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Iolite gemstone meaning, properties and history

Iolite Gemstone Information

For fans of eye-catching, unique stones, the iolite gemstone is often a favorite. Along with striking color, well-cut pieces often feature intriguing color shifts that you don't find in many other gems. As a result, jewelry fans and collectors alike often flock to the stone whenever they are looking for a standout piece.

If you're curious about iolite, including its properties, color, history, and meaning, here's everything you need to know.

Iolite Properties

The iolite crystal isn't technically a gemstone. Instead, it's a silicate mineral that, when unobstructed, can grow into petite prismatic crystals. Often, raw iolite looks similar to natural quartz when it comes to structure, though the coloring is often distinctly different.

Compared to many other gems, lapidaries often find iolite stone a challenging stone to facet. The gemstone's hardness can vary, which makes cutting more difficult.

Additionally, iolite is known for its pleochroism. This optical phenomenon causes the stone to exhibit different hues depending on the angle at which it's observed. However, to capture the effect, iolite has to be cut in a particular way, adding an extra level of difficulty.

As a result, some designers and collectors opt for raw iolite. In its natural form, iolite can be translucent, creating a look similar to frosted glass. But when it's properly faceted, some pieces of iolite are nearly or completely transparent, turning them into striking gems.

Iolite Color

Faceted purple Iolite

Natural iolite is mainly blue to blue-violet. Additionally, the hues are typically strong, leaning toward the mid to darker end of the spectrum instead of the lighter side. However, you can find pieces closer to a pastel; they just aren't as highly desirable or as widely used.

When it comes to purple iolite, those are simply iolite stones that lean more heavily toward the violet end of the spectrum. With those, the shade is still on the cooler side of the spectrum, not typically exhibiting the reddish tint that you find with some other violet stones.

When pleochroism is factored in, an iolite gem can appear to exhibit other colors. Some may seem clear from certain angles, while others have a yellow or gray tinge when viewed from the right direction.

It's important to note that the color of any iolite stone you find tends to be natural. Due to its physical properties, iolite typically can't be heat treated to enhance the strength of the hue.

The History of Iolite

Iolite is mainly an ornamental stone used in jewelry. It rose to popularity in Europe during the 18th century. However, it didn't stay in the limelight, only recently reemerging as a desirable gemstone.

From a historical perspective, iolite is best known for its association with the Vikings. It's said that thin pieces of iolite were used as polarizing filters and to reduce glare, helping ancient Vikings navigate more effectively on the water. As a result, iolite is known by some as the Viking's Compass or Viking Compass Stone.

When it comes to industrial uses, iolite doesn't have many. In some cases, it's been used to create ceramic parts for specific components, like catalytic converters. However, synthetic variants are usually favored for these purposes, predominately because it ensures the material's properties are consistent.

One interesting thing about this gem is the iolite stone has been known by several different names. Previously, it was known as dichroite and water sapphire. Additionally, geologists refer to it as cordierite.

It was once called dichroite due to the pleochroism that's characteristic of a well-cut piece of iolite. When two colors appear, the stone is considered dichroic. As a result, the name dichroite was applied to the gem.

Generally, iolite is the term used by jewelers and gem collectors. However, any of the names above could be used to talk about the same stone.

Where Is Iolite Found?

rough iolite stone

The iolite stone is found in several places across the globe. The most notable sources are Sri Lanka, Kenya, Madagascar, and Tanzania. However, it's also found in Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, India, Norway, Russia, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

Iolite Jewelry

If you're looking for iolite jewelry, you won't typically find it in chain stores. The average shopper often isn't familiar with iolite, making the stone less desirable for mass-market merchants.

However, iolite is a favorite among independent designers. While it's challenging for lapidaries to work with, the gem offers up a striking color and is reasonably affordable. Plus, independent designers are comfortable with small runs of a design to take advantage of even small batches of high-quality iolite crystals.

In most cases, iolite gems used in jewelry are faceted. This allows the color to take center stage. Plus, it makes the pleochroism observable.

However, there are also tumbled iolite stones, as well as cabochons. In some cases, the stone isn't cut due to an issue with the pleochroism or the stone's structure. Instead of not using the gem, some manufacturers or designers go with a polishing approach instead.

Raw iolite is featured in jewelry on rare occasions. Natural pieces are also sold separately, often as collector or meditation stones.

Iolite Meaning

Polished iolite gemstone

The iolite gemstone meaning varies depending on a person's belief system. For some, the gemstone iolite represents intuition, partially because the color aligns with the third eye chakra. Others associate it with multi-planar vision, considering the stone a guide that can help a person navigate complex physical, mental, or emotional journeys.

At times, iolite is connected to the concept of balance. Some think that the stone can help overcome issues of disorganization, distractibility, disorientation, or waning motivation. Essentially, they believe the gem restores order to a chaotic situation, making it easier to navigate.

While certain groups do ascribe mental or physical healing capabilities to iolite, it's important to note that there is no definitive proof that wearing, holding, or meditating on a gemstone can treat or cure any condition. While possessing the stone likely won't cause harm, Iolite shouldn't be used in lieu of proper medical care.

Stones Similar to Iolite

There are a few stones that are similar to the iolite gem. One prime example is the sapphire. Both can have similar transparency and hues, making the two somewhat hard to tell apart at a glance. Plus, sapphires can have pleochroism, creating the dual-color effect.

Like iolite, sapphires can come in both blue and purple hues. However, iolite is more often considered a stand-in for sapphires. More often than not, sapphires are significantly more expensive, causing iolite to become an affordable alternative.

The same can be said for tanzanite. Again, the level of transparency and the overall color is very similar, and tanzanite can also exhibit pleochroism. But tanzanite tends to come with a bigger price tag. If you're looking for an affordable stone, iolite is usually your better option.

In some cases, blue or purple spinel could resemble iolite. The coloring and clarity of spinel can make it a reasonable substitute. Plus, it's typically reasonably affordable.

Purple or blue tourmaline may also work. However, unlike spinel, tourmaline can come with surprisingly hefty price tags, especially if the quality is high.

If you're specifically looking for purple iolite, then amethyst could be a solid alternative. Again, there is enough clarity and a suitable strength in color. However, iolite tends to have a tinge of blue, making the shade a hair cooler than what you usually find with amethyst.

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