Kyanite abounds with uncommon attributes. Twinning is very common, as is parallel intergrowth with staurolite. The most characteristic feature of kyanite is the remarkable difference in hardness of the crystal faces. Depending upon the crystallographic direction, the hardness of kyanite varies from 4 to 5 and from 6.5 to 7. The mineral name "disthene", from the Greek "di" for double and "sthenos" for strength, refers to this extreme variation in hardness. The prism faces of kyanite exhibit an unusual phenomenon also. Two of the narrow faces are striated vertically, and horizontal striations appear on the broad cleavage face. A plane of perfect parting oblique to the length of the crystal causes tiny horizontal cracks visible on the face. Kyanite is very brittle. A low cohesion makes it susceptible to splitting.
The combination of these characteristics create unique problems to faceters who work with kyanite. Most kyanite is translucent at best. Large lamellar cleavage masses of excellent color and with perfect cleavage surfaces frequently occur in matrix with other well developed crystals. Top quality kyanite gemstones make lovely, but very fragile gemstones. Faceted kyanite and kyanite cut en cabachon are more suited for pendants. I have also seen large blue crystals of kyanite wire-wrapped for pendants.
Kyanite sometimes exhibits magnetic properties similar to tourmaline. In "A Guide in Color to Precious and Semi-Precious Stones" authored by Jaroslav Bauer and Vladimir Bouska, the text reports the case where blue crystals containing admixtures of iron and chromium follow the lines of force of the Earth's magnetic field like a compass needle when suspended on a hair.
Kyanite and andalusite is abundant in non-gem quality material. Kyanite has been used extensively in refractories and in the manufacture of highly refractory porcelains, ceramics, and spark plugs because of its resistance to high temperatures. Although kyanite is rarely free of inclusions, a few kyanite catseyes have been found.
The Greek word "kyanos" for blue provides the root for kyanite, however, individual color zoned crystals also occur in other colors such as pink. Dr. J. Kourimsky uses the name "disthene" to designate the blue variety of kyanite and "rhaeticite" to refer to the white and gray kyanite variety. At one time, French jewelers used the name "sappare" extensively when referring to kyanite, as a result of an error by a mineralogist from Geneva. The mineralogist, H.B. Saussure, Jr., misread a label attached to a specimen thought to be sapphire. Despite recognition of the mistake, the name "sappare" became widespread. That name is occasionally heard to this day when referring to kyanite