The Only Meteorite of Gem Quality
Moldavite is the only Tektite (meteorite) of gemstone quality, making it highly unique among all gems. It is sought after for its singularity and rarity, which is manifested in a considerable variety of sizes, shapes, textures and shades of green. Moldavites are often collected in their raw form, which has many variations of "etching", from the deeply etched and highly-prized specimens found at the famous Besednice locality to samples smoothed later in the geological timeline by the elements and located near the surface, often in recently plowed fields, at localities across the Moldavite region.
Moldavite: The Origin of a Name
The Moldavite Gemstone is a variety of Tektite (meteorite) found near the Vltava River in the Czech Republic. The Czech name for this green gem, vltavín, is derived from its existence in proximity to the Vltava river. The German language refers to this river as the Moldau. Týn nad Vltavou, where Dr. Josef Mayer is credited with the stone's modern "discovery", is called Moldauthein in German. It is generally accepted that the gem was named after the German name for this Bohemian city, and became known as "Moldavite" in the English language.
Where is Moldavite found?
The largest deposits of Moldavite have been found in the upper Vltava River basin between Prachatice and Trhovými Sviny, especially to the south and west of České Budějovice (Budweis), Czech Republic. Moldavites have also been found in Moravia, mainly in the central area of the river Jihlava. Stones from this region are sometimes referred to as Moravita, and have a brownish color and are, on the whole, not as desirable their green Bohemian cousins. Other less significant Moldavite sites have been discovered in neighboring Austria.
"Discovery" & Theory of Moldavite Origins
The abovementioned Dr. Josef Mayer, a professor of Natural History in the late 1700s at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, is credit with "discovering" Moldavite by the Vltava River in the vicinity of Týn nad Vltavou. Mayer first thought that this green "natural glass" was a beryl of volcanic origin. However, centuries later, the current consensus is that this miraculous stone was the product of a meteorite impacting Earth around 12 million years ago. This extreme impact created the Ries Crater, and upon collision, the meteorite fragmented and the resulting stones rebounded into the atmosphere and subsequently landed in several areas, resulting in several major deposits. The entire Ries Crater has an oval shape, much akin to a hexagon with rounded sides. The crater is 24 km in diameter and is the home of modern day Nördlingen, located in Germany between Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Munich. It is estimated that the Ries meteorite measured an average of about one kilometer. The study of certain South Bohemian Moldavite samples containing air bubbles lends evidence to the extreterrestrial nature of this mysterious green stone. The bubbles studied were often microscopic, sometimes only tenths of a millimeter, with some being as large as 1 cm long. (Bubbles are often prized among collectors.) The pressure in these bubbles is surprisingly low, around 19-25 times lower than the pressure at sea level, which lead researcher to conlcude that the stones formed in an environment where pressure is lower, such as Earth's upper atmosphere. Many of the most well-preserved Moldavite specimens have aerodynamic shapes, another indication that these stones literally flew through the air from the orginial impact at the Ries crater before landing to the east in modern day Czech Republic. Naturally, stones with full, aerodynamic shape are rare and highly prized.
How much Moldavite is there?
Though very difficult to say for sure, it has been estimated that the total number of fallen Moldavites is somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million with a total weight of approximately 275-300 tons. Naturally, these have been worn down by millions of years in soil, so this estimate serves only to satisfy the itch of curiosity, and is in no way definitive. Even if the estimates are close to correct, the sheer amount of time spent in the ground would have caused much loss of mass.
Moldavite Geology over Time
A large number of Moldavites has washed into rivers and been transported and subsequently deposited in various sediment layers across the Moldavite region. Millions of years of natural erosion is what has created the stunning etching - rugged and deep "wrinkling" - of this cosmic gem. Many stones were broken in pieces during these shifts and movements, and often two pieces of the same original stone are found nearby one another, an additional curiosity for collectors. As mentioned above, smooth stones - often used for faceting - are mainly found near the surface, with textured and etched specimens found in subsequent sediment layers deeper down. Moldavites are found as shallow as the depth of an agricultural plow, giving enthusiasts much entertainment during early farming season when they walk fields in the Moldavite region in search of stones literally plowed to the surface. Moldavite has been found to depths of 15 meters, but is generally found within 20 centimeters to 2.5 meters.
Average Moldavite Weight & the Biggest Ever Found
Though very difficult to calculate accurately, as so many specimens go unrecorded, the consensus is that the average weight of Bohemian Moldavite is ~6.7 grams. Moravian Moldavites average ~13.5 grams in weight. The largest known Moldavite found thus far was discovered in Slavic, Czech Republic, and weighs 265.5 grams.
Moldavite Mineralogical Collections
The largest publicly-displayed collection of Moldavite is located in the National Museum in Prague. Other, smaller public collections can be viewed in the Moravian Museum in Brno, in the South Bohemian Museum in České Budějovice, in the local museums of Týn nad Vltavou and Trebic. Many private Moldavite collections are located in Czech as well as worldwide, including several of note in Asia.
Moldavite in Art & History
Moldavites are known to have been set in jewelry as early as the Baroque era circe 1600, though some believe it was prized as far back as the Paleolithic period over 10,000 years ago! Indeed, evidence of human settlements from this time period has been uncovered in the modern day Moldavite region. Moldavite jewelry experienced an upward trend in popularity during the second half of the 19th century, until imitations began being manufactured and circulated and, without modern tools to easily identify real from fake, decreased in popularity until the second half of the 20th century. In present day, Moldavite has been experiencing an unprecendented upturn in popularity, both for the stone itself as well as its setting in jewelry. The largest collection of vintage Moldavite jewelry exists in the National Museum in Prague and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Modern and contemporary jewelry has been collected in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the Moravian Gallery in Brno.
How Old is Moldavite?
It is commonly believed that the meteorite impact which created the Ries Crater occurred somewhere in the vicinity of 12 million years ago. However, what is unknown and, perhaps, unknowable, is from whence this meteorite came and how long it flew through the expanses of Space before colliding with the Earth; a most cosmic story, and one which has led to much interest in this beautiful gem.
The Future of Moldavite
The combination of increased popularity and a limited supply existing in a small area of the Czech Republic, the amount of available Moldavite on the market is dwindling fast. It has been estimated that the major commercial mining of this extraterrestrial gemstone will not last more than a decade longer. The sharp increase in price and value of this stone has certainly been remarked by gem collectors and those in the industry, most especially in the last five years. For this reason, Moldavite for collection and investment has become increasingly popular, both in its raw form and set in jewelry.