An asterism is an optical phenomenon displayed by some rubies, sapphires, and other gems (i.e. star garnet, star diopside, star spinel, etc.) of an enhanced reflective area in the shape of a "star" on the surface of a cabochon cut from the stone. Star sapphires and rubies get their asterism from the titanium dioxide impurities (rutile) present in them. The Star-effect or "asterism" is caused by the dense inclusions of tiny fibers of rutile (also known as "silk"). The stars are caused by the light reflecting from needle-like inclusions of rutile aligned perpendicular to the rays of the star. However, since rutile is always present in star gemstones, they are almost never completely transparent.
A distinction can be made between two types of asterism:
- Epiasterism, such as that seen in sapphire and most other gems, is the result of a reflection of light on parallel arranged inclusions inside the gemstone.
- Diasterism, such as that seen in rose quartz, is the result of light transmitted through the stone. In order to see this effect, the stone must be illuminated from behind.