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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Benitoite the One of a Kind Gemstone

Benitoite in a matrix of neptunite from San Benito County, California.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky

Benitoite is a one-of-a-kind gem since it is only found in one place in California; it is also the state gemstone of California as of 1985.  The stone itself is a rare variety of barium-titanium silicate found in hydrothermally altered serpentine. Benitoite reacts under shortwave ultraviolet light fluorescing light blue in color.

As a mineral benitoite was described in 1907 by George D. Louderback who named it benitoite because it was found near the headwaters of the San Benito River of San Benito County, California. The stone was one of the first if not the first mineral to be studied under x-ray diffraction.

A single crystal of benitoite in matrix.
Photo by Lech Darski

This stone is usually found an unusual set of minerals including the minerals that make up its host rock. The associated minerals usually include naturolite, neptunite, joaquinite, serpentine and albite. Benitoite is very rare mineral that is only found that it few locations among them are places in San Benito County, California. It is also been found in Arkansas and Japan. It is usually found in glaucophane schist as inclusions in veins of naturolite.  Benitoite mining is allowed for a fee in the benitoite mine in the Clearwater management area in central California. Collecting is by appointment only!

This gemstone is typically colored various shades of blue although it can also appear as colorless or even have a yellowish caste.  Its crystals can vary from transparent to translucent with visible inclusions with a vitreous luster.

A single crystal of benitoite with no matrix.
Photo by Rob Lavinsky

When found its crystals are hexagonal; bar 6 m 2 that in crystal habits include six place dipyramid flattened shapes having a distinct triangle shape that is often modified by having minor faces.  At times it is also found as small grains.

Benitoite has no cleavage and its fracture is irregular.  Other distinguishing features are its hardness ranging from 6 to 6.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness.  Its specific gravity is 3.6 making it denser then most other minerals making it capable of being separated by gravity methods such as panning.  The mineral also displays a white streak.

A faceted example of benitoite
Photo by Fastily

This mineral is counted among those that fluoresce under the influence of ultraviolet light displaying a blue light.  Minerals that are associated with benitoite include serpentine, neptunite, natrolite, joaquinite, sanbornite, taramellite, albite and fresonite. 

Benitoite gems are only found in three mines located in San Benito County, California where good to excellent crystals are found.  The only other occurrences are in Eocene aged sands in southwestern Texas along with another few localities in California.  These occurrences are only small grains found in sand.

Benitoite under ultraviolet light.
Photo by Parent Gery 

If you are searching for this mineral the best field indicators its crystal habit, the fact that it displays fluorescence in blue, its distinctive color, the minerals it is associated with and the locality.  The fact it is associated with bodies of serpentine suggests that it might be found in localities that have been identified as suture zones where geologists feel that serpentine is metamorphosed oceanic crust that has been caught up in earth movements associated with the collision of two continental plates,


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