Rare gemstones: Painite

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Discovered in 1951 in Mogok, Burma, painite was once considered the rarest mineral on Earth.

Painite is a very rare borate mineral. It was first found in Mogok, Burma, by British mineralogist and gem dealer Arthur C.D. Pain in 1951. When it was confirmed as a new mineral species, the mineral was named after him.

The chemical makeup of painite contains calcium, zirconium, boron, aluminium and oxygen (CaZrAl9O15(BO3)). The mineral also contains trace amounts of chromium and vanadium. Painite has an orange-red to brownish-red color similar to topaz due to trace amounts of iron. The crystals are naturally hexagonal in shape, and, until late 2004, only two had been cut into faceted gemstones.

For many years, only three small painite crystals were known to exist. Before 2005 there were fewer than 25 known crystals found, though more material has been unearthed recently in Myanmar.

More recently, painite specimens have been discovered at a new location in northern Myanmar. It is believed that further excavations in this area will yield more painite crystals.

Extensive exploration in the Mogok region has identified several new painite occurrences that have been vigorously explored resulting in several thousand new painite specimens. Most of the recent crystals and fragments are dark, opaque, incomplete crystals. A modest number of transparent crystals have been found and have been either saved as crystals or cut into gemstones.

Originally few of the known painite specimens were privately owned. The rest of the stones were distributed between the British Museum of Natural History, Gemological Institute of America, California Institute of Technology and the GRS Gem Research Laboratory in Lucerne, Switzerland.

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