Gemstones: The School of Hard RocksI mean, Knocks

Helen Driggs
is the managing editor
for Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist

I'm one of those students who learns best when I have totally screwed up. In the past year I have destroyed more gemstone than in my entire life before this, out of pure ignorance. These hard knocks provide information for the old gray matter, but when I really hit a wall, I consult with experts. That's where Smokin' Stones comes in.


Sharon Elaine Thompson writes a fantastic column for jewelers and lapidaries called Smokin' Stones, published in each issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Just a month ago, if I had read her manuscript before I went to my studio, I would have saved myself two days of work. See, I got lost in the juicy color of a particular stone, started designing a piece without a practical thought, and . . . let me put it this way: Don't tinker at the grinding unit with stabilized material unless you know what you are doing. (And don't worry, you'll hear all about that misadventure of mine in the March issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.)

But first, back to Sharon. In the past year of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, I learned and remembered these important stone facts from her column:

  • "Native" gold and silver—99 percent pure metal nuggets—are rare.
  • The original area where Herringbone petrified wood comes from is now deep underwater, a result of building Hell's Canyon Dam.
  • Prasiolite is derived from Greek words for leek (prason) and stone (lithos). No wonder I love it.
  • Gaspeite is softer than feldspar and quartz—just 4-1/2 to 5 on the Mohs scale.
  • Pretty in pink Astorite comes from the Toltec mine in Colorado, once owned by John Jacob Astor, who went down in the Titanic.
  • Obsidian is natural glass and will chip in conchoidal sections, just like a thick drinking glass or mirror.
  • Atlantisite, a juicy purple and green material, is the trade name for a material containing serpentine and stichtite. Be careful, it is tricky to cut because it is brittle.
  • Calcite onyx, Mexican onyx, and onyx marble are all the same material.
  • Chrysocolla suspended in colorless translucent opal or quartz is called gem silica. One of my jeweler friends calls the color "revenue blue."
  • Red Creek stone is called "jasper," but it is softer than true jasper, which is a form of cryptocrystalline quartz.

So yes, it really happens. One fine day, all of the random knowledge you've got flying around in your brain finally emerges from chaos into an ordered state. But it really helps when an expert like Sharon helps you organize all that information into a user-friendly format. I know when I head to Tucson later this month, I'll be consulting her Smokin' Stones columns before I make my lapidary shopping list. And, just wait until you see what she's going to write about in the next few issues . . . don't laugh at me, please. Subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist to have Smokin' Stones and lots of other fantastic gem information for jewelers and lapidaries delivered right to your door!

Happy gem hunting—in Tucson or in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist!

So what's the best tip you've learned from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist? Share in the comments below!

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