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March-April 2012

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April is prankster season, and interested readers can visit for a fun, historical background on the popular tradition of April Fools' Day. This widely celebrated day is an appropriate time to reflect on hoaxes and scams that occasionally occur in the hobby (see for recent reports and news on these topics). Then, of course, there are cases of honest misidentifications.

In Gems: Their Sources, Descriptions and Identification (6th edition, 2006, Elsevier), Michael O'Donoghue wrote (page 164), “the only natural stone resembling aquamarine is blue topaz….” That characterization was perhaps written for gemologists, but it is worth noting that from a mineralogical perspective tourmaline can sometimes be a convincing imposter of beryl.

The photo shown here depicts a transparent, green-blue crystal (3.0 × 2.0 × 1.2 cm) on a white albite matrix. The specimen is reportedly from Nuristan, Laghman Province, Afghanistan, and was acquired from John Betts (John Betts Fine Minerals). Betts says that this crystal fools everyone into thinking it is aquamarine beryl. Rather, the specimen is a pseudohexagonal elbaite with a flat pinacoid termination—the tip-off being secondary termination faces. It was the only such crystal from a 2007 find of eight crystals of this color. This singular example, along with a lack of any signs of active accretionary growth atop the termination, suggests it became such a striking look-a-like for aquamarine through healing.

Tourmaline pockets must rupture for the tourmalines to survive. If pressure is not released from the pockets, the tourmalines will alter to clay. Most commonly the rupture is cataclysmic, causing the crystals to separate from pocket walls. Some of the other tourmalines from the same pocket had colorless or pale pink termination zones. Therefore, Betts proposes that this “April Fools' elbaite” perhaps fractured during the rupture, losing its colorless or pink zone, then continued growth under new conditions, resulting in the unique pinacoid termination among this find. However, this is a very common occurrence in tourmaline from Maine at Mount Mica and Newry.

The ultimate effect, whatever the exact cause, is intriguing. The shape, combined with the curious color (neonlike that looks best under fluorescent light, hinting at an unusual chromophore), can make even seasoned collectors do a double-take. A common aquamarine? April Fools—it's an elbaite of uncommon appearance!

Caption: This gem crystal is not what it appears to be; Rich Olsen specimen, John Betts photo.

It is unfortunate that Robert Lauf's article “Collector's Guide to the Epidote Group” (September/October 2011) appeared in advance of the discovery of morphologically bizarre epidotes from Belochistan, Pakistan. I believe they made their first appearance at the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines Show in June 2011, but there were hundreds of pieces similar to the one in this photo at the 2011 Denver Show.

Caption: Epidote specimen from Belochistan, Pakistan; John White specimen and photo.

Rocks & Minerals welcomes letters from our readers. Write

It has come to my attention that two of the photographs of alabandite in my recent (November/December 2011) Connoisseur's Choice column are mis-attributed. One appears as figure 6 on page 533 of the column and is attributed to the William Pinch collection. As I also used a story told to me by Mr. Pinch, I sent him the article with a query as to whether the specimen in the photograph was his because it resembled one I had seen in his collection. I received a reply that stated what was in the article was fine, so I did not pursue the attribution, thinking Mr. Pinch meant that was fine as well. The other photograph is figure 5 on the same page, attributed to Luis Miguel Fernandez Burillo. I assumed that the correct attribution information was with the photograph. These specimens are not in the Pinch collection or in the Burillo collection but in the Joan Massagué collection. My apologies for the mix-up.

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