Opaque gemstones have their fans and often their popularity relies on rarity or color. One attractive stone however, comes to mind having both of these traits and yet stays mostly off the radar for gem collectors. We’re talking sodalite.
How it Got its Name
The material forms in host rocks so rarely found that many geologists never come across them. These host rocks are phonolite, nepheline syenite, and trachyte. Sodalite is produced in sodium-rich magma which led to it being named sodalite. While it has been used as an architectural accent stone and for sculptural objects, the higher quality strongly blue-violet specimens are set aside for jewelry.
Designer Wayne Summerlin, of Valley River Silversmiths says, “Sodalite is a little known and under-appreciated mineral that makes for beautiful jewelry pieces. My customers love it once they know about and see it.”
Sources of sodalite vary from the US (Maine and Arkansas) to British Columbia. But more far flung locales have turned up the material as well; Greenland, Namibia and Russia. Those familiar with traditional sources of the material may have learned that large well-formed crystals have been recovered from Afghanistan or Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Knowing how to Carve It
For jewelry making purposes, the saturated blue material is more desirable. The vivid cobalt coloration often streaked with white calcite veining makes for striking original jewelry designs. Its Mohs scale hardness is between 5-6, which is why these stones are often cut en cabochon or into beads for jewelry. Gemstone carver Helen Serras-Herman knows her way around an opaque stone. She’s become expert carving a wide array of gemstone materials during her decades long career. By now, she understands the nuances that aid or challenge carvers when working with each material.
Speaking of sodalite, Serras-Herman explains, “The fine lines, fractures and inclusions in the rough material may cause breaks. However, the availability of large-size rough and low cost, lends itself to commercial figurine carvings and decor items.”
Make the Separation
To the casual gem enthusiast, sodalite can be confused with lapis lazuli, another opaque blue rock. But with lapis (which has a similar Mohs hardness to sodalite) you often observe shiny gold flecks of pyrite, something not seen in sodalite. Collectors who adore blue stones, and especially love lapis, may opt for sodalite as a less pricey yet still attractive alternative.
High-end timepieces like Rolex and other pricey men’s watch brands have used sodalite for watch faces to make a standout fashion statement. For the ladies, sodalite beads are a timeless accessory that transcends fads.
So why don’t more jewelry collectors include it in their wardrobe? Summerlin finds it enjoyable to work with. “Sodalite’s royal blue color and contrasting white calcite is a pleasure to cut and polish.” Its hardness, Summerlin explains, allows the material to take a gleaming shine, becoming ideal for jewelry.
Retailers should consider including sodalite earrings or pendants in their collections so their customers can discover its beauty while purchasing items at price points they cannot refuse.