Friday, May 18, 2012

Gemstone of the Week: Serpentine

(Image from Cochise College)

Serpentine is an unusual stone.  Actually, it is, in fact, a group of some 16 hydrous silicate minerals, and so there are many different stones that fall under the name "Serpentine." There are four major varities of Serpentine: Crysotile, Antigorite, Lizardite, and Amesite.  Each of these have their own lesser varieties.  The Crysotile varieties are fibrous in structure; Antigorite varieties are either corrugated plates or fibers; Lizardite is a very fine-grained platy variety; and Amesite occurs as platy or pseudohexagonal, columnar crystals. They all generally form as masses of tiny, intergrown crystals and may be white, gray, yellow, green, or greenish-blue in colour.

When cutting Serpentine, particularly the fibrous varieties, always cut it wet to prevent dust.  The reason for this is that fibrous Serpentine is used for asbestos and so the dust is highly dangerous to breath in.  Serpentine is often used to create some beautiful pieces of jewellery or decoratively carved sculptures.  It may be  translucent to opaque.  Serpentine is extremely widespread, but some of the major locations where it is quarried are England, the U.S., Germany, China, Afghanistan, South Africa, and Italy.