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13 April 2017
A fun look at some unusual things about gems and minerals
After writing this newsletter, I realized that I got the title all wrong. Why? I’ll tell you at the end. For now, let’s consider something: How many amazing things do we see every day in gemology study that we totally take for granted? Beautiful works of creation that we have become so accustomed to seeing that we no longer truly appreciate the wondrous nature of the thing. Examples? Here are a few that you may have seen before but did not stop your fast-paced day to contemplate. Simple things that you may have seen hundreds of times….but did not really stop to think about. Pause that hectic day of yours for just a few minutes…
In my opinion, nothing demonstrates the perfection of creation like a simple pyrite crystal. Below left you see a pyrite crystal in matrix rock from Spain. No…this crystal was not cut by some machine and placed on the rock, this is how it really grows in nature. A virtually perfect cube. But we can go one step further. Below right are two pyrite cubes that have formed in the same dimensional space, “intergrowth” is what this is called. Two perfect pyrite cubes growing in the same space, with the intersections existing inside and outside of each other. Consider what this must look like from inside this crystal formation with two huge alignments of atoms crisscrossing each other in perfect rows, much like The Ohio State University Marching Band at halftime. Truly amazing.
Speaking of perfect crystal formations, how about these magnetite crystals at left: Perfect octahedral crystals just like diamonds, and just like our pyrite crystals, these have not been cut or fashioned in any way. They are beautiful octahedral crystals of this magnetic form of iron.
Wait! Magnetic! If these are magnetic maybe we can have some fun with these.
It took me about 30 minutes to build this, but the structure you see at left is composed entirely of the pile of magnetite crystals you see above. OK, not totally. There is one of those strong magnets at the bottom of the sculpture, but it is on the table under the pile. The magnetism is carried through these magnetite crystals, transferred through one crystal to the next, all the way to the very tippy-top crystals at the ends of the arms.
No glue. No Photoshop. Just the amazing creation of this naturally magnetic type of iron formed in beautiful eight sided crystals.
One of my favorite amazing gemstones is Oregon Sunstone, seen below left. When the feldspar crystals traveled to the surface full of copper, they were exposed to the air, or more specifically to oxygen. Just like the copper-clad Statue of Liberty in the U.S. turned green with oxidation, so does the copper in Oregon Sunstone turn green with oxidation. Since the copper at the outer edges is exposed first and the longest, the result is that the Oregon Sunstone will have a red interior and green exterior, one of the wonderful features of this rare gemstone.
Of course, in the case of Tibet andesine, we either have a situation the defies the laws of physics and nature, or else we have something bogus going on. With this claimed natural gemstone, the oxygen by-passes the copper on the outer crystal edge and goes inside the crystal, and oxidizes the inside copper first and not the copper actually exposed to the air. OK, we have to call “caca de toro” on this one as the Tibet andesine is fake, a fraud. The image below right demonstrates that the expedition reports published by the GIA and Gem-A were indeed hoaxes. Perhaps the greatest anomaly here is that these fine organizations have refused to admit what the mineralogical community has confirmed: that Tibet andesine was a $100+ million dollar hoax perpetrated on consumers by certain members of the gemstone industry. Egos? Corporate heinie covering? Who knows. But the expedition reports and the gemstones have been proven to be hoaxes. It’s time for the GIA and Gem-A to issue a mea culpa on this situation, even years later. This situation will not be over until it’s over.
Petrol in Quartz
This one is sometimes lost on adults, but children get this one every time. Quartz crystals with petroleum inclusions. Stop for a minute and think about this: Petroleum, crude oil in common terms, was present in the hot water environment where this quartz crystal formed in the region of Pakistan. As the crystal grew the oil and gas became trapped as inclusions. The included petrol is highly reactive to ultraviolet light as you can see below left, but here is the question: How did a frog get inside this quartz crystal? A FROG? Well, it took some time to turn this one enough times and get the light just right, but when it was done I did photograph a frog inside this Pakistan quartz crystal. Of course, the frog is just an inclusion of petroleum and natural gas inside the quartz, but seriously…doesn’t this look like a frog to you?
Fulgurite: How Big is Lightning?
Sitting out on a summer’s evening, watching a thunderstorm roll in with lightning streaking across the sky…have you ever wondered just how big those bolts of lightning really are? They look like huge spears of power flashing across the sky. Well, it may disappoint some to know they are, for the most part, smaller than a U.S. penny. Below you see what is called a “fulgurite”. This is beach sand that was fused or melted by a lightning bolt hitting a Florida beach. Be glad you were not sitting on the beach when this thing formed, but it does give us an interesting look at just how big a lightning bolt is that looks so menacing as it arcs across the sky on a mid-summer’s eve.
Halite: Bon appetite’!
Yes, you eat this one every day. Halite. Table Salt. Sodium Chloride. I find it astounding that these two elements can be deadly or tasty. Make chlorine into a gas and you die. Combine it with sodium and you have a wonderfully tasting pizza or excellent french fries. Table salt. Below left you see a cluster of natural halite crystals that formed in a shallow ocean pond as the sea water evaporated, leaving the sea salt to slowly form this crystal cluster. If put under a showcase light it smells strongly…and I mean very, very strongly of dead fish, so I have to be careful where it is displayed. Perhaps more fun, however, is the natural blue halite crystal seen below right. Yes, that is natural blue table salt in crystal form. I love it! And yes, I have licked it and it’s salty as can be, but I could not bring myself to lick the salt marsh crystal cluster. The dead fish smell is just too much to get through, and it would be like licking a dead fish. YUCK!
We end with everyone’s favorite: Quartz Phantoms! The image at left was made into a poster titled: The Three Amigos! (with respects to Steve Martin and his crue) When quartz crystals grow they sometimes stop to rest a while. When this happens various materials can build up on the surface of the crystal in the growing solution. When the crystal continues growing the material on the surface becomes included in the crystal along the surface boundaries, leaving the “phantom” figures you see at left.
Phantom quartz crystals require a skilled crafts person to polish these to bring out the best view of the phantom formations. These crystals are an amazing testimony to the formative stages of quartz crystals, and are always in high demand at gem shows.
This is just a short look at some fun gems and minerals that we see and perhaps study every day, but sometimes lose the amazement that first brought us to the study.
At the top I told you I would explain why the title is incorrect. Here is why:
I found the proper definition of “anomaly” to be: “something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.” In truth, the extraordinary things we have seen in these gems and minerals do not, in truth, “deviate from what is standard, normal, or expected.” In truth, these are the normal and expected miracles of gems and minerals.
When it comes to gems and minerals we should expect the unique and unusual to be the standard, if we slow down long enough to stop and enjoy their beauty.
Robert James FGA, GG
President, International School of Gemology
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