The gemstone industry relies heavily on scientific research for improvements and innovations in areas from geology, chemistry and physics to aid in mining, testing/identifying, treatment and synthetics. The grand finale for most minerals is the masterfully detailed cutting and polishing to produce a faceted gemstone that best displays the gem’s clarity, colour and brilliance. Having said this, there are some minerals that have their best version on show in their natural state. Pyrite is one of those minerals where cutting and polishing will in fact not enhance but rather ruin their natural beauty.
Pyrite comes from the Greek word “pyrites lithos” which means stone which strikes fire. However, Pyrite is more known too many by its nickname ‘fool’s gold’ but there’s nothing foolish about it. Pyrite is one of the most common sulphide minerals and has a brass yellow colour and metallic luster; this paired with its high specific gravity (heft) it can resemble gold to the untrained eye. Although miners may be fooled by the appearance it can be a good indicator for gold as they are often found in association with each other and in some instances, pyrite may contain gold but not necessarily in mineable quantities.
Where to begin with pyrite? Let’s start with the most refined expression, the cube. Belonging to the cubic crystal system, this remarkable mineral displays fine examples of typical cubic forms. The cube itself, although the simplest form, is a rare naturally occurring shape with most cubic crystals forming as octahedrons, dodecahedrons, tetrahedrons and others combining two together. Cubes may be singular, twinned or clustered to produce feats of pure craft and precision (isn’t nature awesome?).
From the sleek, lustrous surface of the cube to the sparkle of a cluster of crystals; this is where we start to have fun. The best sparkly specimens are unearthed in Spain, Chile and Peru. The crystals may be extremely fine, measuring under 1mm up to sizes of 20mm and in rare occasions larger. The more delicate crystals appear as a fine glitter while the bigger crystals create a dynamic specimen with defined lustrous crystal faces. These are the pieces Bunny Bedi, owner and designer at Made In Earth, has the most enjoyment (and frustration) working with for his designs.
“I love pyrite, it’s just so cool. I’m never afraid to go ‘large’ with my pyrite designs because I know I’m not the only one who loves that pyrite glitz! Each piece is completely unique and sparkles without any assistance. It’s a relatively inexpensive stone, however it takes a lot of patience to cut the large pieces of rough down to usable sizes (and weights) for jewellery. We lose a lot of stone in the process and due to its brittle nature, we occasionally break stones during the setting process. But when we have success, it’s so worth it.”
The exquisite twinkle of pyrite can also be found in fossils when pyritization takes place in unique geochemical conditions. Ammonites are an extinct group of marine invertebrate animals which thrived in the tropic seas spanning from the Devonian geological period (circa 400 million years ago) and are known to form in this way, with each internal cavity displaying fine pyrite crystals and a highly lustrous gold on polished edges.
Pyrite suns are another weird and wonderful formation of pyrite. Predominantly found in Illinois USA, they are completely unusual in comparison to the usual geometric forms. These golden discs feature radiating golden crystals with a circular rhythmic glimmer that is simply memorising. Their appearance has coined the nicknames of pyrite dollars or sun dollars. Discovered in coal mines 100 meters below the earth’s surface they are believed to have formed over 350 million years ago!
Another wondrous product of the earth is rainbow pyrite. Found in spherical concretions near the Volgar River in Russia, they contain internal shrinkage cracks that are lined with an iridescent druzy of pyrite crystals. Caused by oxidation, the effect is truly remarkable particularly when specimens display a full spectrum of colour. With careful cutting to remove the layer of pyrite the resulting stones can rival the dynamic crystals of other pyrite clusters.
Don’t be a fool and dismiss this humble mineral because I can guarantee you that pyrite will be getting all the attention.