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The Stone That Is a Business Card of the Hermitage

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Фото © Parent Géry

This stone is a special one - it made Russia famous throughout the world, glorified the country, became a symbol of a great power the Russian Empire had. Once a favourite gem of the Russian Imperial Family - the Romanovs -, it still keeps protecting the peace of the Tsar Liberator's wife, the Empress of Russia. Items made of this stone are the source of pride for the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, wherein a unique collection of objects is stored: three-meter floor lamps, two-meter vase, dining tabletops, and other pieces of decor.

The origins of rhodonite is the Ural region, where the stone was first discovered on the top of a tree. In the eighteenth century, peasants living in one of the Ural villages found a few bright pink rocks in the nest of a mountain eagle. Local people thought there was some hidden meaning and started putting samples of the gemstone in baby beds. They believed the mineral could grant their children courage and visual acuity of the bird. Rhodonite was also used for making protective amulets for newly-married couples. In Russia, the custom was to gift rhodonite figurines to the groom and bride for their wedding day - it was supposed to help them conceive a first-born child.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Among the Ural gems, rhodonite comes only short of malachite. The stone owes its fame to Emperor Alexander III who decided to increase rhodonite production after seeing a luxurious vase created by Ural masters. At that time, souvenirs from rhodonite were of high value, since the extraction volumes of this gem were hardly comparable to the output of a lot more popular malachite. Therefore, only wealthy people could afford to buy an item made of the pink-coloured mineral, even the smallest one.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Manganese inosilicate was used to manufacture vases, jewellery boxes, decor elements, even coffins. The type of stone having mostly black veinlets is a funeral variety. And the casket inside of which the body of the Empress Maria Alexandrovna is kept, it was carved from the world's largest solid block of rhodonite. That coffin was placed in the family tomb of the Romanovs, and to make it, the sample weighing 47 tons had to be processed outside of the factory, in the street - the manufactory could not physically accommodate the specimen of such a large size.

The primary phase took about a year, but the processing of stone was, however, a relatively simple part. The most challenging task was to transport that massive lump of rock to Saint-Petersburg. The project had lasted long seven years before the masters involved in it finalised their work, the world's largest object ever made of rhodonite. Upon the completion, the sarcophagus in its final form weighed almost seven tons.

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Фото © wikimedia.org/ Morburre
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

For jewellery-making purposes, ideal samples are the ones of a deep crimson colour, while black inclusions should not constitute more than a third of the entire sample's surface. Such minerals are very scarce, and their prices come close to the cost precious stones usually have.

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Фото © wikimedia.org/Didier Descouens

Nowadays, there is a very limited interest towards rhodonite, although back in the forties metro stations in Moscow were riveted with this pink stone. Rhodonite deposits bearing high-quality stones have not been discovered for a very long time - both in Russia and other countries. In connection with this, there is a high possibility that the prices and demand for this gem could surge in the nearest future, thus making mineral collectors interested in the red-brown stone again.