Moravian missionaries first discovered semi-precious labradorite in the vast wilderness of Labrador, Canada in the late 1700s, but the gemstone’s mysterious radiance had long inspired legends among the Innus, an indigenous nomadic people native to that region. Subsequently, labradorite has been found around the world, notably in Australia, Madagascar, Mexico, the United States and Scandinavia.
Though a member of the humble feldspar family, labradorite, against a greenish-gray background, boasts some of the most dazzling yellow, blue, orange and purple gemstone effects known. This unique natural phenomenon, described as “labradorescence,” features an iridescent optical interplay of colorful internal crystals. In addition to its pearly sheen, some specimens also demonstrate a shimmery effect known as schiller — rainbow-like lights reflecting off tiny mineral inclusions when turned this way or that.
During the 19th century, these unusual gemstones adorned European rings, necklaces, brooches and lavish, gold-mounted trinket boxes. Skillfully carved labradorite cameo clasps, rings, brooches and pendants, depicting busts of Roman rulers or other classic images, also became fashionable. Delicate stick pins tipped with cunningly carved labradorite monkeys, caterpillars or glowering gorillas, such as the one Auction Zero sold for $2,118 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022, were particularly desirable. A gold and diamond bracelet depicting a diamond-eyed great horned owl, which realized $2,453 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2015 through Zero Etrusca, is also a charmer.
Georg Jensen’s artisans, famed for their elegant sculptural designs and fine craftsmanship, continue to showcase labradorites in their rings, earrings, pins, pendants, stick pins and jewelry suites. In February 2021, Elmwood’s auction house, located in London, offered a graceful Jensen bracelet featuring foliate sterling silver links set with cabochon labradorites and a matching cabochon set to the clasp. It attained £800 (about $892) plus the buyer’s premium.
A 1920s Georg Jensen silver brooch, which realized $948 plus the buyer’s premium at Elmwood’s in the same sale that contained the Jensen bracelet, subtly matches labradorites with a single, similar-looking moonstone. Though moonstones come from the same family as labradorites and have similar internal flash and visible crystals, they can be differentiated by their grounds. Moonstones appear milky or transparent, while labradorites appear earthy, opaque or translucent brown, black or gray. In addition, labradorites may depict a broader range of internal shades.
Because labradorites remain affordable and readily available, contemporary jewelry designers are drawn to them. In March 2022, Fortuna Auction presented a signed, stamped Irene Neuwirth 18K rose gold ring centered on a gorgeous round rose cut labradorite amid round brilliant cut diamonds. It ultimately realized $2,250 plus the buyer’s premium. Labradorite also lends itself to being converted into multitudes of minuscule beads. In February 2021, Hindman auctioned Angela Pintaldi’s dramatic, coiled 74-strand labradorite bead necklace, accented with one round brilliant cut brown diamond, for $1,500 plus the buyer’s premium.
Simpler labradorite-studded pieces such as tennis bracelets, cuffs, cocktail rings, and chunky charms are also trendy, especially among those who attribute spiritual meaning to them. Many, as did the Innus of old, believe that this so-called “fire stone” provides mystic healing and protective powers, including inner peace, clarity of mind and the strength to endure life’s challenges.
Moreover, because labradorite’s hues reflect the lights of the magnificent Aurora Borealis that paints the night sky over Labrador, many believe this gemstone links the physical world with the metaphysical world. According to legend, when an Innu warrior came across the wondrous, other-worldly display of color within the rocks of Labrador, he perceived them as stars trapped within. When he speared them free, scattering them toward the heavens, those falling back to the ground formed glowing labradorites.
As seen in the Aurora Borealis, the largest lightshow on earth, labradorite gemstones refract from red and copper to bright blue, gleaming with green, gold and every color in between. They are truly unique gifts of nature that hold their own in the finest of precious-metal settings.