10 of the World’s Rarest Gemstones

There are roughly 200 varieties of natural gemstone known in the world today. Alongside the world’s precious gems (diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald) are numerous semi-precious stones, some of which are so incredibly rare that their value outstrips many of the world's most valuable precious gems. Here are a few of the rarest from around the world.

1. TANZANITE // FOUND ONLY IN TANZANIA

 
Tanzanite is a beautiful blue variety of the mineral zoisite, and is so named because it is only found in a small area near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The stone was not discovered in commercial quantities until the 1960s and since then its popularity has grown tremendously, thanks largely to the efforts of Tiffany & Co. Heat-treating tanzanite at very high temperatures can improve the blue coloration, so most gems on the market have been treated in this way, but any tanzanite that has not been heat-treated and has a strong blue color naturally will be of a much higher value. Because it is only found in one small location, the value of tanzanite looks likely to soar over time; once those mines have been emptied there will be no new stones coming onto the market—unless a new source is found.

2. BLACK OPAL // THE DARKER THE BETTER

Daniel Mekis via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Opals are usually a creamy-white color and are made special by the rainbow-colored inclusions that reflect the light as the stone is moved. Black opals are much rarer, because almost all of them are found in mines in the Lightning Ridge area of New South Wales in Australia. The darker their background color and brighter the inclusions, the more valuable the stone. One of the most valuable black opals of all time is the "Aurora Australis," which was uncovered in Lightning Ridge in 1938. The 180-carat opal is especially admired due to its large size and intense harlequin coloration; in 2005 it was valued at AUS $1,000,000, or about $763,000 U.S.

3. LARIMAR // ONLY FOUND IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

 
Larimar is a very rare blue variety of the mineral pectolite and is found in only one small area of the Dominican Republic. This turquoise stone’s name was created by the man who brought the stone to prominence in 1974, Miguel Méndez—he took the first part of his daughter’s name, Larissa, and combined it with the Spanish word for sea, mar, to create the portmanteau larimar. Locals had known of the existence of the stone for generations, because small examples had washed up on the seashore, but it was not until the 1970s that sufficient quantities were found in the ground to open a mine.

4. PARAIBA TOURMALINE // NEON LUSTER

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

 
Tourmalines are common in many colors across Brazil, but the Paraiba tourmalines are the only stones with a bright turquoise hue, thanks to their copper content. The very rare gems were discovered in 1987 by determined miner Heitor Dimas Barbosa, who had been driven by a belief that something special lurked under the hills of the Brazilian state of Paraiba. Barbosa was right, and after years of fruitless digging, he finally unearthed a tourmaline of unrivaled neon blue that set the gem market alight. The extremely rare stone (only one stone is mined for every 10,000 diamonds) then became intensely sought-after. In 2003 very similar turquoise-colored tourmalines were found at mines in the mountains of Nigeria and Mozambique, although some say they are not quite as striking as the Paraiba tourmaline.

5. GRANDIDERITE // ONE EXCEPTIONAL EXAMPLE

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Grandiderite was first described in 1902 by French mineralogist Alfred Lacroix, who found it in Madagascar and named it in honor of the French explorer Alfred Grandidier, an expert on Madagascan natural history. This extremely rare blue-green mineral has been found in a number of places around the world, but so far only Madagascar and Sri Lanka have produced any gem-quality stones, and these are still extremely scant. The majority of the known stones are translucent, but the most rare, and therefore most valuable, example ever found was transparent. In fact, the stone was initially assumed to be another rare gem, serendibite, because grandiderite of that color and transparency had yet to be seen. The gem was only identified as grandiderite after expert analysis and was subsequently sold for an undisclosed sum. It’s safe to assume that if a gem of similar quality were to be unearthed, its scarcity alone would ensure it fetched an extremely high price.

6. ALEXANDRITE // COLOR-SHIFTING GEM

 
The amazing color-changing stone alexandrite was discovered in 1830 in the Ural Mountains in Russia and named after Russian tsar Alexander II. A variety of chrysoberyl, the stone’s remarkable color-shifting capability makes it especially sought-after: In sunlight the stone looks blue-green, but under incandescent light it becomes red-purple. The degree of color change varies from stone to stone, with some only showing marginal change, but the most valuable are clear stones that demonstrate complete color change.

Although some large examples of the stone have been found (the Smithsonian houses the world’s largest known cut sample of alexandrite at 65.08 carats), the majority are under one carat. This means that the value of a gem under a carat may only be $15,000, but a stone larger than one carat might fetch as much as $70,000 per carat.

7. BENITOITE // STATE GEM OF CALIFORNIA

Pablo Alberto Salguero Quiles via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Benitoite is only mined in one small area of California, near the San Benito River (hence the name), but the mine closed for commercial mining in 2006, making this gemstone yet more scarce. The gem was first identified around 1907 by geologist George Louderback and has a deep-blue color that shows especially interesting qualities when caught under UV light, when it glows fluorescent. The gem was named the official state gemstone of California in 1985 in recognition of the fact that, despite it being found in trace quantities in Arkansas as well as Japan and Australia, California is the only place where it can feasibly be mined. Due to the rarity of discovering a good quality benitoite of a reasonable size, it can fetch huge prices on the open market—a well-cut benitoite stone at over 2 carats can fetch more than $10,000 a carat.

8. PAINITE // ONCE THE WORLD’S RAREST GEM

Rob Lavinsky via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Painite was first discovered by British gemologist Arthur Charles Davy Pain in 1951 and recognized as a new mineral in 1957. For many years only one specimen of the dark red crystal was in existence, housed at the British Museum in London, making it the world’s rarest gemstone. Later on other specimens were discovered, although by 2004 there were still fewer than two dozen known painite gems. However, in recent years a couple of mines in Myanmar have begun to produce some painite, and there are now said to be over 1000 stones known. The scarcity of this gem has made it extremely valuable and just one carat can fetch more than $60,000.

9. RED BERYL // TINY AND SCARCE

Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Red beryl, also known as bixbite or red emerald, is so rare it is estimated by the Utah Geological Survey that a single such gem is uncovered for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds. Pure beryl is colorless and only gains its bright hues from impurities in the rock: chromium and vanadium give beryl a green color resulting in an emerald; iron provides a blue or yellow tint creating aquamarine and golden beryl; and manganese adds the deep-red color to create red beryl. Red beryl is only found in Utah, New Mexico, and Mexico, and the majority of examples found are just a few millimeters in length, too small to be cut and faceted for use. Those that have been cut are generally less than a carat in weight, and a red beryl of 2 or 3 carats would be considered exceptional.

10. TAAFFEITE // DISCOVERED BY CHANCE

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Austrian-Irish gemologist Count Edward Charles Richard Taaffe bought a box of cut stones from a jeweler in Dublin in the 1940s, thinking he had purchased a collection of spinels. But on closer inspection, he noted that one of the pale mauve gems was not reacting to the light in the same way as the rest of the spinels, so he sent it off to be analyzed. The results revealed that he had discovered a hitherto unknown gemstone—a serendipitous but frustrating situation, since he had discovered a cut gem and had no idea where the mineral naturally occurred. Fortunately, once the new stone had been announced, many other collectors re-examined their own spinel collections and a number of other samples were uncovered. Finally the source of the stone was tracked down to Sri Lanka, although a handful have also been found in Tanzania and China. It is thought that less than 50 examples of taaffeite exist—many of which are housed in geological and private collections, making this gemstone so rare the ordinary public are unlikely to ever encounter it.

It’s National Cookie Day! Here’s Where to Score Some Free Treats

UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images
UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images

If you plan on eating as many baked goods as possible this December, now's your chance to get a head start. Today—December 4—is National Cookie Day, and chains across the country are celebrating by handing out free cookies. Here are the best places to snag a treat before the day is over.

    • Great American Cookies, a chain that's concentrated in the southeastern U.S., is marking the day by rewarding members of its loyalty program. If you already have the loyalty app, you can swing by a participating location any time today and pick up your free original chocolate chip cookie without making any additional purchases. The promotion only applies to customers who signed up for the program before midnight on December 3, so you aren't eligible for the free snack if you download the app on your way to the store.
    • The cookie giant Mrs. Fields is also participating in the holiday. Buy anything from one of the chain's stores on December 4 and you'll get a free cookie with your purchase. If you spring for the Nutcracker Sweet Tower, which is made from five festive containers of baked goods, you can send a Mrs. Fields Peace, Love & Cookies 30 Nibbler Tin to a friend for free.
    • But what if you're looking for a free cookie with no strings attached? Surprisingly, a hotel chain may be offering the best deal for National Cookie Day. Throughout December 4, you can stop by a DoubleTree by Hilton and ask for a free cookie at the front desk. DoubleTree provides complimentary cookies to guests at check-in all year round, and every year on National Cookie Day, the hotel chain extends that offer to everyone.

There's no shortage of great cookies across the U.S. If you're willing to travel to satisfy your sweet tooth, here are the best chocolate chip cookies in all 50 states.

License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

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