Visible light diffraction occurs when a traveling light wave meets an obstacle and bends to find an outlet, a common occurrence in many gemstones, but the defining characteristic of high grade moonstones. In fact, the cut, setting, and ultimate value of a moonstone piece is largely dependent on showcasing this effect.
Moonstones consist of two varieties of the mineral, feldspar, fused together and layered. When light travels between these layers it diffracts producing “schiller,” a bluish luster that is said to mimic lunar light falling on water, hence “moonstone.”
Moonstone naturally occurs in various regions across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America, and was prized by ancient polytheistic cultures as a manifestation of the power of their lunar gods. The civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome were particularly fond of the stone, and began to incorporate it into their jewelry, showcasing the beauty of what they believed to be frozen or solidified moonlight.
Today we know better, but the knowledge of this gemstone’s earthly beginnings hasn’t diminished its popularity. In fact, Victorian, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and more recently New Age/Nature and Revival jewelry styles feature moonstones. Regardless of the style, era, or method of manufacture (artisan-made v. machine-made), moonstones are usually cut and set in a fashion that highlights their unique schiller. The most popular of which is the cabochon. This polished rounded cut allows more light to penetrate all those feldspar layers and gives the impression of a flowing blue glow. When moonstones are not the main character in a piece, you’ll often see them in faceted cuts to provide accent to another gemstone, otherwise their hypnotic blue luster might just steal the show!
For all their staying power in the hearts and on the fingers of jewelry lovers throughout history, moonstones are rather delicate. They are a relatively soft stone and porous, so care should be taken while wearing, storing, and cleaning. When it comes into contact with a hard surface of even another piece of jewelry, moonstones are quite susceptible to nicks, scratches, and even shatters. Prolonged contact with chemicals and cosmetics can even rob your moonstone of that all important schiller, so be sure to clean it gently with warm water, and keep it apart from other jewelry while not wearing – lest you incur the wrath of your favorite lunar god!
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