Where do the gemstone beads in your jewelry come from?

I’m asked this question at every show.  It’s a great question but I can’t always answer it. Here’s why:

Some gems come almost exclusively from one area; fossil “turitella agate” comes from Wyoming in the U.S. and tanzanite from Tanzania, Africa. But most gems are found and mined in more than one location. For example, lapis lazuli comes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Chile.


Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan (with malachite and gold-filled beads, item LLGFN104


In some cases, especially beautiful specimens of a  gem are found in specific locations; Burmese rubies are highly prized.  Because of this, some beads are sold with their source location as part of their name; Ethiopian opal and Australian boulder opal beads are examples.

While some rough (uncut gem material) is cut and polished as gems, beads or carvings in the country where it was mined, most goes to major “cutting centers” in other countries. China and India are the biggest cutting centers for beads. Both locations produce great beads; beads from India are generally hand-made and Chinese products are often laser or machine-made. Because making rough material into beads is where the “value” is added, most beads come with labels saying they were made in the country where the cutting center is located rather than where they were mined.

So, when my beads are labeled as being from China or India, I don’t know the location of origin. But when a gem comes from only one location or when I buy directly from an importer, I know the source.


Turitella agate fossils from Wyoming (with garnet and gold-filled, item FTGVE102)


With a range of blue hues in a single stone, kyanite is a fabulous gem for beautiful and unique jewelry.  Kyanite has a particularly unique and interesting property: it has two  different measures of hardness in the same crystal.  A gem’s hardness is defined as its resistance to scratching and is usually stated as a single number or small range; diamond is 10 on the Moh’s hardness scale, quartz is 7.  When you look at a kyanite crystal,  it may appear to have a grain like a piece of wood; the hardness can be 5-5 1/2 in the direction of the grain and 7 across it.

Kyanite is nKYSSN102_aamed from the Greek word for dark blue, kyanos, from which we get “cyan” as a shade of blue.  Most kyanite is blue, but it can also be white, gray, orange, yellow and green.  Although still not very common in jewelry, good quality blue and green material is used for beads and cut stones.

Kyanite crystals grow in long flat “blades”.  The gem can be translucent to opaque and the color is often very unevenly zoned over the crystal.  It is a metamorphic mineral with chemical formula Al2SiO5.   It is also a “polymorph”; one of three minerals with the same chemical formula but different crystal structure (the other two minerals are andalusite and sillimanite).

Kyanite  can be found in many locations around the world including Austria, Burma, Brazil, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Tanzania, the United States and Zimbabwe.  Besides jewelry, kyanite is used in the manufacture of porcelain, spark plugs and  electronics.

Kyanite is fairly durable, but KYGVE102_16_ahas perfect cleavage that can cause the stone to split with a single hard knock or blow. Don’t use ultrasonic cleaners, steamers, bleach or other harsh chemicals when cleaning kyanite; use water and a mild soap.

Hurlbut, Cornelius S.; Klein, Cornelis, 1985, Manual of Mineralogy, 20th ed., John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Gemological Institute of America, Gem Identification Lab Manual, 5/2012