They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But imitation can sometimes cross a line into deception which unfortunately is the case with gems sometimes represented as Oregon Sunstone.
Those of us that mine, cut and design with genuine Oregon Sunstone have had to work through what we refer to as the “Andesine Scam” where a lab treated feldspar was widely sold as genuine Oregon Sunstone. It was an elaborate con involving large quantities of non-descript feldspar, possibly from Mexico, which found its way to labs in Thailand where it was treated and then distributed by supposedly reputable dealers in collusion with institutions that exist ostensibly for the purpose of protecting our industry from such scams. It still pops up now and then but for the most part it has gone away, largely due to the efforts of a handful of dedicated people that fought doggedly to expose the ruse.
Today what we most commonly see is other varieties of feldspar that to the untrained eye appear to be similar to Oregon Sunstone but are not genuine Oregon Sunstone. The biggest offender is a hematite included feldspar mined in Tanzania and typically sold by dealers in India, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Now, not everybody that is misidentifying this gem is doing so intentionally and not all gem sellers in these countries engage in these deceptions. I have had conversations with a number of amateur jewelry makers on Instagram and Etsy that are genuinely surprised to learn that the gem they are working with is not what they thought it was, apparently buying it from unscrupulous dealers.
Understand that I am not a gemologist. I am an artist/craftsman that has been working with rocks, gems, and precious metals for over 45 years. Along the way I could not help but learn a little more than just which stone/gem was the prettiest. And there is no gem that I have had a greater passion for or a more intimate relationship with than Oregon Sunstone; having mined, cut, and set significant quantities of the gem over the years. So, what I am going to do here, to the best of my ability, is to describe in words and pictures the difference between hematite included feldspar and copper included Oregon Sunstone.
This picture is of a ring with two Oregon Sunstones each featuring a significant quantity of copper inclusions known as “schiller.” Schiller is a gem industry term used to denote a sparkle effect that can result from a number of natural phenomena such as the tiny inclusions that give aventurine quartz it is sparkle effect. Two things to note about this example are: 1) The copper inclusions are independent of the presence of color in the gem; the trillion is a very light champagne hue and the oval is a red, yet both have similar quantities of copper inclusions. 2) The very linear arrangement of the tiny copper inclusion (aka platelets) is a key factor when identifying genuine Oregon Sunstone.
In this example you can see that the schiller does not always manifest in a streaked linear fashion and that the individual platelets are sometimes too small to distinguish individually with the naked eye. The point I am making here is that they are always arranged in a planar fashion. The best to explain this is to imagine you have two pieces of glass and some clay that has been crumbled into tiny pieces which you then sprinkle onto the first piece of glass. You then take the second piece of glass and place it on top of the first pressing it down and squashing the pieces of clay into flat, plate-like forms. This is more or less what has happened to the metallic copper inclusions inside of the feldspar crystal, though the actual process is a little more mysterious and complicated than that. Yet this explains why, when you turn an Oregon Sunstone crystal and change its orientation to a light source it flashes like a mirror. There can be many layers of inclusions in a particular crystal giving the shiller phenomenon a lot of depth or there can be copper on relatively few layers. In any case they are all oriented on the same plane.
One last thing to note about the copper inclusions in Oregon Sunstone is that the are always copper colored because, that is what they are, copper.
This is one example of a gem that some unscrupulous dealers have been passing off as Oregon Sunstone. It is indeed a gem in the feldspar family like Oregon Sunstone, but the inclusions are hematite (an iron oxide), not copper. Look closely and you can see why it is sometimes called Confetti Stone though it is often just called Sunstone. The hematite inclusions are not arranged in a planar fashion like the copper inclusions in Oregon Sunstone plus the shapes are more irregular looking more like pieces of confetti randomly scattered throughout the gem. Also note the color difference; it leans more toward red, like rust, aka iron oxide. For some reason, these inclusions also tend to break up light into other colors of the rainbow lending further credence to the name Confetti Stone. Most importantly, this gem is not found in Oregon.
This last example is a pendant featuring both varieties of Sunstone discussed here. By now I am sure you can tell which is which and why there can be some confusion about them. Both exhibit similar hues and technically speaking the inclusions in the cabochon can be called Schiller. It is also true that genuine Oregon Sunstone frequently, if not mostly, does not feature Schiller inclusions.
Please understand that I am not trying to denigrate the Confetti Stone/Tanzanian Sunstone or anyone that sells and accurately represents it. It is a beautiful gem and I have designed with and set it many times myself; I actually made the pendant in the last example. But I do have a problem with anyone misrepresenting any gem, the practice damages all of us in the industry and must be called out whenever it happens.
Hopefully, you will find it easier now to distinguish genuine Oregon Sunstone from its imitators. If you have questions about any Sunstone you are thinking about buying do not hesitate to contact us with questions.