The Caribbean’s Semi-Precious Stones: Larimar and Caymanite

Home to sparkling azure seas, stunning beaches, and exotic tropical vistas, the Caribbean dazzles with outer beauty. But two of the countries found here also have their own brand of “inner beauty” – semi-precious stones found nowhere else on earth.

Larimar

Found only in one remote area of the Dominican Republic, the same volcanic forces which created the island itself forged this exquisite gem. Hot gases pushed molten material into the volcano’s chimneys, causing its minerals to crystallize and create the stone’s unique properties. Over the eons, erosion caused bits of the stone to break off, washing them into the Bahoruco River where they tumbled against rocks and other debris. By the time the stones reached the river’s end at the beach, this polishing action revealed the marbled sea-blue, green, and white hues Larimar is now prized for.

Although the date of its discovery is unknown, it’s likely that inhabitants came across the blue stones washed up on the beach more than a century ago. They may have later traced its origins to the mountains. By 1916, at least one person knew where to find it – a priest in Barahona parish, who applied for the right to set up a mining operation. His application was never approved, however, and Larimar remained shrouded in mystery for years to come.

In fact, it continued to go unnoticed by the world at large until 1974, when geologist Miguel Méndez and Peace Corps volunteer Norman Rilling found some of the stones on the beach. They followed the stream up the mountain, eventually arriving at Los Chupaderos, where most Larimar is mined today. Miguel Méndez named the stone by combining his daughter’s name, “Larissa,” with “mar,” the Spanish word for sea.

Scientifically, Larimar is blue pectolite. Although other types of pectolite exist in locations around the world, Larimar is unique to the lush Bahoruco mountain range. Copper gives it its characteristic blues and greens, with blue stones considered more valuable. In addition, some stones contain red, brown, or gray shades. Because of its coloring, it’s sometimes mistaken for turquoise or blue jade.

Because of claims that the Dominican Republic was the ancient site of Atlantis, symbolized by dolphins, some people call Larimar “the Atlantis Stone” or “the Dolphin Stone.” According to folklore, Larimar helps relieve stress, radiates healing energy, aids communication, and enlightens the mind.

With all the excitement about Larimar, there’s even a Larimar Museum in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital city. Located in a well-restored historic building, the museum contains exhibits about the gem and a store with hand-made Larimar jewelry.

While Larimar is most often sold as jewelry, it’s also available in sculptures and polished slabs. Only buy jewelry from reputable stores because blue glass has occasionally been passed off as Larimar. Stores in the Dominican Republic carry the widest selection, of course, but Larimar can also be found in a small number of shops in other countries.

Caymanite

Also restricted to a small area, Caymanite is found only in the Cayman Islands on Grand Cayman’s East End and the bluff on Cayman Brac. As with Larimar, volcanic activity formed the semi-precious stone. When volcanic ash poured down on rocks below, it formed sediments. Over time, those sediments hardened into rocks, creating a type of dolomite. Because each layer’s mineral content differed, each layer’s color varies. In the polished stones, this creates colored stripes in earth tones – browns, yellows, and whites.

Due to Caymanite’s hardness, cutting wheels and grinders need diamond tips in order to cut and polish it. Artists who wish to create pieces from the stones put in a great deal of time and effort learning how to work with it.

In addition to jewelry pieces, Caymanite is also fashioned into sculptures, objects like business card holders, and used in inlaid tables. Like Larimar, its distribution is small, so it’s seldom found outside the Cayman Islands.

Travelers can take home a true piece of the islands with Larimar and Caymanite items. And those lucky enough to find Larimar elsewhere can enjoy its soothing, ocean hues without a trip to the tropics.