Rocks That Explode Like Wieners and 7 Other Fun Gemstone Facts

Oh friends! I was recently watching Prospectors on the Weather Channel and saw the coolest thing about gemstones. I couldn’t wait to tell you about it. They showed big chunks of quartz making a kind of popping or clicking noise. Apparently they have molecules of water in them, and when they’re dug up from the cool earth and sit out in the sun, the liquid inside warms and expands more than the quartz can expand (naturally), so the rocks explode. Ex-plode!

It was so cool!

Starbrite(TM) Green Tourmaline by John Dyer.Photo by David Dyer.

Starbrite(TM) Green Tourmaline by John Dyer.Photo by David Dyer.

I know I’ve confessed to being a gem geek before, but now it’s official! Seeing those big rocks just burst open with no one even touching them was, as my aunt says, just plain ol’ cool.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of learning fascinating facts about gemstones. I’ve collected rocks since I was a kid, I’ve been through GIA’s G.G. program, and I’ve written about gems for years. You’d think that sense of awe and wonder would’ve worn off some by now, but it hasn’t.

(They just exploded! Right there on camera. Like wieners in a microwave.)

8 Fascinating Gem Facts

One place I can always count on to learn fun new details about gemstones is in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. The stories about cutting and polishing gemstones, new gem discoveries, and visits to gem and mineral mines–it’s all so exciting. In just the last two issues, I discovered these interesting facts about gems and making gemstone jewelry:

Poppy Jasper. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Poppy Jasper. Photo by Jim Lawson.

1. “Poppy jasper is a form of orbicular jasper–one having a radial pattern, like an eye,” writes LJJA contributor Sharon Elaine Thompson. “Another orbicular jasper you may know is ocean jasper. Like any jasper, poppy jasper is a form of chalcedony quartz and it is as durable as it is beautiful.”

Tanzanite earrings by Barbara Heinrich. Photo by Tim Callahan.

Tanzanite earrings by Barbara Heinrich.
Photo by Tim Callahan.

2. Tanzanite is hard to find in small sizes; most of the smallest stones have so little color, they aren’t too sought after by jewelry designers. “When I ­first decided to use tanzanite to frame a center stone, I quickly discovered how difficult it is to find tanzanite melee,” says Pamela Froman, in an interview with Deborah Yonick. “The smallest I’ve been able to ­find is 2mm round. I don’t think anyone cuts it smaller than that. Also, the smaller it gets, the less color it holds; if you want a deep shade, there’s a size limit.”

synthetic garnet gemstones: 17.31ctr GGG (gadolinium gallium garnet) cut by John Bradshaw

This GGG (gadolinium gallium garnet) cut by John Bradshaw shows why–for a brief moment in history–synthetic garnets promised to become the diamond substitute of choice. GGG is very dense (SG 7.05). So this 17.31 carat stone is just 12 mm in diameter. Photo courtesy John Bradshaw and Coast-to-Coast Rarestones International.

Synthetic Stones Are Cool, Too

3. “A synthetic gem has the same chemical and optical properties as the natural gem but is grown in a laboratory,” Sharon writes. A synthetic gemstone is a manmade stone created from the same elements found in the natural stone, while imitation stones are simply stones that look like the natural stone. For example, a blue sapphire imitation could be simply blue glass, because it imitates the look of the blue sapphire–it isn’t made up of the same materials as a synthetic blue sapphire would be. On the other hand, a real blue gem like tanzanite or iolite could also be considered an imitation for a blue sapphire. While synthetic gems have the same elements and structure as real gems, elements alone don’t define the gem!

padparadscha sapphire

4. Padparadscha sapphire, named after the lotus flower, is the pinkish-orange variety of sapphire. “True padparadschas have flashes of both orange and pink; otherwise they are simply an orange or a pink sapphire,” Sharon writes.

5. According to Sharon, poppy jasper, an opaque but colorful stone popular with designers and artisan jewelers, is found primarily in one area–and that location is private or protected land near Santa Cruz, California.

Andromeda Cuff by Sydney Lynch. Photo by the artist.

Andromeda Cuff by Sydney Lynch. Photo by the artist.

6. I’ve often thought about the idea of gemstones as currency. Gems and minerals are “small, portable, concealable ways to concentrate wealth,” Sharon writes in an article about the China Effect on gem and rough prices. “Fine gems and minerals can be a form of currency: a million dollars in bills fills a suitcase or two; a million dollars in fine gemstones fits into a pocket.” Or even on your finger in a single stone! Swoon. I like thinking of how tiny gems compare to other things–a diamond with a value equal to my house, a sapphire that sells for more than my car, a ruby valued higher than most people’s 401k balances. Fascinating! So much value in such a tiny package.

ocean jasper

ocean jasper


7. Being from the hearty quartz family with a Mohs hardness of 7, “jaspers can take just about anything you can dish out–in normal jewelry wear, that is,” Sharon writes in a Smokin’ Stones column. “Like any gemstone, however, jaspers are not indestructible.” Their toughness and general affordability make jaspers ideal gems for beginning and intermediate jewelry makers to use in bezel setting and such.

Rutilated quartz. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Rutilated quartz. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Learn More About Gemstones

Fun stuff, right? Don’t miss out on all the fun and informative gemstone and jewelry stuff to come in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. Each issue is packed full of interesting and educational stuff, like gemstone features, tool information, inspiring jewelry designs and tutorials, information about growing your jewelry business and selling jewelry online, gem cutting patterns, expert Q&A, and more–all from industry experts who really know their stuff. Subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and you’ll get all of that and more. It’s the oldest gem and jewelry magazine in publication; you don’t get that honor without being awesome!

Learn more about gemstones and using gems in jewelry:

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