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Gem Profile August 5: What is Jasper?
Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
August 5, 2011
What is Jasper?
one of a series, The Wonders of Jasper
When someone hands me a rock and asks the question, “Is this a jasper or an agate?” I have to smile and say, “Well, it depends on who you ask!” This is because without a high-powered microscope, the structure of a rock is difficult to determine, and both of these materials are extremely similar. I hope this short series about jasper will help you recognize some of the differences that can be easily seen with the naked eye. In this first article I will talk about the basics of jasper, and in subsequent articles I will delve deeper into many of the different varieties, or the “wonders” of jasper.
Jasper is a mineral that is mainly composed of cryptocrystalline silica with the addition of impurities such as iron oxides and clays. Cryptocrystalline means that a rock structure is made up of miniscule crystals that formed so tightly together that they are almost impossible to discern from one another and often considered to be hidden crystals. Silica is one of the main building blocks of the earth, usually recognized as quartz. Natural iron oxides are chemical compounds that can include manganese, hematite, and clay as well as organic materials. Therefore iron oxides are the most responsible for the lovely variety of earth tone colors that we often associate with the mineral jasper such as red, yellow, brown and black.
With a Mohs hardness of 6.5 to 7, almost all forms of jasper take a polish easily. Jasper has no specific cleavage and when it is broken or chipped, it usually has a glassy appearance. Although the majority of jasper is opaque, occasionally it can be found translucent and sometimes jasper will have translucent to transparent inclusions. These inclusions can cause jasper to be marbled, striped/banded, speckled, flamed, spotted, plumed, feathered, dendritic, and multicolored. Several types of jasper appear to have landscapes or scenes trapped inside, these stones are known as “picture jaspers.” Basically, jasper is a chalcedony that can be classified as chert when it is dull in both appearance and color. (We will explore chalcedony further, in a future article.)
Jasper Names, History, and Uses
As you are aware, jasper can have many, many names! Some types are named for the first documented location it was found near or literally in, others by color or pattern, and still more jasper labels come from what a specific type “includes.” First let’s look at the basic name. Literally, jasper means “spotted stone.” While researching the actual name, I was pleased to find that jasper is a variation of the Persian name “Kaspar” which means “treasure bringer”, most appropriate for such a lapidary “treasure”! In Christian tradition, Caspar was the king who presented frankincense to the baby Jesus. As we explore the wonders of jasper, you will find out why many jaspers have different names.
Jasper has been used by man for many centuries both as a gem material and in the construction of tools such as spearheads and arrowheads, hide scrapers, and as a knap instrument. Besides use as beads, cabochons, and carvings in jewelry designs, jasper has many other ornamental uses. Jasper slabs and blocks are used in the construction of buildings all over the world. It has been carved into urns, fountains, cylinders, vases and statues. One of my favorite buildings, the Winter Palace (part of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia) incorporates a lot of gemstone materials, including a variety of jaspers. (Because this museum houses such an amazing collection of gemstone materials, I will be referring to it often.)
Jasper Isn’t Always Jasper…
Because jasper is so abundant and found all over the earth, there really is no need to try to counterfeit it, but you should be aware of a few imposters. “Iris Jasper” is a type of glass, and “porcelain jasper” is what a certain type of baked clay is called due to its red color. Even though natural jasper is available in a rainbow of colors, this mineral can still be found dyed, most often in “neon” colors. Did you know that Jasperware is a type of stoneware developed by Josiah Wedgwood? This beautiful product contains no jasper whatsoever but is actually another type of porcelain, made from clay, where the finished molded items resemble carved jasper.
Jasper and Culture
Generally speaking about jasper as a mineral, metaphysical healers use jasper as a stone of protection, as it is known as the “supreme nurturer.” It is said to be used in the treatment of internal organ tissue deterioration, but not to treat actual malfunction. Ancient people placed jasper over the heart and naval chakras to add protection to astral travel. As we explore the wonders of jasper, we will learn more about how different types of jasper are said to be used best in the metaphysical world.
Several historians theorize that more than one type of jasper is said to have been in the Breastplate of the High Priest (Exodus); however, only one type has been agreed upon, the subject of next week’s continuing jasper series: Bloodstone! Have you wire wrapped Bloodstone before? Send pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org and they could be featured!
- The Audubon Society Field Guide to North America Rocks and Minerals by Charles W. Chesterman and Kurt E. Lowe, ISBN 0-394-50269-8
- Love Is in The Earth by Melody, ISBN 0-9628190-3-4
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Gem Profile by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong
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