There’s a funny little gemstone variety that is more science than simply cute. I’m talking about trapiche gems. Trapiche (pronounced tra-PEE-che), it’s endlessly fun to say. But when you learn how they came to be, it makes grade school science fascinating all over again.
Trapiche stones are penetrating the marketplace today in larger quantities than previously. Once just a rock hound’s nerdy curiosity, trapiche stones are finding favor with serious collectors. The first ones that snuck into shows at the Tucson gem fairs were trapiche emeralds. Now we’re finding trapiche ruby pop up. By the way, trapiche sapphire, garnet, tourmaline and other gem-minerals exist, albeit in scarce availability. Give it time.
The word trapiche is Spanish for a six-spoked cogwheel used in old sugar mills. The stones themselves exhibit 6-rays emanating from a central ‘cog’ shaped formation. These rare lovelies are a miracle of nature.
First let’s talk about what it’s not. It is nothing like star stones which get their rays (called asterism) from tiny internal hair-like fibers which are exploited when the stone is cut en cabochon.
Trapiche 6-rayed stones occur when geothermal waters interact with a carbonaceous host rock. A type of zoning occurs during mineral development making the gem cease to grow along rough edges and instead develops on smooth faces. The symmetrical formation of straight lines radiating from a central core add allure to the gemstone itself.
While they’ve not come to the fore until recent times, if it’s natural one has to image that it’s been around forever. Yes, it has. In the mid-19th century, Emile Bertrand first described these dazzling wonders, having seen them in Muzo, Colombia. It took about a century later until someone mentioned them again - this time with trapiche rubies being located in Mong Hsu, Myanmar (Burma).
Today, they are quietly slipping into couture goods as designers celebrate these intriguing stones with a story. Look for them in original jewelry - or better yet, grab a few for your favorite client who wants something ‘no one else has.’ That rarified condition may not last much longer.