Royal patronage has long been the cornerstone of fame for gems. Where would a sales pitch for emerald be without mention of Cleopatra? And look what talk of Nero does for amber and opal.
Well, now that chrysoprase, the lovely green quartz with hues reminiscent of Prell shampoo and Granny Smith apples, is making its biggest noise in nearly two centuries, name droppers will be delighted to know this gem’s greatest patron was as royal as royal gets.
Does the name “Frederick the Great” ring a bell? Born in 1712 and king of Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786, this flute-playing sovereign commissioned works by Bach and was a friend of Voltaire. Addicted to the arts, he adorned his opulent palace at Potsdam, named Sans Souci, with objects and furniture made in whole or part of chrysoprase. All of the material for these works (among them, two all-chrysoprase tables) came from a find in what is now Poland but was then Silesia.
Frederick preferred this quartz to any other gem. His favorite ring, which he never removed, was set with a large chrysoprase surrounded by diamonds. His elegant walking stick was topped with a chrysoprase handle.
Of course, Frederick wasn’t the first major mover to develop a fondness for chrysoprase. Since the gem figures prominently in some majestic Czech churches built in the 14th Century, it can be assumed that chrysoprase was popular whenever mined in quantity. But Frederick’s fancy stands out.
Amazingly, European chrysoprase was rarely a match for that discovered at Marlborough Creek in Queensland, Australia, in 1965. It is this deeper-toned, more saturate-color chrysoprase that is responsible for the revival of interest in this gem in the past few years. Once considered only a jadeite look-alike, Queensland chrysoprase is now one of the most significant of Australia’s many gem exports.
Because of all the attention it is receiving, chrysoprase may be close to achieving the kind of acclaim it enjoyed during its last great vogue between 1740, when it was rediscovered, and 1830, when supplies were once again exhausted
“A decade ago, you could buy jars with up to 200 grams of high-quality chrysoprase rough for $5 at most any gem and mineral show,” a dealer notes. “Today the same rough material costs $6 a gram and you sure can’t buy it in jars. Chrysoprase has gone from being a rock to a gem.”
Although chrysoprase comes from Tanzania and Brazil, Australia produces the best and by far the most of this breed: 85 percent of the world’s supply. From a standpoint of beauty, Australian chrysoprase is unexcelled. While Brazilian stones tend to a murky olive-green, and Tanzanian stones a lighter yellowish-green, Australian goods run a pleasant color gamut from sweet apple- to a medium jadeite-green. Often, in fact, you will hear the stone talked about as an affordable alternative to jadeite.