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Russian Diopside

"Chrome Diopside: a beautiful gem with an ugly name."
Gem by Gem, International Coloured Gemstone Association

An ethnic Yakut hunter and his huskies circa 1979 showing the bleak landscape of Yakutia. Yakuita (Sakha) is the world's largest sub-national governing body and the home of Russian Diopside
An ethnic Yakut hunter and his huskies circa 1979 showing the bleak landscape of Yakutia. Yakuita (Sakha) is the world's largest sub-national governing body and the home of Russian Diopside
This opening quote includes the name I first called this stunning gemstone and boy, what a shocker! Is it a car polish? A B-list comic superhero? Surely, not an extremely rare beautiful gemstone from Russia's remote east? Some gem names aren't especially attractive, but thankfully for this one we have options. One of the best things I've done in my professional career is to encourage the use of Russian Diopside over Chrome Diopside.

Russian Diopside is predominately mined in Russia (Eastern Siberian Region), although deposits also exist in Burma, China and South Africa; obviously, the 'Russian' prefix cannot be applied to gems from these countries. Coloured by one of the trace elements (chromium) also responsible for the 'classic' greens of Emerald (and sometimes Tsavorite), Russian Diopside is also known as Chrome Diopside, Chromium Diopside and Imperial Diopside (confusingly for its 'Russian' origin rather than 'imperial' hues), as well as commerical names like Vertelite (from the Latin 'verte', meaning green and 'lite', meaning tone) and Serbelite. It has also been called 'Siberian Emerald', but this is not only technically incorrect, but also misleading; Russian Diopside is neither an Emerald nor a member of the Beryl family. But before you say "Dio-what?", let's take some time to meet the family.

Named in 1800, Diopside derives its name from the Greek 'di' (two or double) and 'opsis' (appearance or view) in reference to its double refractivity/pleochroism (click here for more). It is found in Brazil, Burma, Canada, China, Finland, India, Italy, Kenya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the U.S.A. A calcium manganese silicate, Diopside is an 'other coloured' gemstone (click here for more), with its typical greens either caused by chromium (Russian Diopside) or iron. For example, African Diopside's more yellowish-greens (somewhat similar to Peridot) are due to iron. Diopside also comes in other colours, including blue, brown, colourless, grey, purple and white. While I'll cover Diopside's cat's eyes and stars shortly, two others varieties you should be aware of are Tashmarine® and Violan. Hailing from the Tien Shan (Celestial Mountains) range in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Western China, Tashmarine® is the brand name for the light green Chrome Diopside launched by the Columbia Gem House in 2001. It has a less saturated colour than Russian Diopside due to lower amounts of chromium. Coloured by large amounts of manganese, Violan (also Violane) is a rare bluish/violet Diopside variety hailing from Saint Marcel, Aosta Valley, Italy.

Russian Diopside & Diamond 14K White Gold Ring
Now firmly a jewellery gemstone, Diopside was once the domain of rock hounds (mineral enthusiasts) who prized its valuable mineral specimens. For me, its most interesting variety will always be the extremely rare, chromium-rich deep green to bluish greens of Russian Diopside, but more on its colour shortly. While Diopside is known as the 'crying gemstone' (ostensibly because of a purported ability to heal trauma by bringing forth cleansing tears), there is little historical information regarding Russian Diopside. Some have suggested that it be added as a birthstone for May (along with Emerald), but this has yet to be officially recognised. Aside from its beauty, the most interesting thing about Russian Diopside is where it's from; a remote Russian federal republic in Eastern Siberia called Yakutia (Sakha). Located in Asia's far North, Yakutia is infamous for its climate extremes. In fact, Yakutia's Verkhoyansk Range is the coldest place in the northern hemisphere. Quite literally 'out of the cold', Russian Diopside hit the marketplace around 1988, after European gem dealers began to rave about a new Russian gem that was similar in colour to Emerald and Tsavorite, but only a fraction of the price! With the catch cries of "glasnost" and "perestroika", the fall of the wall saw the economy of the former Soviet Union liberalised, increasing overnight the availability of Russian Diopside, which has today been granted the same export status as Alexandrite, Diamond and Emerald. Undoubtedly, these factors have done a lot to improve Russian Diopside's general awareness, but its biggest hurdle is still Yakutia's inhospitable landscape; this place is cold, real cold. Don't believe me? At Oymyakon (also Oimekon) temperatures dropped as low as -71.2° C in January 1926. I'd best take my long johns when I make that journey! Yakutia is also the source of 99 percent of all Russian Diamonds, accounting for over 23 percent of the world's Diamond production. Interestingly, Diamonds and Diopside also have an interesting connection. Diopside is an important mineral in the Earth's mantle and because it is found in Diamond pipes, it is a useful Diamond indicator mineral; you'll even sometimes find Diopside as an inclusion in Diamonds.

Russian Diopside comes in beautiful, pure rich green hues, occasionally with a slightly bluish tint. As in Emeralds, a little bit of blue brings added depth, richness and warmth to its pure greens. Looking at the mountains surrounding my office in Thailand, I definitely see how Russian Diopside's colour reminds others of lush tropical foliage. I just find this somewhat ironic considering the snowy landscapes that dominate Yakutia for most of the year. As for most gems, heed the old Goldilocks' maxim (click here for more); not too dark or too light, just right. While colour preferences are subjective, I favour vivid greens with a sparkling brilliance, but note that intense 'middle' colours are definitely the ideal for Russian Diopside. Too much green and Russian Diopside gets too dark. This is especially true in sizes over 2 carats where its colour can become so dark that brilliance is negatively affected, making it appear almost black. Attractive pure green gems (like all pure hues), are the unicorn of gemstones. Of all pure green gemstones, Emerald is undoubtedly the most popular, but this marketplace recognition in combination with natural scarcity keeps prices high. The main reason Russian Diopside (along with Peridot and Tsavorite) was included in the Emerald section in the first edition was to show you there are alternatives - the good news is that Russian Diopside is the most affordable pure rich green gemstone.

While the marketplace clarity standard is eye-clean (no visible inclusions when the gem is examined 6 inches from the naked eye), Russian Diopside is proof that good things come in small packages. Russian Diopside is usually small sized (less than a carat) with anything over 5 carats virtually impossible to obtain. While Russian Diopside is diochroic (two-coloured; its dichroism is green and yellow), this pleochroism (click here for more) shouldn't be an issue in well-cut gemstones. Russian Diopside is usually faceted with brilliant or step cuts in a variety of shapes. Rounds are most common; other shapes sometimes incur a premium. After assessing colour and clarity, look for a good shape and overall appearance when making your final selection. Although its small sizes might seem like a curse, this attribute makes it ideal for cluster jewellery designs or as accent gems.

No longer a "beautiful gem with an ugly name", Russian Diopside has some crystal-clear plusses; it comes from a very 'cool' locale (no pun intended), it is the most affordable pure green gem and has brilliant greens that seem to glow with colour. While Yakutia's long winters will always limit production of Russian Diopside, at least now you don't need to be sent to a Gulag to get one!

Cat's Eye Diopside
Mostly mined in India, Cat's Eye Diopside is green with inclusions of rutile needles. Chatoyancy or the cat's eye effect is a reflection that appears as a single bright band of light across the surface of a gemstone. Assessing cabochons is straightforward - just look at their finish, shape and proportion, favouring attractive smooth domes with a desirable symmetry.

Star Diopside
Again hailing from India, four-rayed Star Diopside is also known as Black Star Diopside because of its black or blackish-green colour. While Star Diopside has two rays that are straight, the other two are not right angled to the first pair. One interesting fact to impress your friends with is that some (and I stress some) Star Diopside is actually magnetic (magnetite inclusions are to be thought the culprit). All star gems are dependent on a gem being cut 'en cabochon' (cut in convex form and highly polished, but not faceted). While asterism is most visible in a direct, single beam of light, a well-cut star gemstone has a distinct star whose rays are straight and equidistant.
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