Gem Focus September 2021: Meteoritic Gems

Posted on September 13, 2021 by Çiğdem Lüle, PhD, FGA, GIA GG, DGA

Meteoritic gems; extraterrestrial beauties fallen to Earth. Ancient Egyptians called iron “metal of heaven” which had a strong connection to royalty and power, according to the Smithsonian Magazine article published in 2013. A group of iron beads excavated in Egypt were puzzling as they were used more than 2,500 years before human beings started smelting iron from ore. Further advanced analyses of the beads revealed a specific chemistry and pattern that matched with meteorites. No wonder it was called metal from heaven! Sterling silver ring featuring a Muonionalusta meteorite, amethyst, and tourmaline from Northern Sweden. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Modern gemology welcomes any type of origin for gem materials. It is pertinent to understand the fundamental difference between tektites and meteorites when it comes to extraterrestrial gems. Meteorites are interplanetary rocks that ended up on the Earth’s surface. They are originally asteroids in outer space and once they get caught by Earth’s gravity, they move like a fireball in the atmosphere towards the surface; think about fallen stars on a clear night. If they survive the friction and heat before completely burning up, they become meteorites; delightful collector’s material as well as a valuable information source for scientists. On the other hand, an extremely large asteroid may create a powerful enough impact to melt the surrounding on the Earth. The solidification of this molten material is so fast that it will create a glassy structure known as tektites, i.e., moldavite and Libyan glass. Therefore, tektites are entirely different materials then meteorites. Rolex Diamond & Gold President watch with Meteorite Dial, circa 2007. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Pallasitic peridot has been a popular extraterrestrial gem in the last a few decades. It comes from a stony-iron meteorite that contains gemmy peridot crystals. It is possible to separate this rarer “out of this world” peridot only through advanced gem testing methods. Unless a reliable report accompanies the gem, buyers need to be aware. While this green transparent gem keeps the top tier for meteoritic gems, certain meteorites are abundantly found and fashioned due to their unusual pattern, luster, and identity. Such large finds are generally iron meteorites with a peculiar look. Once it’s cut and polished, the opaque, black-gray piece displays a geometric pattern. Gibeon is an official name for a large iron meteorite discovered in the 19th century in Namibia. The other popular one is from Sweden and known as Muonionalusta. Both materials are often seen in jewelry. While large pieces find their way to collections, smaller pieces are used in jewelry, even as a watch dial by major high end watch manufacturers. Meteorite collecting requires quite a specialized understanding of structures of other planetary objects and stars in our galaxy. Unlike mineral collectors, meteorite collectors might not be opposed to seeing certain pieces cut and polished. Buyers of meteoritic gems must be aware of counterfeit pieces in the market. Seasoned collectors and knowledgeable museum curators are the best people to ask for help. In Header: A fine Gibeon meteorite displaying internal and external features. 9½ x 8½ x 4½ inches, from Great Nama Land, Namibia. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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