Upon first seeing some outstanding specimens from a new mine in Turkey, Erica Courtney could hardly believe her eyes: a brilliant transparent gem that changed color up to four times? While the designer had used Alexandrite, color-change garnet and color-change sapphire in her sumptuously feminine fine jewelry collection, she had never before encountered a stunner like this Zultanite.
“Here was a natural gem that changes color in daylight, indoor light, even candlelight,” she recalls. “Yet Zultanite can easily blend with gemstones of almost any other color, especially some of my favorites - pink sapphires, green gemstones, diamonds, just about anything. It’s really amazing.”
So amazing, in fact, that Courtney, who travels the world looking for unusual and rare beautiful gems, decided to visit the only working Zultanite mine, situated high in the Anatolian Mountains of Turkey. Unlike some of the Dickensian mining settings found in the 19th century, the Zultanite mine is operated under modern 21st century standards. Workers receive competitive salaries and are fully insured, the stones are harvested from the mine under strict environmental safety standards. To garner goodwill with its neighbors, the mine donates bricks to a local community center that provides free housing to the poor, donates food twice a year to more than 100 homes in villages surrounding the mine and routinely provides supplies to local village schools. For every piece of timber used in the mine, 10 new trees are planted to replace it. “There’s a real sense that this whole enterprise is being operated ethically. The bonus is such a magnificent gem.”
What’s so astounding about Zultanite is its color change properties, a phenomenon known as pleochroism. The vast majority of gemstones are either green, red or blue, but Zultanite displays a wide range of colors, from kiwi greens with flashes of yellow in sunlight, to rich champagnes and cognac-like colors in indoor lighting and raspberry hues in candlelight. The subtle color play is flattering to most complexions and complementary to most neutral colors. Although other diaspores (the family of gems that Zultanite belongs to) can be found around the world, only the gems from this single mine in Turkey can accurately be referred to and marketed as Zultanite (www.zultgems.com). The name
Zultanite refers to the 36 Sultans who ruled the Ottomon Empire from 1299 to 1923, prior to the founding of the Republic of Turkey. Throughout their reign, the Sultans employed as many as 92 artisans to create jewelry just for their use. Unfortunately however they never had the chance to use their native gem. In the late 1970s some clean, color-change gems were found in Turkey and caused a sensation, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that enough higher quality, better cut gems were available. Priced similarly to Tanzanite, Zultanite is more expensive and rarer in larger sizes which exhibit the color change characteristic more prominently. The rarest Zultanite specimens exhibit chatoyancy, or “cat’s eye effect”, giving a cabochon-cut gem a singular band reflection along with the color change.
Its splendid characteristics have garnered Zultanite quite a fan club both in the United States and abroad. British designer Stephen Webster has found Zultanite to be ideally suited to his dramatic flair in fine jewelry. “If there is a chance to work with a new material that I feel has a place in the world of Webster, I want to be there early,” says Webster. “I’m particularly interested in the phenomenon of color change stones and it’s compelling to be able to offer my customers a gem that has a point of difference from the marketplace.”
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