Sunstone – A Little Known Spectacular Gemstone

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Many of us have heard of the moonstone, but the sunstone is relatively unknown! The name alone is mysterious and intriguing.

Called ‘sunstone’ due to its glittering inclusions and smooth sheen, this feldspar gemstone has been known for several centuries but not commonly used in jewelry. Rather, the sunstone was valued for trading and bartering.

Found in variations of red-brown hues, the sunstone is a beautiful addition to any jewelry collection. You might not know about the sunstone yet, but like many others before you, when you do, we are sure you will love it!  

  1. What is sunstone?

 Sunstone is a member of the feldspar group of gemstones, which incidentally is the most abundantly found of all minerals. In other words, there’s more feldspar than any other mineral on earth.

Feldspar can be further subdivided into two main categories based on the differences of their chemical composition. If you love technical terms then this is for you:

  1. Potassium feldspar - includes orthoclase (moonstone) and microcline (amazonite) varieties
  2. Plagioclase feldspar – includes labradorite, andesine and oligoclase (sunstone)

Based on its chemical composition, the sunstone belongs to the plagioclase feldspar group.

Sunstone is found in many places around the world but the best known come from India. Other locations include Canada, Madagascar, Russia, Norway and the USA.

Possibly the most famous US variety comes from the plentiful mines of Oregon and are known as the Oregon sunstone (it is also the official state gemstone of Orgeon). Oregon Sunstone is the only sunstone variety that contains copper inclusions, giving it a distinct and glittery appearance. Some Oregon sunstones can exhibit two or three colors at the same time, known as dichroism and trichroism respectively.

  1. What is aventurescence in sunstone?

When you look at a high quality sunstone, you may see a lively, sparkly glittering coming from within the stone.

This is what is known as aventurescence, also called schiller in the industry. This metallic glitter occurs due to hundreds of tiny, reflective inclusions within the stone. When touched by light, the inclusions act as reflectors, sending the light back out.

The inclusions in sunstone are usually hematite, pyrite, goethite or, in the case of Oregon sunstone, coppe. These impurities are metallic and often flat. As light hits the stone at a certain angle, you can clearly see the glittery reflection coming from within the stone. even if the inclusions are too small to create a proper aventurescent effect, there will still be a sheen due to the copper inclusions.

Not all sunstone varieties have aventurescence, however. It is a quality factor  that adds value to the sunstone.

  1. How do I evaluate the quality of a sunstone?

In determining the value of any precious stone, we always look to the 4Cs – cut, color, clarity and carat.

 

How to evaluate the color of sunstone

Sunstones are generally found in various shades of red, brown and orange. The most valuable are the darker, richer colors while paler sunstones don’t command high prices.

Although the aventurescent effect of sunstone usually results in a red-brown sheen, there are some varieties that have a green or blue sheen as well.

 Evaluating the clarity of your sunstone

 When it comes to gemstones, inclusions or impurities found within the stone are often seen as flaws and devalues the gemstone. However, when it comes to sunstones, the inclusions is what makes it special.

These sparkling impurities are what causes the stone to look attractive and have the aventurescent effect.

While sunstones are generally opaque to translucent, some of the highest quality sunstone can appear transparent with excellent clarity.

Checking out the cut of sunstone

The most important factor when it comes to sunstones is the cut.

Sunstones have to be cut expertly and carefully in order to maximize the beauty of the inclusions within. This is especially true of Oregon sunstone, as the copper inclusions are typically flat. When the stone is cut expertly, and viewed at a certain angle, light reflects of the impurities, causing them to sparkle.

Most sunstones for jewelry are faceted, to promote the reflection of the inclusions. Some, especially the translucent or opaque stones, are cut en cabochon. You will typically find sunstone cut into rounds, ovals, pears and marquise and not so much in angular cuts.

Some en cabochon sunstones exhibit chatoyancy or asterism. Chatoyancy is known as the ‘cat’s-eye’ effect where the stone reflects light in a line down its center resembling a cat’s eye. Asterism is when the stone reflects lights in a star-like pattern.  

How to choose the carat weight of sunstone

Sunstones can be found in many sizes. Because it is an affordable stone, the size does not affect value much. The size you choose depends on your preferences.

Most retailers highlight the width and length of the sunstone, i.e. the size, rather than the carat weight. This gives you an exact measurement of the stone’s size. Remember that carat weight is relative to the density of the stone, so this varies from gemstone to gemstone.

  1. What about enhanced or treated sunstone on the market?

There are currently no known enhancements or treated varieties of sunstone on the market. This means that any sunstone you buy is a naturally mined gemstone.

Note: This is not to say that enhancements or treatments are necessarily bad. Certain gemstones (such as rubies) are almost always treated to improve color and this is an accepted industry practice.

  1. Sunstone value and price

The price of sunstones is affected by factors such as color, clarity and whether or not the stone exhibits quality aventurescence.

One of the best things about this gorgeous gemstone is that it is very affordable, fitting all budgets. However, high quality transparent specimens with excellent aventurescence can be costly and are the most sought after. Of these, sunstones that exhibit bright red hues and also the dichroism or trichroism are the most valuable.

Generally, pale stones retail at about $20 per carat, while the more darker hued stones can cost upwards of $50 per carat.  

  1. Sunstones in jewelry

Sunstone lends itself well to most jewelry applications. It’s subdued, quiet coclor makes it a perfect addition for a chic and sophisticated appearance.

Choose your favorite metal

While sunstone looks amazing against any metal color, it is especially beautiful when set in rose or yellow gold. These are perfect companion colors to the reddish hues of the sunstone. White gold and silver can give a more modern and trendier look.

sunstone earrings cascade

Beautiful cascade earrings from Etsy.

A great way to highlight your sunstones is through a classy pair of earrings. Whether you go for dangle earrings or simple studs, these will suit any occasion.

Sunstone earrings, especially dangle ones, are great for evening occasions because they catch and play with light well due to their aventurescent effect. This gives this jewelry item that extra glitter to dress you up.

Sunstones look great in dainty pendants as an addition to casual or daily wear and as charms in bracelets.

  1. Is a sunstone engagement ring a good idea?

 Sunstone engagement ring

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Sunstones make very beautiful engagement rings. They are unique and uncommon, so it gives you the feeling of being distinctive.

Because sunstone comes in neutral shades of red, it can be perfect for daily wear and will not clash with your outfits.

However, durability and toughness are two main factors to consider when deciding on a sunstone engagement ring. This is a gemstone that is not very hard and can be scratched easily. Also, it is not a very tough stone too, meaning that it is prone to breaking (more later on the durability of sunstone). These factors can be an impediment for daily wear.

It is best to choose a protective setting such as bezel, halo or flush settings. Having the sunstone set on a lower level to the metal is also a good idea. With proper care, a sunstone can last a lifetime. And if, by any chance, it does get damaged, replacing the stone is not too difficult or costly.

  1. Taking care of your sunstone gemstone and jewelry

Sunstone is a relatively softer gemstone with a Mohs ranking of 6.5 to 7. Incidentally, 7 is the most important number on the Mohs scale because any lower and dust particles can scratch the stone.

As we mentioned above, sunstone also has very poor toughness due to distinct cleavage in two directions found in the stone. This factor combined with the stone’s general brittleness means that sunstone is easily damaged or chipped if exposed to hard knocks and rough wear.

This is why it is important to protect your sunstone from knocks and bumps, especially during strenuous activities. This applies especially to sunstone rings which will likely be more exposed than earrings or pendants.

It is a good idea to avoid using ultrasonic or steam cleaners when cleaning sunstones. Instead, use a commercial jewelry cleaner or soap and warm water with a soft brush. Once washed, make sure you rinse your sunstone jewelry in water and dry it thoroughly.

When storing sunstone, wrap in a cotton or velvet cloth. This keeps it free from dust and from being scratched by other items.

Keep sunstone away from chemicals such as harsh detergents, bleach and cosmetics. It is always better to take off your sunstone jewelry when applying makeup and when doing household or outdoor activities that will expose it to chemicals.

Because sunstone does not handle heat well, avoid exposing your stone to high temperatures. However, the color of sunstone is fairly stable and does not fade with exposure to light.

  1. The lore and symbolism of sunstone

Sunstone is a popular gemstone for crystal healers. It is believed to have protective powers and have the ability to bring abundance, happiness and life to the wearer. It is symbolic of prosperity, wealth and good luck.

In ancient times, sunstones were valued by natives as an item for bartering and trading with others. This gave it the value of currency, which is probably why it is linked to success and wealth.

  1. Where can I buy a sunstone?

It is best to take your sunstone search online, as most brick-and-mortar stores will not have these gemstones in stock. Apart from a few locations, such as the United States, you will not come across sunstones in jewelry stores.  

Many beautiful sunstone jewelry pieces can be found on artisan stores such as Etsy. There are also some retailers that have a range of sunstone jewelry collections online.  Ensure that the retailer is reputable and communicates with you effectively and honestly about their jewelry.

Always check the after sales service and returns policy, in case of any issues. A great place to buy sunstones is the state of Oregon, so if you do go there, don’t forget to get yourself one!

Finding the perfect piece of sunstone jewelry can prove to be difficult, but it is well worth the trouble.