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10 of the World’s Rarest Gemstones

There are roughly 200 varieties of natural gemstone known in the world today. Alongside the world’s precious gems (diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald) are numerous semi-precious stones, some of which are so incredibly rare that their value outstrips many of the world's most valuable precious gems. Here are a few of the rarest from around the world.

1. TANZANITE // FOUND ONLY IN TANZANIA

 
Tanzanite is a beautiful blue variety of the mineral zoisite, and is so named because it is only found in a small area near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The stone was not discovered in commercial quantities until the 1960s and since then its popularity has grown tremendously, thanks largely to the efforts of Tiffany & Co. Heat-treating tanzanite at very high temperatures can improve the blue coloration, so most gems on the market have been treated in this way, but any tanzanite that has not been heat-treated and has a strong blue color naturally will be of a much higher value. Because it is only found in one small location, the value of tanzanite looks likely to soar over time; once those mines have been emptied there will be no new stones coming onto the market—unless a new source is found.

2. BLACK OPAL // THE DARKER THE BETTER

Daniel Mekis via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Opals are usually a creamy-white color and are made special by the rainbow-colored inclusions that reflect the light as the stone is moved. Black opals are much rarer, because almost all of them are found in mines in the Lightning Ridge area of New South Wales in Australia. The darker their background color and brighter the inclusions, the more valuable the stone. One of the most valuable black opals of all time is the "Aurora Australis," which was uncovered in Lightning Ridge in 1938. The 180-carat opal is especially admired due to its large size and intense harlequin coloration; in 2005 it was valued at AUS $1,000,000, or about $763,000 U.S.

3. LARIMAR // ONLY FOUND IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

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Larimar is a very rare blue variety of the mineral pectolite and is found in only one small area of the Dominican Republic. This turquoise stone’s name was created by the man who brought the stone to prominence in 1974, Miguel Méndez—he took the first part of his daughter’s name, Larissa, and combined it with the Spanish word for sea, mar, to create the portmanteau larimar. Locals had known of the existence of the stone for generations, because small examples had washed up on the seashore, but it was not until the 1970s that sufficient quantities were found in the ground to open a mine.

4. PARAIBA TOURMALINE // NEON LUSTER

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

 
Tourmalines are common in many colors across Brazil, but the Paraiba tourmalines are the only stones with a bright turquoise hue, thanks to their copper content. The very rare gems were discovered in 1987 by determined miner Heitor Dimas Barbosa, who had been driven by a belief that something special lurked under the hills of the Brazilian state of Paraiba. Barbosa was right, and after years of fruitless digging, he finally unearthed a tourmaline of unrivaled neon blue that set the gem market alight. The extremely rare stone (only one stone is mined for every 10,000 diamonds) then became intensely sought-after. In 2003 very similar turquoise-colored tourmalines were found at mines in the mountains of Nigeria and Mozambique, although some say they are not quite as striking as the Paraiba tourmaline.

5. GRANDIDERITE // ONE EXCEPTIONAL EXAMPLE

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Grandiderite was first described in 1902 by French mineralogist Alfred Lacroix, who found it in Madagascar and named it in honor of the French explorer Alfred Grandidier, an expert on Madagascan natural history. This extremely rare blue-green mineral has been found in a number of places around the world, but so far only Madagascar and Sri Lanka have produced any gem-quality stones, and these are still extremely scant. The majority of the known stones are translucent, but the most rare, and therefore most valuable, example ever found was transparent. In fact, the stone was initially assumed to be another rare gem, serendibite, because grandiderite of that color and transparency had yet to be seen. The gem was only identified as grandiderite after expert analysis and was subsequently sold for an undisclosed sum. It’s safe to assume that if a gem of similar quality were to be unearthed, its scarcity alone would ensure it fetched an extremely high price.

6. ALEXANDRITE // COLOR-SHIFTING GEM

 
The amazing color-changing stone alexandrite was discovered in 1830 in the Ural Mountains in Russia and named after Russian tsar Alexander II. A variety of chrysoberyl, the stone’s remarkable color-shifting capability makes it especially sought-after: In sunlight the stone looks blue-green, but under incandescent light it becomes red-purple. The degree of color change varies from stone to stone, with some only showing marginal change, but the most valuable are clear stones that demonstrate complete color change.

Although some large examples of the stone have been found (the Smithsonian houses the world’s largest known cut sample of alexandrite at 65.08 carats), the majority are under one carat. This means that the value of a gem under a carat may only be $15,000, but a stone larger than one carat might fetch as much as $70,000 per carat.

7. BENITOITE // STATE GEM OF CALIFORNIA

Pablo Alberto Salguero Quiles via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Benitoite is only mined in one small area of California, near the San Benito River (hence the name), but the mine closed for commercial mining in 2006, making this gemstone yet more scarce. The gem was first identified around 1907 by geologist George Louderback and has a deep-blue color that shows especially interesting qualities when caught under UV light, when it glows fluorescent. The gem was named the official state gemstone of California in 1985 in recognition of the fact that, despite it being found in trace quantities in Arkansas as well as Japan and Australia, California is the only place where it can feasibly be mined. Due to the rarity of discovering a good quality benitoite of a reasonable size, it can fetch huge prices on the open market—a well-cut benitoite stone at over 2 carats can fetch more than $10,000 a carat.

8. PAINITE // ONCE THE WORLD’S RAREST GEM

Rob Lavinsky via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Painite was first discovered by British gemologist Arthur Charles Davy Pain in 1951 and recognized as a new mineral in 1957. For many years only one specimen of the dark red crystal was in existence, housed at the British Museum in London, making it the world’s rarest gemstone. Later on other specimens were discovered, although by 2004 there were still fewer than two dozen known painite gems. However, in recent years a couple of mines in Myanmar have begun to produce some painite, and there are now said to be over 1000 stones known. The scarcity of this gem has made it extremely valuable and just one carat can fetch more than $60,000.

9. RED BERYL // TINY AND SCARCE

Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Red beryl, also known as bixbite or red emerald, is so rare it is estimated by the Utah Geological Survey that a single such gem is uncovered for every 150,000 gem-quality diamonds. Pure beryl is colorless and only gains its bright hues from impurities in the rock: chromium and vanadium give beryl a green color resulting in an emerald; iron provides a blue or yellow tint creating aquamarine and golden beryl; and manganese adds the deep-red color to create red beryl. Red beryl is only found in Utah, New Mexico, and Mexico, and the majority of examples found are just a few millimeters in length, too small to be cut and faceted for use. Those that have been cut are generally less than a carat in weight, and a red beryl of 2 or 3 carats would be considered exceptional.

10. TAAFFEITE // DISCOVERED BY CHANCE

DonGuennie (G-Empire The World Of Gems) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Austrian-Irish gemologist Count Edward Charles Richard Taaffe bought a box of cut stones from a jeweler in Dublin in the 1940s, thinking he had purchased a collection of spinels. But on closer inspection, he noted that one of the pale mauve gems was not reacting to the light in the same way as the rest of the spinels, so he sent it off to be analyzed. The results revealed that he had discovered a hitherto unknown gemstone—a serendipitous but frustrating situation, since he had discovered a cut gem and had no idea where the mineral naturally occurred. Fortunately, once the new stone had been announced, many other collectors re-examined their own spinel collections and a number of other samples were uncovered. Finally the source of the stone was tracked down to Sri Lanka, although a handful have also been found in Tanzania and China. It is thought that less than 50 examples of taaffeite exist—many of which are housed in geological and private collections, making this gemstone so rare the ordinary public are unlikely to ever encounter it.

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
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Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key
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The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.

5. AMPERSAND // &

Ampersand symbol on an old metal block
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The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs
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The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.

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