Iolite was the favourite stone of the Vikings, legend has it. Sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, miles away from safe shores, Viking explorers went to unknown distances, discovering America long before Christopher Columbus set sail to its beautiful fringe-coast, and before Amerigo Vespucci gave it her name. The Vikings were carrying a powerful, secret weapon — the stone Iolite. Looking through its transparent, glassy surface, it is believed that they were able to determine the exact position of the sun and so navigate through uncharted seas. It is also believed that the Vikings unearthed Iolite in the frozen wastelands of Greenland and in their homeland, Norway. See this interesting map of viking voyages from from Smithsonian musuem web site:
The name of this stone originates from the Greek word ion which means purple-coloured, or as French would have it, lilla. In this word one can also find the root to the name of the Ionian sea, although the etymology of the name so far has not been established. However, let us imagine and suppose that Ancient Greeks saw the marvellous hues in that sea, the same kind that Iolite can display for you.
The scientific term for this unbridled variegation is pleochroism, or the feature of multiple colours that are spread in different directions depending of the axis of the crystal. If the stone was made into a cube, one side would look lavender blue like sapphire, while the other side could be almost colourless, and viewed from above the stone could appear yellowish grey. Because of this property, Iolite is also called “Dichroite” which is another Greek word that, loosely translated, means “two-coloured rock.” When Iolite is faceted, the experienced cutter should take note of that axis orientation, so the stone can show its best colours.
One must, however, admit that Iolite best resembles Sapphires because of its bluish colour. This gives it a significant place in the jewellery industry, as it can be an adequate substitute for the more expensive sapphire. Sometimes Iolite may even be mistakenly identify as sapphire or tanzanite, although it is softer than sapphire, but tougher than tanzanite. The hardness of Iolite is 7–7.5 on Moh’s scale. In the past, people called Iolite “water sapphire”, although this term is rarely heard today.
Iolite is frequently found in Brazil, India, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Mozambique. Very fine crystals are also found on the Garnet Island in Canada.
Despite Iolite’s long and colourful history, it is considered to be a relatively young stone and insufficiently known. Iolite is a transparent form cordierite, that was named Corderite after the French geologist Pierre Louis Antoine Cordier in 1813, but later Iolite as name prevailed. The first significant discovery of deposits of this great and beautiful, translucent stone was by the American geologist W. Dan Hausel during 1996 in Palmer Creek, Wyoming, and the largest discovered crystal of Iolite is a world record breaking stone, found in Grizzy Creek, Wyoming, measuring over 24,000 carats, and weighting 4.8 kilograms.
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