PYRITE, MARCASITE AND HEMATITE… WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Confusion in the market place. Most folks know that “marcasite” is used in the silver jewelry that has a “Goth” look to it. Kind of like the old mourning jewelry of the Victorian era. It is all antique looking and the stones are all ‘rose cut’ with flat bottoms but very shiny faceted tops. Marcasite or marcazeet whichever you call it, is a misnomer. The stones are actually made from iron pyrite, “fools gold”, cut cabochon with flat bottoms and domed faceted tops. I know because we imported tons from Peru for the cutting villages here in Thailand. These stones are usually very tiny and hand cut and sell for pennies. The village headman would get the material from us and divide it out to the families in the village and then sell it back to us as finished cut “marcasite” which we in turn sold to the silver jewelry manufacturers in Bangkok.
Pyrite has been used in jewelry for hundreds of years, it first appeared in ancient Greek jewelry and has been found in the graves of the Incas. It gained prominence in Queen Victorias’ time and is almost always set in Silver Jewelry. The big upswing in “antique” looking jewelry in the past 30 years has led to the increased use of pyrites in the inexpensive designs made in Asia.
I’m sure everyone has seen the almost perfect cubes that pyrite forms in naturally. They make really neat paperweights and mineral specimens. The large crystal faces are so flat and shiny they were used by the Incas as mirrors. They are found almost everywhere in the world. As a matter of fact there is a spot on the highway in Alaska that was exposed when they were building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that is called “Fool’s Gold Alley” where an outcropping of iron pyrite literally lines the sides of the road with huge boulders of iron pyrite.
Then what the heck is Marcasite you may wonder? Back around the turn of the century in the late 1890’s marcasite and pyrite were thought to be the same mineral. Now we know that marcasite is different than pyrite, although they are both technically iron sulphide. Marcasite forms in the orthorhombic crystal system and pyrite forms in the cubic crystal system. Marcasite is the unstable form of iron disulphite and is actually only known to mineralogists. The jewelers “marcasite” is in fact iron pyrite. So these terms are used interchangeably in the jewelry business.
Now Hematite is an iron oxide whereas pyrite is iron sulphide. But hematite can be polished to a bright mirror finish of black. The stone was used in the powdered form by many cultures for its blood red coloration. Another version of hematite is “Chromite” that looks very similar but is an oxide of chromium and iron(FeCr2O2) and also crystallizes in the cubic system like pyrite. All these black looking crystals are used to some extent to make silver jewelry and by many craft enthusiasts throughout the world.
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