending millions of dollars to extract and promote the precious stone. 

Coobe Pedy Opal Doublet Mineral
Coobe PedOpal Doublet Minera

From transparent to vivid precious fire opals, there is a lot that Africa has to offer, that too at a very affordable price compared to similar-appearing gemstones from Australia.

So far, a significant amount of Ethiopian opal is being produced, and the trend will likely continue in the coming years. Moreover, it is expected the Ethiopian opals will give a tough time to the opponent from Australia that has dominated the global opal market for over a century. 

Red Beryl – A Rare Gemstone

Red Beryl mineral on a red background
Image by pixabay.comusersalekseynemiro

You may already know about bluish-green beryl – yes, it’s emerald. And the green-blue beryl, which is aquamarine. And of course, about their pink to the orange-pink cousin, morganite. 

But what about another variation of the extremely rare mineral that is one of the gem connoisseurs’ favorite stones?  If you haven’t guessed it yet, that rare crystal is red beryl. 

According to the Utah Geological Survey estimates, for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds unearthed, only a single crystal of red beryl is found. 

In this post, we look at the rare and precious – red beryl. 

A Precious and Rare Gemstone 

Red beryl is often known as a one-source gemstone. While the crystal has been found at a few locations worldwide, including Utah, New Mexico, and Mexico, there is only a single location in the entire world where you can find crystals of red beryl that are suitable for gem cutting.

Red beryl can only be found in the Wah Wah Mountains, Utah. In comparison, the crystals extracted from the other locations are only a few millimeters in length and are too small to be used as gemstones. 

But Why is Red Beryl So Rare?

The formation of the red beryl crystal requires a specific geochemical environment. Some of the essential elements required for the formation of red beryl include beryllium and manganese. Apart from the abundance of these minerals, the correct geochemical conditions are also critical, facilitating the crystallization process.

Furthermore, fractures and cavities are also another critical requirements for the appropriate growth of red beryl crystals. Hence, red beryl remains one of the rarest crystals in the world. 

Red Beryl Properties 

Red Beryl in a crystal perched on white rhyolite matrix
1.5 cm, doubly-terminated, gemmy and lustrous crystal perched on white rhyolite matrix.Photo: Rob Lavinsky, Wikipedia, CC

If you look at the physical properties of the rare and precious stone, it gets its rich red color from the traces of manganese. Moreover, it scores 7.5-8 on Mohs’ scale of hardness, making it a suitable material for everyday wear. 

The largest known crystals of red beryl are around 5 cm long and 2 cm wide; however, most gem-quality crystals are less than 1 cm long. You can hardly find a red beryl crystal that’s heavier than one carat, and most of the red beryl crystals weigh around 0.25 carat or less.

Most of the known red beryl crystals have a rich saturated red color, allowing tiny-faceted stones to display a bright red color. Because of its rarity, red beryl can sell for over one thousand dollars per carat. Only a few red beryl specimens with a weight of more than a carat can cost several thousand dollars.

Here are a few things you should know about the rare and precious red beryl. 

Gem Quality Red Beryl Comes From a Single Source 

As mentioned earlier, red beryl is also known as a single source gemstone because gem-quality red beryl comes from what is known as the Ruby Violet mine in the Wah Wah Mountains, Utah. This member of the beryl family was first found in 1904 by Bixby. Following the early discovery, Lamar Hodges found another deposit of red beryl from what came to be known as the “Ruby Violet” mine in the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah.

It is still the only location in the world where you can find gem-quality red beryl. While the precious crystal can be found in other parts of the U.S. and Mexico, the crystals are too small and imperfect. As of now, the mine is closed for extraction, and there is no commercial production of gem-quality red beryl.

It Isn’t Easy to Find Good Quality, Large-Sized Red Beryl 

The largest known gem-quality red beryl weighs 8 carats. Moreover, 2-carat red beryl is considered as rare as a 40-carat diamond. Moreover, the largest red beryl crystal is 5 cm long and 2 cm wide when most of the gem-quality crystals are less than 1 cm long and weigh 0.25 carats or less. Furthermore, the average carat weight of the red beryl crystals is around 0.08 carat, whereas a 0.40-carat red beryl crystal is considered large, and 1 carat is exceptionally rare. 

In addition to being small, there is a significant amount of red beryl production that is not of gem quality. Of all the output of red beryl crystals from Wah Wah mountains, only 10% of it can be faceted. Moreover, less than 5% of the output was considered gem-quality material. 

All of this indicates that the red beryl is one of the rarest members of the beryl family, and it is exceptionally tough to find a large-sized, gem-quality red beryl. 

There is Always a Demand for Red Beryl 

Despite its rarity and difficulty in finding a large-sized crystal, there is always a demand for this precious stone. One of the primary reasons for the high demand is, of course, the rarity of the gemstone. There has always been a demand for red beryl from the American market, but there is an increasing demand for the precious stone from Japan and other Asian countries over the years. 

There is also a strong demand for the crystal from mineral collectors as its unique hexagonal shape, and the display of vivid red color is of exceptional interest to them. 

The Rarity and Demand Always Reflect in Price 

Since red beryl is a rare and precious stone that has an increasing demand in the U.S. and Asia as well, this factor heavily reflects its price. A red beryl crystal weighs more than a carat (which is exceptionally rare) and can cost several thousand dollars. However, its price also depends on several factors, including its color, size, and clarity. 

Final Words 

Red beryl is a rare and precious crystal which gem-quality crystals are coming from a single source. As of now, there is no commercial extraction of red beryl, which is why you can expect the price of red beryl to skyrocket in the next few years. 

5 Rarest Crystals in the World

Close up of opal minerals
Image by Christoph Schütz from Pixabay

Humans and crystals have been together for quite some time. The earliest records of crystals being collected by humans can be dated back to over 100,000 years ago. However, as technology improved, humans gained more information on naturally occurring crystals found beneath the Earth’s surface. 

As of now, there are over 200 known varieties of crystals and gemstones. Along with some of the most precious crystals, including ruby, diamond, and sapphire, there are numerous other crystals, and some of them are incredibly rare. 

This post looks at some of the rarest crystals worldwide in no particular order of rarity. 

Tanzanite

TanzaniteTanzanite is one of the most beautiful blue crystals, a variety of a mineral named zoisite; however, the crystal doesn’t get its name from the mineral. Instead, it is named after the location of its discovery which is a small area near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. So far, it is the only known source of the crystal, which makes it rare and extremely valuable. 

Since its discovery in 1967, the crystal has gained popularity among jewelers and gemstone enthusiasts. However, according to estimates, the reserves of this precious crystal would last for only 20 to 30 years before the supply deletes, which will make the stone significantly more rare and valuable than diamonds unless a new source is discovered.

If you look at the properties of this crystal, it ranks between 6 and 7 on Mohs’ scale of hardness which makes it ideal for everyday wear. Moreover, its highly prized blue color may closely resemble blue sapphire, a favorite crystal for jewelry. However, heat treatment can significantly enhance its blue coloration, making it more unique and strikingly beautiful. Since there is only one known source of the crystal, Tanzanite is a highly valuable crystal with an average per-carat price of $1,200 for top-quality crystals.   

Poudretteite 

Another extremely rare crystal is Poudretteite which was discovered during the 1960s by the Poudrette family at their quarry near Mount St. Hilaire in Quebec, Canada. The crystal was named after the name of the family that first discovered it. However, the crystal was not officially recognized as a new mineral until 1986. Hence for a long time, there were no reported discoveries of Poudretteite. 

Several decades later, a gem-quality specimen of the crystal was first documented in Burma. Since then, only very few crystals have been found. The crystal is so rare that clean crystals over 1 carat are hardly ever found. Moreover, the largest known Poudretteite weighs 9.41 carat. Since it’s very rare to find a crystal of this weight, the largest known Poudretteite sits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.   

Benitoite 

Benitoite, the state gem of California, is another rare crystal that is only mined in a small area of California near the San Benito River. Hence, the gemstone got its name Benitoite. The crystal was first discovered in the early 1900s by the geologist George D. Louderback.

However, it was not until 1985 that the crystal became the official gemstone of California. The major source of the rare crystal near the San Benito River was closed for commercial mining in 2006. While trace quantities of the crystal were discovered in Japan, Australia, and Arkansas, California is the only known source that allows feasible mining of the crystal, making Benitoite another rare crystal in the world. 

Benitoite has a deep blue color that shows unique fluorescence when caught under UV light. If you want to purchase this rare crystal, make sure you find a trustworthy and legitimate source. Moreover, you need to go for stones with a medium body tone and a cut that enhances the stone’s fire. Crystals that are too dark in color will not reflect the light well. Similarly, a color that is too light will have a washout-out appearance. Furthermore, you shouldn’t expect to find stones that are heavier than 3 carats. 

You can find a high-quality medium blue Benitoite with an average price of $3,800 per carat. Stones that are less than 1 carat will have a relatively much lower price. 

Black Opal 

 

Coobe Pedy Opal Doublet Mineral
Coobe PedOpal Doublet Minera

Opals are usually creamish-white and can display rainbow-colored inclusions as light reflects on the stone. However, black opals are different and rare. Most of the black opals are mined in the Lightning Ridge area in New South Wales, Australia. Since it is extracted from a single source, black opals are the rarest of all opals found in Australia. 

Black opals have a naturally black body color. However, you can also find variations of the stone in green, blue, and brown colors. 

The most precious black opals are the ones with a darker color and brighter inclusions. The most precious black opal of all times is known as the “Aurora Australis,” which was found in 1938 in the Lightning Ridge area. The 180-carat black opal had an estimated worth of AUS$ 1,000,000.  

Taaffeite 

Last on the list is another rare crystal, Taaffeite, which is also considered the rarest crystal globally. As of now, there are only 50 known specimens of this rare crystal, and most of them are held in private and geological collections. 

The crystal was discovered by chance by Austrian-Irish gemologist Edward Taaffe. Hence the crystal got its name. In 1940, the geologist bought a box of spinels, but he noticed that the mauve-colored spinel didn’t react to light in the same way as the rest of the spinels did; he sent it for further examination. The results revealed that the mauve-colored spinel was an unknown gemstone with no known source.

A few years later, Taaffeite was announced as a naturally occurring mineral. As a result, several other collectors re-examined their spinel collections and found a few more rare crystal specimens. Finally, the crystal source was tracked down, which revealed that most of the crystals came from Sri Lanka, whereas a handful was also found in China and Tanzania.

This brings an end to the list of the five rarest crystals in the world. There are several other rare crystals around the world, such as Alexandrite, Padparadscha sapphire, and many more that will hardly ever make an encounter with the general public, but they will continue to be rare and precious crystals that will be of immense value to people. 

Novarupta – The Most Potent Eruption of the 20th Century

Image by Kanenori from Pixabay

It happened on June 6th, 1912!

The Novarupta-Katmai volcanic eruption in Alaska in 1912 became one of the most powerful eruptions of the 20th century. Even 109 years later, its status as one of the largest volcanic eruptions still remains.

In this post, we look at how it happened and the possibility that history might repeat itself again. 

The Eruption

On the morning of June 6th, 1912, Alaska residents were getting ready to start their upcoming fishing season. Back then, the population in the Alaska Peninsula was much lower than it is today. However, a few things never change, and earthquakes in the region are one of them. Even at that time, earthquakes were common in Alaska because of the region’s geological instability. 

As people were used to living in the region, over time, they realized that the earthquakes were not only getting more frequent but also stronger. Because of the frequency and intensity of these quakes, the two remaining families in the village left their homes for a safer place. 

And that’s when it happened. Around midday on June 6th, the skies over Katmai darkened and what happened next continued for the next 60 hours. The area didn’t see the sun during all these hours of a continuous volcanic eruption. 

Throughout the 60 hours of the constant eruption, the volcano spewed out around 6.7m3 of ash particles around 20 miles into the stratosphere (which extends around 30 miles above the earth’s surface). The ash-covered an area of around 3000 sq. miles, and the ash fell in amounts up to a foot that changed a nearby vast green valley into a wilderness known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Impact of the Eruption

The region’s inhabitants were among the first people to experience the direct impact of the eruption. It was so loud that the blast was heard around 750 miles away. Moreover, the impact was not limited to sound. It had a major visual impact as residents witnessed a thick cloud of ashes that quickly rose towards the sky. 

Within the first few hours, this thick layer of ash began falling from the sky onto the nearby town of Kodiak. As the eruption continued for the next three days, the ashes covered the town up to one foot deep. As a result, the region’s inhabitants were forced to take shelter indoors as the outdoor environment was suffocating, making it difficult to breathe. The damage further continued as some of the buildings collapsed due to the heavyweight of the volcanic dust.

The impact was not limited to that region either. Within the next few days, the ash cloud traveled over western Canada and to several western U.S. states. By June 17th, the cloud was found in Algeria and then continued to spread to other regions, including China and India. While there were no deaths reported from the eruption, there was a lot of indirect impact in terms of loss to plants, animals, marine life, and agriculture, which continued for several years. 

The Formation of Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

Novarupta Volacano
Valley of Knife Creek. Erin McKittrick, Ground Truth Trekking

Following the eruption, the National Geographic Society started sending expeditions to Alaska to investigate the damage.

During one such expedition in 1916, a few researchers traveled inland to the eruption area and found out that the valley of Knife Creek was completely barren.

Moreover, the ash was still hot, and thousands of jets of steam could be seen from the ground. Inspired by this observation, the valley was known as the “Valley of 10,000 Smokes”.

The Resulting Katmai Caldera and Novarupta Dome

During the initial observations, the Katmai Caldera volcano was originally thought to be a source of the eruption. However, it was a long time after the incident that researchers identified the original source as the Novarupta volcano. 

Can History Repeat Itself?

Novarupta is now silent and has been for quite some time. The last eruption reported from this volcano was the one in 1912 however, if you look at the history of Novarupta, it has erupted at least seven times in the last 4,000 years. Moreover, since the Alaska Peninsula is located on an active convergent boundary, we can expect future volcanic eruptions. Furthermore, given the location of Novarupta, it is likely that future volcanic eruptions will have a severe local and global impact, similar to what happened to Pompeii in 79 AD from the Mount Vesuvius volcano.

The local impact of potential volcanic activity anywhere can lead to a significant loss of life. Due to the potential impact of volcanic activity in this area of Alaska, the United States Geological Survey and others are closely monitoring these volcanoes. 

Furthermore, the impact of any future eruptions can have a devastating effect on the global climate. Studies indicate that a volcanic blast of this magnitude can modify the global surface temperature patterns and rainfall levels in several parts of the world.

Another possible reason to monitor these volcanoes is the danger of any future eruption on commercial air traffic. Jet engines experience enormous air pressure, and flying through the air containing fine ash particles can have a similar effect as sandblasting, which can cause extensive damage to the aircraft. Therefore, it is estimated that any future eruptions from Novarupta halt commercial air traffic across North America.

What Can We Do About It?

Unfortunately, eruptions like Novarupta are one of the natural disasters that we cannot prevent. However, the most we can do to control the situation is to assess the potential impact and develop a plan of action to minimize losses. With a history to look back to, there is a lot that we can learn from the eruption of 1912 and improve our chances of minimizing damage, injury, and death.

What is Iron?

What is Iron?

Iron ore in rock form
iron ore on a rocky base

Did you know that iron is a healthy nutrient for our bodies as well as the main ingredient in the manufacture of steel?

Before we venture into the types of iron, let’s first examine its properties. Iron is a mineral with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26.

On the periodic table, it belongs to the first transition series, which reflects a change in the inner layer of electrons, but we’ll leave that for the chemists since the chemical compound of this mineral is beyond the scope of this article.

Iron is the most common element on Earth when referenced by mass and is very prominently found in the Earth’s outer and inner cores. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust, but the process to extract it requires kilns or furnaces capable of reaching a temperature of 2,730 °F or higher.

A Little Bit of Iron History

Bronz Statue
Bronze Statue
Wikipedia_Public Domain

The Bronze Age (c. 3300–1200 BC) is characterized by the use of bronze as the metal of choice to create art, tools, and weapons. It was the first time metals were used for these purposes. Prior to this period, Stone was used as a tool and for weapons; hence, the Stone Age.

Interestingly enough, the Bronze Age also brought us the first writing system and the invention of the wheel. Indeed, an intriguing period of creative thought for sure.

Enter Iron

Say goodbye to bronze and hello to iron; hence, the Iron Age, which started around 1200 BC. It should be noted that before the Iron Age was coined, there were occasions when iron was found to be used much earlier. One historical account was that of the ancient Egyptians. Archeologists found iron beads made from meteorites dating back to 3200 B.C.  Iron is abundant in outer space. But these incidences were far and few between until the time when iron became the material of choice.

Iron for Infrastructure

Once we entered the 19th century, new uses for iron materialized in addition to artifacts and weapons. It was discovered that this mineral can be used for building purposes and with the advent of the industrial revolution, where items were being mass-produced, the manufacture of iron became very economical.

Iron in its pure form is not used for building construction, but when other elements are mixed in with it, it becomes an acceptable form for building bridges and buildings.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is an alloy of pure iron, containing 2 to 4% carbon and other impurities, such as sulfur and phosphorus, but it has good tension capabilities; however, it does have a relatively good compressive strength and subsequently, it was used during the 18th and 19th centuries for infrastructure.

The_Iron_Bridge
WikipediaCommons William Williams The Iron Bridge, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Cast iron structures were initially found in the UK, where The Iron Bridge in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, England was built in 1781 was the first large-scale cast-iron structure to be constructed.

Cast iron was used in the 19th and 20th-century buildings as well. In fact, there is a whole section in New York City that is called the Cast Iron District, also known as SOHO.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is also an iron alloy with a much lower carbon content than cast iron.  It is a tougher material than cast iron and is also malleable, ductile, and corrosion-resistant.

Wrought iron is a step above cast iron and since it was malleable, it was given the name wrought since it could be hammered into shape while it remained hot. It is a prerequisite to mild steel, also called low-carbon steel, and is considered the first of the steel alloys. 

As a matter of fact, wrought iron was initially refined into steel. In the 1860s, ironclad warships and railways were built with these iron alloys, but with the advent of the Bessemer process, making steel became less costly to create, wrought iron was eventually halted to make way for the even less expensive and stronger iron alloy called steel.

Iron for Nutrition

Since iron is a mineral, it is also an important nutrient for our bodies as well. If you have an iron deficiency, you can possibly acquire anemia and also fatigue that affects your ability to perform physical work.

So how much iron do you need on a daily basis? For most people, an adequate amount of iron is consumed daily via the foods that we eat, but to determine your specific iron needs you can see a chart and information here. One person told us that he eats yogurt and raisins every day. Raisins contain a certain amount of iron. 

Red Blood Cells
“Red blood cells” by rpongsaj is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Do you know why our blood is red?  It is because there is an interaction between iron and oxygen within the blood creating a red color. Learn more about red blood cells and iron here.

To be sure you have enough iron in your body, check with your doctor to confirm you are not deficient.

Conclusion

Besides being an essential component for healthy blood in our bodies, iron became an essential component for weapons and later, building materials.

Numerous bridges and buildings have been constructed during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but as the industrial revolution advanced and the making of materials became automated, new alloys of iron were created, specifically, steel and along with concrete led to the construction of stronger buildings, bridges, and skyscrapers we see today all over the world.