Rock Hunting: Why is Jasper Underrated?
Jasper is one of the most common and commonly under-appreciated gem materials available, which is odd for such a remarkable stone. This stone has a stunning selection of colors and varieties worldwide with plain, banded, brecciated, and orbicular forms in colors of red, yellow, brown, pink, and green. It even has evocative names such as scenic jasper, bloodstone, basanite, silex, even plasma and whatever nunkirchner means. Any one of these probably deserves it own discussion.
The quartz hardness of jasper makes it an endlessly useful gem material for cutting and polishing. Its many varieties make interesting additions to both lapidary work and mineral collections. A specimen collection of the varieties would be intriguing. Have you overlooked jasper?
So what is it? Is it the name? Jasper always seemed the perfect name for the butler in a mystery novel. And like a butler under-appreciation could be something it has in common. Often seen and yet barely noticed. Maybe part of the problem is that jasper is difficult to define. Nailing down a proper definition for quartz minerals is often tricky. What we frequently get for a definition is a dry chemical formula or phrases like “compact quartz” or the “cryptocrystalline silicon dioxide” route which seems a little fuzzy for specifics. That said, an easy definition of jasper seems to rest on unstable soil.
But, does the definition matter? Jumping back to the Middle English usage of the word, it seems to refer to just about any bright colored chalcedony with exception of carnelian. Possibly that is the most useful pocket definition. Add that it’s opaque like the brick red, iron oxide-rich variety that is most common. Jasper is just out there. Hard to define specifically, but you typically know when you find it. The next time you are about to step over a piece of jasper take a closer look to consider the possibilities.
Scott Stepanski is a mineral collector and co-author of Gem Trails of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He also produces the world’s largest selection of mineral and fossil rubber stamps at http://buttersidedownstamps.com.