June Birthstone May 1, 2018 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog
Not satisfied with just one, or even two birthstones, June has claimed three for itself. There were only two – pearl and moonstone – until 2016 when alexandrite became the third June birthstone.
Pearl has long been popular as a gemstone, despite being fundamentally different to most other crystal-based precious and semi-precious stones. Moonstone has been a part of gemstone usage for millennia, with the Romans believing it was formed from solidified rays of the moon. In stark contrast, Alexandrite was first mined less than 200 years ago.
Myths About Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite
Pearl has always been associated with the calming of both mind and body and being able to cure stomach ailments. Japanese folklore says that pearls are from the tears of mermaids. Legend, meanwhile, has them as dewdrops which fell from the moon to the sea.
Moonstone, according to mythology, can bring magical and beautiful dreams. In other cultures, it was a cure for insomnia and sleepwalking.
Alexandrite, without the history of the others, lacks any kind of associated mythology. Given its unique properties, had it been around for much longer, it likely would have had a whole string of magical powers attached to its legend.
Locations Of Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite
Pearl is unique amongst gemstones, as it is a product of a living thing. In theory, any mollusk can produce a pearl, but very few can produce gem-quality examples. Many pearls are now grown by stimulating the host mollusk to secrete the nacre solution required to build the pearl layers. These are less expensive than natural pearls and have the name cultured pearls.
Moonstone occurs in a wide range of locations across the world. These include the US, Myanmar, the Austrian Alps and Armenia amongst others. Legendary island of gems, Madagascar also has small deposits of moonstone.
Alexandrite occurs in very few places, compared to many semi-precious stones. Originally mistaken for emerald from a source in Russia, it has since been found in India, Madagascar, Tanzania and Sri Lanka.
Cultivating Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite
Natural pearls take between 6 months and two years to form inside the host mollusk. Cultured pearls have a nucleus injected into the shell which forces a reaction from the mollusk, which coats the invading item with nacre. This allows a pearl of suitable size and quality to become harvestable much sooner. Natural pearls of gemstone quality only occur in 1-in-70000 mollusks. This means true natural pearls are incredibly rare. It also means the price is usually far in excess of other pearls, however good an example it might be.
The formation of Moonstone crystals occurs when two other minerals which have become intermingled. The combination of two elements with separate densities and physical characteristics gives the moonstone its unique light dispersal properties.
Alexandrite needs a unique set of very precise actions to occur before the crystals grow. If any single trace element is missing or added, then it is a different type of crystal which will not show different colors in different lighting conditions as alexandrite does.
A pearl occurs when the host mollusk senses a parasite or foreign body inside its shell. It injects a substance called nacre on to the invader, which hardens to form a smooth layer around the irritation site. Over time, more and more layers build up around the nucleus, and it is these layers which go on to make the pearl as we know it. Pearls are quite fragile creations. by gemstone standards. They measure only 2.5 to 4 on the Mohs Hardness scale and suffer damage easily. This includes the mild acids in our sweat. Cultured pearls form in the same way, but the introduction of a foreign body to create the nucleus of the pearl promotes faster growth. This greatly shortens the time it takes to create a finished pearl.
Moonstone crystals form from two types of the mineral feldspar. As they join and cool, they form a separate distinct layer in the crystal stacks. It is light falling between the layers which give moonshine its unique ethereal glow.
Alexandrite is a type of chrysoberyl. Despite having beryl in the name, and often having a color similar to emerald, the two are not related. Chrysoberyl crystals contain traces of aluminum. In order for it to be alexandrite, some aluminum ions must be replaced by chromium. This causes absorption of light in the yellow spectrum. Alexandrite will appear green in daylight, due to the way our eyes are more sensitive to green light. In incandescent light, alexandrite will appear red, due to the low levels of the green light present. It is this light-shifting which makes alexandrite almost unique and accounts for its great desirability.
Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite in Jewelry
Pearl, of course, makes spectacular jewelry. Natural pearls and their rarity means that they are difficult to find on the open market without paying a hefty price. If natural pearls are available, they are unlikely to be truly round. The natural formation often means they are slightly off-round. To have a natural pearl that is also round is one of the great privileges of life.
Moonstone doesn’t come as cut stones in the same way as diamonds or other gemstones. Instead, creating cabochons by polishing is the preferred method of creating moonstones for use in jewelry.
Alexandrite is very rare and usually appears in stones under 3 carats. Jewelry containing alexandrite is often to a custom request by an owner of a stone. It is not usual to see ready-to0wear alexandrite jewelry for sale.
Picking The Right Pearl, Moonstone or Alexandrite For You
The three June birthstones need very different approaches to buying. Pearls have a quality which, when seen at its best, is hard to beat. The problem is that many have suffered from neglect, making prime example extremely difficult to source. If buying a pearl necklace, look for damage to the hole through which the silk string is threaded. Also look for wear damage as the pearls have rubbed against each other on the string. It is the quality of the luster which determines the price of a pearl, rather than the weight.
Natural and cultured pearls have a grittiness which is best felt by rubbing it against your teeth. Imitation pearls and mother of pearl do not have this.
Moonstone, ideally, should be almost transparent and have a blue sheen. Other colors, from orange to green are available at lower prices and will suit all budgets. Blue moonstones rarely occur over 15 carats, but white moonstone appears in single gems weighing hundreds of carats. Each color has its own appeal, so you should consider the setting.
Alexandrite, if you find it at all, is likely to be more expensive than the equivalent diamond, ruby, emerald or sapphire. Most stones are in the hands of collectors, and the few stones appearing for sale aren’t available for long. Should you be lucky enough, the most important factor is the level of color change. The brighter the colors and the more dramatic the change, the better.
Caring For Your Pearl, Moonstone, and Alexandrite
You should always wipe pearls with a damp cloth after every wearing, to remove any sweat or other substances which will damage the outer layer of nacre. Moonstone and alexandrite should be washed only with warm water and mild soap, before drying with a clean lint-free cloth.