Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rock On...

No, this isn't a post about rock music... it's the first of what will probably turn into a huge number of posts about "rocks" - or more specifically, some interesting information on what those "rocks"/minerals/gemstones are in those items you're looking at on Etsy and all of the other sites that sell items whose components include "rocks". Of course, most jewelry includes minerals in some form, but that rock lamp and that beautiful marble clock might also leave you wondering exactly what you're buying.

I will be the first to admit that I don't have a degree in geology and I'm not an expert in minerals - but I do know how to research and I'm very selective about my sources, so the scientific information you'll read in these articles is based in fact and well documented. I'm hoping to help you obtain a better understanding of some of the terms you run across and maybe even mitigate a bit of the "snobbery" (ie...hypercriticalness for accuracy) that I see applied to these gifts from Mother Nature. I'll also touch on some of the new age/metaphysical properties of minerals and gemstones, but since that information, for the most part, is subject to individual belief, I'll simply tell you what that properties are believed by some to be attributed to them - whether you choose to consider them as possible is entirely up to you! Oh, and by the way, before I go any further - "rock" is also a misnomer when you're talking about gemstones or minerals. Some real quick basic definitions you'll need to know:

Mineral: A mineral is an element or chemical compound that is usually crystalline and forms as a result of geological processes. It typically has an easily identified chemical composition and very specific physical properties. (eg - quartz, beryl, hematite)
Mineraloid: A mineraloid is a mineral-like substance that does not have a true crystalline structure. (eg - amber, opal, obsidian)
Rock: A rock is a naturally occurring solid combination of minerals and/or mineraloids (eg - sandstone, granite, marble)

I'm also more than happy to research a gemstone/mineral for you, so if you've ever wondered about a gemstone you've run across, just let me know and I'll add your request to the list!

I mentioned snobbery before - and unfortunately, because people are so quick to judge a book by its cover, simple mis-labeling or rather under-labeling can lead to a belief that an item isn't a quality item. As a jewelry designer, I can vouch for the fact that occasionally I'll run across a stone that is simply gorgeous, but unfortunately the source I'm purchasing it from may not be positive what type of stone it is or it may even be mis-labelled. That leaves me in a predicament - do I sell a piece of what I believe is dyed howlite as the turquoise it is sold to me as? I could take it to an expert and pay to have them determine what it is or I could use methods available to me to at least determine what broad class of minerals/gemstones it belongs to and base my description on that. But how does that effect the impression made on shoppers visiting my store? Most people's basic knowledge is limited to what they learned in grade school science class - and the world of minerals and gemstones is much more complicated. Toss in some marketing ploys and imagination on the part of people who devise names and it makes it so much more complicated.

Purple quartz... doesn't sound very special does it? And quartz? Well heck, quartz is really common, isn't it? Can't be worth much, right? Definitely shouldn't cost much. You'd much rather have that beautiful deep purple amethyst, wouldn't you? Wait a minute, what's this green amethyst? And this pink one? And a yellow one? According to your science teacher and the birthstone guide, amethyst is purple. Confused??? What about that pretty amethyst crystal - why is that so much less expensive? Amethyst quartz glass? Is that quartz or glass or? Let's try to clear up some of that confusion.

Amethyst is a purple variety of quartz. Surprised? A lot of people usually are. Amethyst is also a shade of purple... which drives people crazy when they're searching for amethyst (the gemstone) and their search results return items that are amethyst in color. Wouldn't it be great to be able to differentiate between the two in a search? Maybe someday! Back to the gemstone though... what about that rainbow of different colored amethysts? If you've been following my blog for a long time, you may remember a post I did way back when about how heat treating metals can change their color - well, heat treating or irradiating can also change the color of a gemstone. Of the three colors I mentioned though, only yellow is typically achieved by treating natural amethyst, although the yellow can range from a pale lemon to a smoky brownish yellow depending on the color of the original amethyst.

Pink amethyst is typically a pink quartz, but is marketed as pink amethyst most likely to differentiate it from rose quartz, another distinctive form of quartz crystal. Green (or greened) amethyst is typically prase (prasiolite, prasolite) a somewhat non-specific term assigned to both green quartz and pale green chlorite.

Quartz glass (in amethyst or any other color) is glass, not quartz. It has no crystalline structure like true quartz would, although it is made of almost pure silica - making it chemically similar to quartz in composition.

Trying to decipher all of the words and phrases that are used in product descriptions can be a daunting task. To many people, they aren't too concerned with whether something is genuine amethyst crystal (the gemstone) or amethyst crystal/quartz glass (the glass) as long as it's beautiful and they'll feel good about it when they wear it or display it. And honestly - in my opinion, that really is what matters. For others though, it makes a huge difference... and in some cases, the difference can be a costly one. Don't be afraid to do a little research (or seek out articles like this one) - even a little good knowledge can help you make a good choice when it comes to purchasing the perfect item!

As a seller on Etsy, I do my very best to describe my items accurately, both to protect myself as a seller and to be sure that my customers are making informed choices. I think it's better to honestly say "I'm not sure" or provide a generic description than to use inaccurate terms for a couple of reasons. The first is simple honesty - I want to be able to stand behind my items. The second is that it really frustrates me as a buyer when I have to sift through mis-labelled and mis-named items. I do realize that most search engines or site search programs have limitations on how "smart" they are - which means that I need to be smart in my use of terms and I need to expect some overlap... an example would be in searching for amethyst crystal. As I mentioned before, I know I would get both items made of amethyst crystal (the mineral/gemstone) and amethyst crystal (the glass). At that point, it's up to me to read the descriptions or ask the questions (or add that third search term and hope the seller has tagged it that way!) and base my purchase choices on that information. Makes me a happy shopper... and I hope you'll be a happy shopper as well!

Items featured in my blog today:
Selenite Crystal Lamp - YinYangStore
Natural Stone Grecian White Marble Octagon Shape Wall Clock - StoneClocks
Purple tears - Amethyst earrings - sivylla
Green Amethyst Prasiolite Hammered Fine Silver Eternity Circle Silver Necklace -SilverSmack
Amethyst Drops - GardeniaJewelry
(Public Domain image of amethyst crystal courtesy of wpclipart)

1 comment:

moonmystic said...

What an informative post! Thanks for featuring my Green Amethyst Prasiolite Hammered Circle Necklace.

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