Until recently, it wasn’t easy being green for any gem except emerald. Things began to change when tsavorite came on the scene in the early 1970s. Thanks to sponsorship by Tiffany’s, this East African green garnet set a second standard for green gems. Being cheaper than emerald certainly helped tsavorite break the color barrier. But lower price alone can’t explain tsavorite’s impact. After all, lots of other green gems like tourmaline and peridot were far cheaper than this garnet.
No, the gem had to boast more of an edge over emerald than price. And it did: better clarity, brilliance and hardness. Plus, color that held its own against all but the finest emerald. Then, when tsavorite started commanding premium prices due to its scarcity, a funny thing happened. Instead of switching back to emerald, the gem trade found for the first time that jewelers wanted, of all things, a tsavorite substitute. At first, look-alike chrome tourmaline filled the bill—before becoming nearly as scarce and expensive as the garnet it was meant to replace.
By now, converts to tsavorite were hooked on the kind of bright, rich color it provided. So they began to clamor for still another green garnet stand-in. Peridot was too yellow. Most other tourmalines were either too light or too dark.
That’s when specialists in esoteric gems began dropping mentions here and there of chrome diopside, a virtual unknown. But these dealers didn’t dare make a big ado over this gem because supplies were too limited to support demand. In addition, most material had a color similar to that of peridot—nothing like the deep green everyone was looking for.
Then, in 1988, rumors of a momentous new find of chrome diopside in Russia started circulating in the trade. Dealers who saw this material when it first surfaced in Europe raved about the resemblance of its color to that of tsavorite and chrome tourmaline and raved as much about its price: only a fraction of these gems. After the wall fell and dealers began exploring the new possibilities for marketing Russian gems, the rush was on. Chrome diopside has been granted class one export status along with diamond and emerald, and alexandrite.
Chrome diopside is mined in a remote location in Eastern Siberia known as Inagli in the state of Sakha, formerly known as Yakutia. The area is better known for its impressive diamond deposits.
Chrome diopside is part of a large family called “pyroxene.” The diopside branch gets its name from a Greek word, diopsis, meaning “to have a double appearance”—no doubt a reference to its pleochroism, the tendency of certain gems to show different colors when viewed in different crystal directions.