All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Things to Do — By Zanni Davis on July 6, 2010 at 3:07 am

The Dominican Republic may not be well known for its gems but is one of the world’s largest producers of two precious stones, larimar and amber.

Larimar, or “Stefilia’s Stone” is a gem found only in the Dominican Republic. While it looks similar to sapphire, it has a more green-whitish hue and can range from deep blue to almost white.

Image: Larimar Museum

The stone itself is a pectolite, which is an acid silicate of calcium and sodium. While there are other precious materials made of pectolites around the world in India, the US and England, none have the bluish tinge of larimar. This only appears in the south-western region of the Dominican Republic, Barahona.

While locals knew and used this stone to make jewellery and other crafts, it was not known to the outside world until 1974, when it was made famous by explorer Miguel Mendez. Larimar was named after his daughter and the Spanish word for sea, mar.

The Larimar Museum is located in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo. It was founded in 1996 as an educational unit of the Ambar Nacional. It shows the natural geological processes involved in the creation of the stone, and the subsequent human effort to mine it in Barahona. The main floor has a selection of fine larimar jewellery, and the second floor houses the museum. The shop offers a custom design service, so if you cannot find the type of jewellery you are looking for, they will create one based on your suggestions or own design. Purchasing larimar at the museum may be an expensive affair, but its authenticity is guaranteed, unlike the larimar sold by street vendors around the capital.

The Dominican Republic’s other precious stone is amber. The Museo de Ambar is located in Parque Central. Similar to the Larimar Museum, it features amber jewellery as well as information about the historic and scientific processes involved in its discovery and mining.

Image: Mila Zinkova

While amber is found in many areas of the world, no location has the variety of colours that the Dominican Republic does. (Thus, much of the amber sold commercially worldwide is actually sourced in the Dominican Republic.) Amber is mined in the northeast and southeast of the country in Cordilla Septentrional and Puerto Plata.

Further down from the Museo de Ambar is the Amber World Museum. This is the less commercial, more informational version of the Amber Nacional and contains specimens fossilized in ancient amber. There is also a small workshop where you can see craftsmen putting the final touches on the beautiful glinting stones.

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