A relatively new find, charoite continues to delight us with its mesmerizing patterns and purple hues. But have you ever stopped to wonder where does charoite come from? Joining the ranks of other unique, single-source gems, the formation of charoite continues to elude experts. Only known to exist in the harsh climate of Siberia, join us as we examine the origins of what many affectionately call the “Lilac Stone.”

Charoite ring in sterling silver on white background.

The Story of Charoite

Westerners first came into contact with charoite in the late 1970s. At last, the mineral became recognized as a unique rock unto itself! However, you may be surprised to learn that Russians knew of charoite for much longer.

During the late 1940s, workers were constructing a train tunnel through the side of a mountain. While blasting the landscape, a strange purple stone was revealed to them. Some tales say that slabs of this newly discovered mineral would help settle construction debts.

Charoite rough.

Charoite before cutting and polishing.

By the 1960s, Russian geologists would follow up on this original find, but at first by accident! While surveying the land, they came upon the old work camp. Finding a remaining specimen of purple rock, a sample was removed for analysis. This eventually led to it being recognized as what we now know as the mineral charoite.

Receiving its name from the nearby Chara River, some stories tell of another way the stone was named. In Russian, chary means “wonder,” “charm,” or “magic.” Some say that it isn’t named for the river, but instead for its alluring appearance and mystical pull.

The Home of the Lilac Stone

Charoite comes from Siberia, a land we know to be fierce and frigid. Sakha, historically the coldest part of Siberia, is where charoite is found. During January, in the dead of winter, temperatures average around −31 °F.

Russian postage stamp honoring charoite.

Russian postage stamp honoring charoite and the Chara River. By Почта России, Public Domain

The stone occurs amid a geological site known as Aldan Shield. This shield is an expanse of ancient rock dating from the Archean Eon. Dating back up to 4000 million years ago, natural forces of the planet thrust it to the surface. Charoite only occurs in a 10 kilometer square mile area.

What continues to befuddle geologists is the formation of the stone. It forms through a common way within the limestone, known as metamorphosis. Despite this, questions remain. Most importantly is why we don’t see more charoite! Experts agree on this: the unique chemical makeup of the region contributes to creating charoite. However, no one yet entirely agrees on how this happens.

Mining for Charoite

Just like another Russian stone, chrome diopside, the harsh climate also limits extraction. Workers can only work during the warmer parts of the year. And, unfortunately, summer is short, and winter is brutal and long.

The remote location of mines means that bringing heavy machinery into the pit is out of the question. A lack of proper roads, combined with an unforgiving climate, means that the majority of work must be done by hand. Explosives can’t be used, either. They would damage the delicate mining area.

Rural Sakha during winter.

Snow blankets the landscape in rural Sakha during winter.

Further complicating matters, the Sakha government imposes restrictions on charoite mining. Government rules mean only around 100 kilograms of rock leave the mine each year. This is to ensure that there will be plenty available for years to come. But for the collector, it severely limits available supply! Fortunately, despite the rarity of charoite, it remains surprisingly affordable.

Want to know more? Visit the Education Center for more about charoite.

Browse the selection of charoite jewelry available from Shop LC.

Watch Shop LC Live on January 12, 2020 and discover this Russian gem for yourself!