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Home Precious stones Cat’s Eye (Cymophane)

Cat’s Eye (Cymophane)

catCat’s eye is not a purely scientific term; it is an optical effect that appears in some stones, particularly in crystals with lots of small inclusions. If all of them are oriented in one direction, then the light reflecting from inner structures starts to play in them. On the surface of the stone, you might see a hexagram, for instance, or a bright opalizing line (stripe). This is what actually called the “cat’s eye effect.” It may reveal itself in many different stones such as emerald, alexandrite, aquamarine, tourmaline, and moonstone, but the only stone where this effect is considered truly valuable is cymophane, a variety of chrysoberyl, just like alexandrite. The color of cymophane varies from honey brown to apple green. But the most valuable are therich golden colors. This stone is translucent, and sometimes, though rarely, semi-transparent. Cat’s eye is considered to be a respectable, distinctly masculine stone; most of all it is used in the man's jewelry. A cat’s eye ring is the sign of your fortune, respectability, and good taste.

The most important factor in evaluating a cat’s eye effect are the strength and the brightness of that effect. Play should be very distinctive, and he milk-and-honey effect is especially important. In strong light, one side of the stone should seem milk-white, while the other one reflect gold. The colors should change when you slowly turn the stone, making it more lively and charging it with warmth and energy. Many people prefer green, but green cymophan stones are cheaper as they occur more often; that is, if the word “often” could ever be used with this rare gem. The stripe should always be white and continuous. Stones with a thin, straight, and distinctive silvery white stripe are especially valued.

It is necessary to know the difference between cat’s eye and other stones with the cat’s eye effect; for example, cat’s-eye quartz and sillimanite, which are not precious stones at all. Sometimes even glass imitations are used. Quartz costs almost nothing compared to cymophane. A gemologist will easily tell one from the other; cymophane is a lot harder (Moh’s hardness 8.5), and its internal structures and threads creating the effect as seen only under the microscope are a lot thinner.

Top quality honey-hue cymophanes Top quality honey-hue cymophanes cat_01 CymophaneCymophane

Cymophane is known for only some 500 years. In the East, it is still considered a magic stone. A talisman with a cat’s-eye stone is reputed to be able to control one’s fate. It was believed that in the second clear night of a full moon, the light reflected by a cat’s eye stone could show you the way to the hidden treasures. Due to this popular belief, the stone attracted treasure hunters and robbers. The hapless owners of the hidden treasures who forgot the where they put their stashes also were attracted to cat’s eye. The travelers and the traders used a cat’s eye at the crossroads, as it was known to show them the way to prosperity and profitable deals.

The largest cymophane in the world is on display in the Museum of Natural History in New York. It weighs 85 carats, and one cannot help but get the chills when looking at this wonderful gem. It is not just cat’s eye, but more of a tiger’s eye!

Cymophane is mined in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Some cymophane can be found in Southern India, but there it is a bit greenish and rather small. The best cat’s eye comes from Sri Lanka, and all the findings occurred in the alluvial deposits.

Cat’s eye is very rare and therefore expensive, especially large stones, which display the strongest effect. A five-carat stone will cost you $5,000 per carat, and a seven-carat gem with a thin white line can be $12,000 per carat. Also, as this gem is so rare, it is quite difficult to find a suitable match for it. That is why there are almost no earrings with cat’s eye, as stones set in such earrings weigh up to two carats.

Earrings with cymophane in brilliant surroundingEarrings with cymophane in brilliant surrounding cat_06 The largest ever cymophane – from New York museumThe largest ever cymophane – from New York museum

The cymophane business is very secretive, almost clan-like. One of my good friends had spent 10 years in Sri Lanka and during that time, he tried to get in touch with the suppliers of cat’s eye. But over this whole period, he said, he was shown only 12 stones of decent quality. Cymophane is rare, but not that rare! The situation was that all good stones passed by him through the channels that had been established ages ago. An outsider will always get only what the main partner refused. Due to the fact that the production is centered in one place, it is especially difficult to wedge oneself into the business there.

Cat’s eye is given only cabochon cut, as the effect disappears otherwise. This job is difficult and very important. Of all stones, cymophane is likely the one that requires the most professional approach. The jeweler has to “catch” the thin line so that it follows right into the center of the stone. Sometimes, cat’s eye is enhanced by treating it with gamma rays or by means of electronic bombardment, which leads to better asterism and color.

The popularity of cat’s eye is still the highest in the East. There, people still believe in its magic properties, thus the high prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in Hong Kong. The best buyers in the world are Japanese, followed by those from Indonesia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In recent years, this stone also became popular in the U.S. and Germany.