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Apatite

"Also deadly Nyx (night) bare Nemesis (retribution) to afflict mortal men, and after her, Apate (deceit)..."
The Theogony of Hesiod (circa 700 BC), translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914)

 
Diabole of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). The painting shows personifications of Agnoia (ignorance), Aletheia (truth), Apate (deceit), Diabole (calumny), Epiboule (bad cunning), Hypolepsis (distrust), Metanoia (regret) and Pthonos (envy), dragging an innocent person before the throne of a king (Ptolemy)
Apatite is a rare, beautiful gemstone that has really come into its own in the last decade. Don't let the opening quote scare you off. Apatite might have once pulled the wool over some people's eyes, but this gem isn't trying to fool anyone... it just happens to be a little bit of a gemmological chameleon. Apatite is not a Tourmaline, but since the discovery of its saturated neon 'Paraíba' blues in Madagascar near Fort Dauphin (Tuléar Province) in 1995, Apatite's fame has gone through the roof. For those who haven't been living under a rock, Paraíba Tourmaline is a very rare (and very valuable) gem discovered in the 80s that experienced instantaneous success due to its neon colours (click here for more). This is the popularity power of Paraíba Tourmaline. Not only has it secured its own superstar status in the gem world, but it has also propelled interest in other Tourmalines as well as similar vividly coloured gemstones.

Apatite's name is telling; it comes from the Greek 'apatao' (to deceive) and looking at the gem pictured right, it is certainly apt; superficially, it looks a lot like Paraíba Tourmaline, but is only a fraction of the price! Apatite's wide range of colours is one of the reasons for its historical confusion and Paraíba Tourmaline aside, it has also been mistaken for Peridot and Beryl. Apatite's propensity for deception even has its roots in Greek mythology. One of the evil spirits released from Pandora's box, the goddess Apate was the personification of deceit, fraud and trickery. You know, she kind of sounds like one of my ex-girlfriends, but seriously, Apatite today is a hugely popular mainstream jewellery gemstone that shouldn't just be loved for its ability to look like something else.

While its name is really about how Apatite can fool you, it does sound a bit like 'appetite' and believe it or not, there is a connection. A calcium phosphate, Apatite crystals are one of the components of teeth and bones of all vertebrate animals. From a mineralogical perspective, Apatite is also a veritable 'Pandora's box'; it is actually several different minerals depending on whether fluorine, chlorine, hydroxyl or strontium replaces the calcium. While mineral Apatite occurs in many countries, gem-quality Apatite is rare with the main commercial sources being Brazil, Madagascar and Mexico. An 'other coloured' gemstone (click here for more), Apatite displays a variety of colours that are typically caused by rare earth elements. Apatite comes in almost every shade of blue, including caribbean blue, mediterranean blue, neon blue, ocean blue, 'paraĆ­ba-esque' blue and 'sapphire' blue (mostly small in size, these actually hail from Brazil not Madagascar). The most popular are its blues and bluish-greens, but its other lesser known hues also deserve consideration.
 

Neon Blue Apatite & Diamond
9K Yellow Gold Ring
 
These include chocolates (including reddish-browns), greens (sometimes similar to the greens of Emerald and Russian Diopside as well as mint and pine greens), greys, pinks, purples (with the finest coming from Maine, U.S.A.), teals, violets, whites and yellows (particularly from Mexico, this country produces canary to honey yellows as well as yellow-greens and very occasionally greenish-yellows or limes). A yellow-green variety, originally mined in Spain's Murica province, is called the 'asparagus stone' because of its similarity in colour to the vegetable. Translucent Apatite can display a good cat's eye when cut 'en cabochon', while a cryptocrystalline (small crystal) sky blue Apatite variety has been used as an ornamental stone. There is also a Siberian variety of Lapis Lazuli called Lazurapatite.

This is all well and good, but it was not until the mid-90s discovery of Apatite's unusual 'Paraiba-esque' blues and sea foam bluish-greens that its popularity skyrocketed. The southern Madagascar deposit (Anjahamiary Pegmatite) near Fort Dauphin is the source of the more vivid colours, with the darker teal blues coming from the island's North. I was very lucky to visit the Moraphin (literally 'easy for a fool' in Malagasy, probably in reference to how Apatite crystals broke the surface) Apatite mine on the Anjahamiary Pegmatite in 2006 because the deposit is now ostensibly depleted; as Porky Pig would say, "Th-th-th-th-That's all, Folks!" Saying this, fine Madagascan Apatite can still sometimes be found in the marketplace, but this isn't always easy and is getting harder. Madagascar is also a big island blessed with a diverse gemmological bounty, so fingers crossed for future discoveries. Either way, if you haven't secured a Madagascan Apatite for your collection, there has never been a better time; just don't take too long about it!

Once you've settled on the hue you like, the reliable Goldilocks maxim is again good advice; not too dark or too light, just right, with the intense 'middle' colours being the happy medium. As for the colour, an attractive brilliance should sparkle (scintillate) throughout the gem (bearing in mind that Apatite is less brilliant than say, Paraíba Tourmaline), but this will be affected by size, clarity, colour saturation and faceting quality. In this respect, Apatite is particularly difficult to polish well and often has inherent inclusions whose positioning in the finished gem will impact both beauty and value. All other things being equal, a well-polished and expertly cut Apatite does have a premium quality and this should factor in your selection. As usual, look for a good shape and overall appearance. Common shapes for Apatite are baguette, ovals and rounds, faceted using step or mixed cuts.
 

 


A selection of Apatite gemstones from its three main sources; Brazil, Madagascar and Mexico. Most of the above gems are from Madagascar, except for the neon blue round Apatite (Brazil) and the yellow round Apatite (Mexico)
Although Apatite isn't clarity type classified by the GIA (Gemmological Institute of America) based on the prevalence of inclusions, 'generally' go for an eye-clean clarity (no visible inclusions when the gem is examined six inches from the naked eye). I said 'generally' because with Apatite, size, clarity and even colour are all linked. Apatite is usually only found as small crystals and these often have inclusions. Finding rough Apatite crystals that can be faceted into eye-clean gems of more than a carat is incredibly rare. Some of the greens and yellows are cleaner, which affords larger gems, but those popular blues have always been a problem. Having spent some time at an Apatite mine, I can certainly attest to its smaller crystals. Almost all of what I saw mined would have cut melee sizes (small gems typically under 20 points) suitable for accent gems and cluster designs. Gems larger than four carats may sometimes be available, but as they increase in size you can expect some visible inclusions. Ultimately, inclusion tolerance in Apatite is up to the individual, but any eye-visible inclusions shouldn't negate beauty and by default, value. But given their size, a few eye-visible inclusions in larger Apatites are totally forgivable. Some eye-visible inclusions may even add beauty by reflecting light, but this is somewhat subjective. All other things being equal, the bigger the gem the rarer it is and the biggest Apatite I have ever seen was an amazing 37 carat specimen from Madagascar's Anjahamiary Pegmatite. The colour was stunning, the size impossible and all things considered, its clarity was pretty good; totally acceptable and far better than what is frequently tolerated in Emeralds. This illustrates the importance of weighing up all of the gem's attributes as plusses and minuses before making your final selection. Just remember to take into account all the natural characteristics of the variety. Most gem writers take great pains to stress that Apatite is not as durable as the gemstones it often emulates, but I take a far simpler approach. I flippantly used to tell people, "if it can be set, you can wear it", but in my mind, gemstones should be worn. As long as you exercise some care and common sense, following the few simple dos and don'ts included (click here for more), your Apatite jewellery will continue to look its very best.

Apatite is without a doubt one of the most attractive gemstones around. Prior to African discoveries of Paraíba Tourmaline, this gem offered the marketplace incredibly equivalent colours at far more accessible price points, which was invaluable in increasing its profile. Fortunately, Apatite is no longer merely typecast as a Paraíba substitute. As attested by the increasing popularity of its yellows and greens, Apatite is a jewellery gemstone that is definitely here to stay; the only question is whether the colours that boost its popularity will be with us for long. I certainly hope they are, but it will be interesting to see how interest in a gem once denigrated as a deceiver evolves. For me, Apatite will always be the goddess that thankfully found its way out of a box!
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