Like moonstone, labradorite is a type of feldspar. It’s named after the peninsula of Labrador, where it was first identified.
What’s in a name? Some confusion in this case!
It’s also called spectrolite. I’ve heard a lot of different distinctions from different collectors and dealers about what should be called labradorite and what should be called spectrolite.
Some say spectrolite is just a trade name for high grade labradorite no matter what the source, just recently someone told me that only blue shades are Labradorite and every other color should be called spectrolite, others say any labradorite not actually mined in Labrador is spectrolite.
What I hear most is that spectrolite is a trade name for the high quality labradorite from Finland that has a particularly excellent spectral flash. (My usual go to book, Walter Schumann’s Gemstones of the World, says this as well.) Spectral as in referring to the spectrum of colors, not ghostly. Though with some Labradorite samples that works too.
The official term for the metallic play of color (generally known as schiller) across and under the surface in labradorite is labradorescence. Blues and greens are the most common but the whole spectrum is possible. (I’m still hunting for the perfect purple I’ve seen in others but never found…) This effect is caused by layers and distortions on the microscopic scale that bend light.
It’s a reasonably hard stone that can be opaque, translucent, or transparent. It’s base color is gray. It is described as vitreous because it can be polished to a smooth, glassy finish.
When you look it up in serious books and sites they often say that there are no known health risks associated with working with it. I think they’re overlooking its addictive quality!
With its gray base labradorite sometimes doesn’t look like much until the light hits it the right way and it flashes a brilliant color, sometimes a whole range of colors at a time, other times one color from one direction and a totally different one when held a different way.
Sort of like opals, each piece of labradorite is different. Some look like storms over the desert or rainbows, some have striking stripes like rain or bamboo groves. A lot of people prefer uniformity of color and flash to the stones, but I find the lack of uniformity interesting. It adds an imaginative quality.
They can be a slight challenge to work with, since you need to make sure they’ll shimmer at the right angle when worn.
I brought two friends to a gem, mineral and fossil show recently and recruited them to help me pick out labradorite. Besides being terrible enablers (I’m still sort of giggling to myself over how much labradorite I took home…) they got bitten too. Both went home with small stashes, which I though pretty impressive for two fiber artists!