As sleeping babies lay in their cribs in the 18th-century Ural Mountain villages near Sidelnikovo, Russia, parents slipped pink stones next to them, called orlets. Rocking their child’s crib slowly, parents told local folklore about how eagles (orels), the king of birds, brought the same beautiful and valuable stones to their nests. By placing the rose-colored stones next to their children, the villagers hoped it would bring their children courage and acuity, like the majestic eagle.
Eventually, rare rhodonite crystals and stones became highly prized in Russia, donned by czars and fashioned into enormous ornaments. Today, this pink stone — with its notable charcoal veining — is less known for its monetary value and rarity but more for its metaphysical value as a stone of power, protection and self-love.
A Rose Amongst Minerals
“Rhodonite is a manganese-rich member of the pyroxenoid group of minerals,” explains Sherly Elen, research librarian at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “The simplified chemical composition is MnSiO3 but is usually combined with other elements or minerals like calcium and iron.”
The manganese content gives rhodonite its pink hue and, thus, the mineral’s name. It was first discovered in 1790 in the Ural Mountains near Sidelnikovo. In 1819, the German naturalist Christoph Friedrich Jasche named the stone rhodonite, derived from the Greek word “rhodo,” which means “rose.” Despite its name, deposits of rhodonite range in color from pink to brownish to purple-red. It is usually found with streaks of black and charcoal manganese oxides crisscrossing the stone.
“The fine-grained aggregate material often has black veins or splotches,” Elen says. “Its color is stable to light, meaning it won’t fade. But if set in jewelry, rhodonite can be fused into a brownish or black glass under a jeweler’s torch.”
A Cultural Symbol in Russia
For centuries in Russia, orlets were given to newlyweds for protection and improved their chances of conception. After Ural masters created an exquisite rhodonite vase, Emperor Alexander III (aka Alexander the Great) increased the production of rhodonite in Russia. It soon became a famous stone to create larger decorative pieces, including tables, vases and even coffins, only available to the wealthiest citizens.
“Because it can occur in large boulders, it has been used for carving statues and other objects, including tombstones,” Elen says. The largest solid block of rhodonite in the world weighed 47 tons (42.6 metric tons) and was used to carve a sarcophagus for Maria Alexandrovna, Empress of Russia and wife of Alexander II. The two are entombed next to each other in the Romanov family tomb at Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Rhodonite is Not Expensive, But Still Valued By Many
Rhodonite is not as valuable today as it once was in Russia, mainly because it’s more easily available. “Today, rhodonite can be found in many countries around the world but the more well-known deposits are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Romania, Sweden, Russia and the United States,” Elen explains. In fact, Massachusetts has such productive rhodonite deposits that it was declared the state gem in 1979.
Rhodonite is easily mined today, as well, Elen says, which contributes to its accessibility. Some deposits can still be mined with simple tools and techniques like picks and hammers, but large boulders require advanced mining machinery to be extracted.
Valuable transparent, deep, red-colored crystals can still be found but those are scarce. “Rhodonite is fairly inexpensive, but high-quality crystals of this mineral can be more expensive due to their rarity,” says Elen. “These crystals have perfect cleavage in two directions, low hardness [5.5-6.0 on the Mohs hardness scale] and poor toughness, making them difficult gemstones to cut. For this reason, faceted rhodonite is typically sold as a collector’s stone rather than for jewelry use.”
Today, Russian children still exchange rhodonite eggs at Easter to express friendship and affection. In the jewelry and gem market, the mineral is often found carved into cabochons (polished, rounded stones), carvings, tumbled stones and beads, Elen says. It holds metaphysical significance to crystal experts, healers and enthusiasts.
It’s also been nicknamed the “stone of love” because many crystal enthusiasts believe it can stimulate and reactivate one’s self-love and reduce anxiety, so it’s also associated with the heart chakra.
People usually buy and sell rhodonite aggregate necklaces, bracelets, figurines, and stones for their aesthetic and healing value. It’s widey available in shops online; prices range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars depending on size, color and setting.
Though its value as a rare stone has changed since the 18th century, it’s still an important mineral worldwide. Whether you’re buying it because it matches your favorite pair of shoes or you want to invite more self-love and confidence into your life, know that this rose-colored stone is full of history, beauty and mystical properties. However, we don’t recommend putting stones in your baby’s crib — perhaps next to it.