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- Featured Tool: Bracelet Bending Plier
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Gem Profile Dec. 9: Fluorite
by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong, Wire-Sculpture.com
Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
December 9, 2011
Known as “the most colorful mineral in the world,” fluorite is found in a transparent to translucent rainbow of pastel shades that resemble watercolors. These natural colors include from deep purple to pale violet, blues, pinks, yellow, and brown, all hues of green through teal and colorless or white. Many, single specimens of fluorite include several of these colors in stripes or bands, called zones. Multi-colored fluorite with this beautiful feature is aptly named “Rainbow Fluorite.” This mineral’s crystal structure is pretty amazing too, geometrically growing in a variety of cubic, rhombdodecahedral or octahedral shapes. As fluorite is a member of the halide mineral group, if you don’t have a fluorite crystal to look at, maybe you have a bag of rock salt whose crystals are basically formed in the same shapes. To view some really amazing specimens of fluorite from the world-renowned Elmwood Mine in Tennessee, please follow this link: Elmwood Fluorite.
Illinois’ state stone, commercially known as fluorspar, fluorite is composed of calcium and fluorine and it is the most important source of the world’s fluorine. Due to the fact that fluorite melts very easily, the name “fluorite” comes from the Latin fluere, which means “to flow.” As such, the mineral fluorite is used industrially as a flux during the process of smelting iron, aluminum, steel and other metal alloys. It is also used in the manufacturing of certain types of porcelain, enamel and glass products. Reconstituted, transparent fluorite has been used to make special optical items like telescope and camera lenses in the recent past; however, modern technology now often replaces this product with synthetics.
Believe it or not, organic fluoride chemicals are present in lipstick! As well as many other items we use every day including dyes, herbicides, medicines, and anesthetics, along with refrigerants, plastics, and degreasing agents. Yes, fluorite is much more than just a pretty lapidary material.
If you are a glass artist, then you probably know that the compound hydrofluoric acid is made by combining fluorite with hydrogen. Commercially, this special acid is used to etch or polish glass and to clean specific metals before plating. Hydrofluoric acid is also used in making rocket fuel. However, hydorofluoric acid is a very poisonous substance, deadly to breathe and corrosive to human skin.
With a Mohs hardness of 4.0, glassy appearance and being available in so many different color combinations, fluorite has been a favorite carving medium for centuries. Fluorite will also cleave easily, breaking into smaller, flat shapes identical to the original crystal. Unfortunately because it is such a fragile and soft material, many fluorite artifacts have been found damaged. Some of these items include effigies from South America (there are a lot of fluorite mines in Peru) carved vessels and statuary found in the area of Pompeii and carved scarabs and beads from early China. Early Rome fell in love with the many colors of fluorite and its citizens believed that cups carved of purple fluorite worked the same as those made of amethyst, meaning that one would be protected from intoxication while drinking wine from them. The best known fluorite of all time is called Blue John from Castleton, England. This beautiful translucent material with elaborate bands of blues, purple, and white was mined from the mid 1700s until the deposit depleted. Antique collectors are very familiar with resin-treated John Blue fluorite, it having been used as the bases of ornamental lamps, goblets, bowls, and ornamental vases for England’s great mansions. Queen Elizabeth II still owns a magnificent chalice made of this John Blue material. Even today, large vases and vessels are carved from fluorite, as well as small to miniature ornamental pieces.
Did you know that the terms fluoresce and fluorescent were derived from the word fluorite? In the world of fluorescent minerals, fluorite is king! You can see some fluorite under both types of UV lights by visiting The Colorful World of Fluorescent Rocks.,/p>
Due to the facts that fluorite is soft and cleaves easily, it not the best choice of lapidary material for any jewelry design that will be worn in a high traffic area, like a bracelet, ring or anklet. Basically the safest use of fluorite in jewelry is to make it into a pendant, necklace, earrings, cuff links, a tie tac, or a brooch. However, there are some folks in the state of Illinois who purposely cleave fluorite to be used in costume jewelry, just as it breaks. If you have an extra crystal laying around, hit it with a hammer and see what happens – fun!
The metaphysical world is full of information about how to use fluorite. It is said to increase the ability to concentrate and to help one organize their life. Fluorite also is said to encourage flawless health, intellect, and emotional well-being.
Next week’s gem profile will be the beginning of a rather long series on quartz, starting with the basics. Have you made wire jewelry with natural quartz before? Email pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they could be featured!
- Love Is in The Earth by Melody, ISBN 0-962-81903-4
- Minerals of the World by Walter Schumann, ISBN 0-8069-8570-4
- Peterson Field Guide – Rocks and Minerals by Frederick H. Pough, ISBN 0-395-91096-X
Gem Profile by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong