Rare colours around the world
Scientists estimate that the human eye can distinguish up to 10 million colours. That’s pretty impressive, considering the interesting fact that we only have three types of colour-perceiving rods in our retinas: red, green and blue. But when you think about all the different shades and tones in each colour category, what sounds like a weird fact at first begins to make more sense. The seven best-known hues of all, of course, are the colours of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet have been commonly known as ROYGBIV for years, an unwavering rainbow fact. But with 9,999,993 other colours out there just waiting to be seen, we thought it was time to investigate rare colours around the world.
We’ve rounded up the coolest and rarest colours, from killer pigments (literally) to science-fiction shades that could leave your zodiac power colour in the dust. There are colours you can only see in ancient art, some accidentally invented in the lab and colours you shouldn’t have in your bedroom – at least if you ever intend to share it.
This gorgeous blue paint shade was once such a rare colour, the cost often exceeded the price of gold. Artists would wait for months for shipments to come in. The pigment was made from grinding lapis lazuli, a gem found mostly in Afghanistan. Its rarity meant that it was used very sparingly, and it was usually reserved for extremely special uses, such as painting the cloak of the Virgin Mary in religious artworks. In the late 1820s, synthetic ultramarine began to be manufactured in France and Germany, replacing the expensive and labour-intensive process of mining, shipping and grinding up lapis lazuli.
Kermes red is the oldest known red dye, and it dates back to the early Egyptians. It’s made from grinding up the dried bodies of bugs – in this case, female kermes insects, which live on the kermes oak tree. This stuff was once so valuable that a landlord in the Middle Ages accepted kermes dye for rent payments.
Kermes red was a rare colour because it took hundreds and hundreds of insects to make a strong colour. It fell out of fashion when the cochineal insect (native to Mexico) was discovered by Europeans. The cochineal was more strongly pigmented, so the red colour took fewer dead bugs to make. Kermes red has mostly been replaced by synthetic dyes, but you can still find cochineal insects in cosmetics and lollies.