Originally thought to be spinel, Taaffeite was unknown to the world of gemology until a relatively recent discovery. The first sample was located accidentally in a small jewel’s shop in Dublin, Ireland. In 1946, Count Richard Taaffe, the man to which the gem owes its namesake, found the stone already cut and up for sale in this shop. However, Taaffe noticed that despite the similar appearance to spinel, the different properties of the gem hinted that it was another mineral entirely. Wanting to investigate further, Taaffe sent the gem to Laboratory of the London Chamber of Commerce and later to the Natural History Museum for testing. After being analyzed, it was determined that the sample that Taaffe had sent in was truly distinct from spinel, and as such was given a new name.
Taaffeite is a light mauve stone that ranges in color from green, pink, lilac, blue, violet, red to sometimes colorless. Known in the trade as Magnesiotaaffeite, the gem has a few unique properties that set it apart from stones similar in appearance. Unlike spinel which is only singly refractive, Taaffeite is doubly refractive. The essential components of Taaffeite consist of beryllium, magnesium and aluminum, making it a transparent gem with a vitreous luster. Due to its incredible rarity, taaffeite is used exclusively as a gemstone.
Although the first sample was discovered in Ireland, Taaffeite is found around the world. Reports indicate that Taaffeite is most commonly found in Sri Lanka, alongside other carbonate rocks such as fluorite and spinel.
There have also been findings of Taaffeite in southern Tanzania. In certain Russian territories and China, lower grade taaffeite gems have been found in rolled pebbles and limestone deposits. Taaffeite is still being discovered in new places, with samples being discovered in South Australia and Myanmar within the past decade.
Until the 1980s, only three pieces of taaffeite were known to be in circulation. However, in 2002 it was determined that there was a little more than 50 gems being circulated. The first taaffeite discovered was 1.4 cts, but in 1999 a 13.5 carat gem was sold at auction. This is the largest known sample of taaffeite, but there have also been reports of a few gems ranging in the 7 – 9 ct range being circulated. A Sri Lankan collector also owns the only known flawless gem: a 10.33 ct mauve oval.