Meteorites are among some of the oldest and most rare materials on our Earth and have been falling from the sky for eons.
Believed to have begun their life as part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, meteorites are a natural material that has been knocked out of orbit by colliding with other objects. These pieces of celestial debris plummet towards earth at tremendous speeds reaching up to 28,000km per hour, transforming into an intensely burning meteor, or shooting star, for a short moment in time before colliding with the Earth.
Although there is a large number of sub-types, the three main classifications of meteorites are Stony Meteorites, Iron Meteorites and Stony-Iron Meteorites. All meteorites contain a large amount of extra-terrestrial nickel and iron and by studying the amount of these metals, as well as visual characteristics, they can be separated into these types.
Known as the ‘stone for endurance’ iron meteorites are amongst the densest materials on earth and were once part of the hot core of a long-vanished planet. With an iron content of 90 – 95% these meteorites are much heavier than any earth rocks.
An important iron meteorite to note is the Gibeon Meteorite from a large region of what is present day Nambia, African. Although it was used by Nama people of Gibeon for spear points and tools for thousands of years it was the first officially reported in 1838 by Captain J.E Alexander who collected samples for analysis which led to the discovery of its extra-terrestrial nature. By studying the external characteristics spread of its strewn-field (120km wide and 390km long) it is suggested that the Gibeon meteorite was a single large meteorite that burst high in the atmosphere catapulting fragments in all directions.
With chemical constituents of 90% iron, 8% nickel, 0.04% cobalt phosphorus, kamacite and taenite are the two common component iron-nickel alloys that exist within the meteorite’s composition and by studying them the structural classes can be determined. One intriguing phenomena of iron meteorites is an amazing internal structure formed by these two alloys, first described by Count Alois Von Beckh Widmanstätten in the 19th century, as a complex interlocking crystalline pattern and aptly named the Widmanstätten Pattern. Crystallising in an octahedral form the two alloys form a cross-hatching of triangular shapes which vary depending on the direction the meteorite is cut. In order to reveal this remarkable metallic grid, the iron meteorite must be cut into a slab, polished and etched in a nitric acid solution.
Bunny Bedi, owner and designer at Made in Earth tells us about his experiences working with the ancient space rock. “Having a composition of over 90% iron, not only is this one of our heaviest stones but it is also subject to rusting. Not only is each piece etched but the surface must be protected with a transparent coating.” This additional treatment stops oxygen from contacting the meteorite’s surface and therefore from allowing rust to cover the beautiful, patterned surface. Once it has rusted the slice of meteorite must be re-polished and go through the etching process again.
Bunny continues, “For this reason it is a delicate process setting these slices without tampering with the coating. Although these meteorites are very hard and strong, we must still urge our clients to be careful and treat them no differently to any other piece of jewellery”.
Unique to meteorites, the Widmanstätten pattern is formed by the extremely slow cooling of the molten metal alloys at a rate of approximately 1 degree per thousand years. The presence of these patterns is evidence that the heavy iron material is of extra-terrestrial origin, as these conditions cannot be reproduced in a laboratory. The Gibeon meteorite is the perfect example of a fine octahedrite Widmanstätten pattern and although estimated to have collided with the earth’s crust some thirty thousand years ago radiometric dating places the age of crystallisation of the iron-nickel metal at 4 billion years!
“Meteorites have become very popular recently and we’ve answered this calling by adding the Gibeon meteorite, Sikhote-alin meteorite and Libyan Desert Glass to our jewellery range. Meteorites portray a Masculine quality and have certainly piqued the interest of our male clients”. Meteorites are certainly unique and a change from earth created minerals that are most frequently used in jewellery.
The universe has always intrigued mankind; its infinite size is more than most of us can comprehend. Occasionally a small fragment of this enormous celestial world zooms into our atmosphere challenging what we know is possible and providing objects of beauty that allow us to make jewellery such as rings, pendants and bracelets that are truly out of this world.
Shop online or visit one our galleries to see our amazing Meteorite jewellery collection in person.