Nfld. & Labrador

Labradorite from Madagascar is 'the biggest scam in Newfoundland': prospector

It's Newfoundland and Labrador's official mineral, but two jewellers warn much of what's sold in the province actually comes from Madagascar and is processed in China.

Jewellers in Hare Bay say tourists need to be aware of what they're buying

Nancy and Lar Rogers are prospectors who developed a love of working with labradorite. They use stone from Labrador but say most places sell less expensive, mass-produced items from Madagascar. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

It's Newfoundland and Labrador's official mineral, but two jewellers warn much of the labradorite sold in the province actually comes from Madagascar and is processed in China.

Labradorite was known to ancient Inuit people, and was named by Moravian missionaries in the Nain area in 1770. In 1975, it was named Newfoundland and Labrador's official mineral. The iridescent stone is popular with visitors, who buy pieces of jewelry set with it.

"Labradorite is not like any other rock. In order to get what they call the 'labradorescence,' that flash, it's got to be done the right way," said Nancy Rogers of Hare Bay, in central Newfoundland.

Rogers says she and her husband Lar are among the few jewellers in the province who use stone mined from Labrador itself.

The mineral is a type of feldspar, with thin layers that refract white light, showing dark blue, green, purple and several other shades. Those flashes of colour are what give it its labradorescence, and what makes the stone both pretty and valuable.

This is rough labradorite taken from Ten Mile Bay quarry, near Nain. The quarry closed in 2010, making it very difficult for artists to buy quality local stone. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

"You're changing the angle all the time, so you have to be on top of the game and making sure that when somebody wears it, they're going to see that flash, and that's what it's all about," she said.

"So there's many times when my husband and I are stood up in the window and I'm putting a piece of rock that's not finished on my neck and ask is this the angle? Do I have to change it?  This is constant. We do it all the time."

Nancy and Lar Rogers have been cutting, polishing and making jewlery from labradorite for about 16 years now.

In their workshop, they have boxes of bits and pieces of labradorite because it's hard to shape the brittle stone.  

The Rogers invested nearly $15,000 in equipment to cut and polish labradorite properly. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

"It's not something easy to get," Nancy Rogers said. "Not only is it not easy to get, but what are you going to do with it? You have to know how to cut it. So, basically, we taught ourselves."

The couple bought machinery: a slab saw, a trim saw — a big investment, she said.

"Plus, the time it took and the errors that we made at the beginning was unbelievable. If you cut it the wrong way, just a millimetre the wrong way, the colour disappears."

To get it just right, an artist needs experience, time, money invested in the right tools and also a source of raw material.

The Rogers used to get their supply from the Labrador Inuit Association, which harvested the stone from its quarry at Ten Mile Bay, near Nain.

Nancy Rogers shows the difference between labradorite from the Nain area on the right versus stone from Madagascar on the left. There's more green and yellow pigment in the Madagascar stone. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

But in 2010, they found out that quarry was about to close.

So they loaded up their truck and hit the road for the Big Land, where they stocked up on enough raw labradorite to last at least a couple of decades.

Now, Lar Rogers says they're one of the few businesses in the province crafting with stone that actually comes from Labrador.

No one likes to see a scam going on, and that's one of the biggest scams in Newfoundland.- Lar Rogers

"No one likes to see a scam going on, and that's one of the biggest scams in Newfoundland, is the labradorite coming from Madagascar and being sold as labradorite from Newfoundland," he said, adding that it's frustrating to spend two hours on one piece, only for people to expect to get it for the same price as something from China.

"People say it's the same material and it's not fair. They just flooded the market with Madagascar and companies brought it in. All of a sudden, kaboom! Every store in Newfoundland was all of a sudden flooded with it."

It's especially galling because it's Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial stone, he said, but most of it comes from somewhere other than Labrador.

"And here it is, all coming from Madagascar, done over in China, set in silver, basically sold in stores in Newfoundland with the made in China sticker taken off. And so everybody was telling everyone it's from Labrador."

Lar Rogers displays labradorite that has been discarded after being trimmed. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

He said you can tell the difference between Labrador stone and stone from Madagascar if you know what to look for.

"The colours are different," he said.

Lar Rogers says sellers should have to reveal the source of their stone, especially for tourists who want to own a piece of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Various shades of blue and purple are apparent in labradorite from Ten Mile Bay quarry. (Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

Labradorite from Madagascar has value, he conceded, but people who want a choice should know which is which.

"It is all beautiful. It's all labradorite," he said.

"Not saying anything about the quality that comes from China. It's the best kind of quality. But they should tell the difference. Some people want an actual piece of the rock, actual original piece of labradorite. Not a piece of Madagascar. So at least tell the people the difference."

That said, Nancy Rogers says she sees a trend developing in the crafting world, of buyers being willing to pay more for authenticity — giving the couple hope that people who want a piece of Labrador will be able to get the real thing.

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