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  : : Serpentine Information

Serpentine Gemstone Information

About Serpentine - History and Introduction

Serpentine is a gem-quality hydrated magnesium silicate, usually green, yellowish-green, or brownish-green in color. Its name is thought to be derived from its serpent-like green colors. Serpentine is not just a gemstone, but rather, it is a group of minerals which includes up to 20 different related members. Although there are a variety of serpentines, there are only two basic aggregate structures of serpentine which include antigorite and chrysotile.

Antigorite is a platy variety of serpentine, usually more solid and gemmy than chrysotile. Chrysotile is a fibrous group of serpentine minerals which can be subdivided into four distinct varieties based on crystallization. Very fine fibrous chrysotile is one of the many types of asbestos; asbestos is known to cause 'asbestosis', a deadly condition of the lungs caused by the inhalation of fine chrysotile fibers. Since asbestos is recognized as a health hazard, only the antigorite form of serpentine is used as gemstones. Serpentine minerals are metamorphic alterations of peridotite and pyroxene, and because alterations may be incomplete in many cases, the physical properties of each specimen can vary tremendously. Gemstone quality serpentine (antigorite) is often referred to as 'noble serpentine' or 'precious' serpentine.

Transparent Serpentine Gemstone
Transparent Serpentine Cabochon
Click to enlarge
Identifying Serpentine Back to Top

Serpentine is a basic magnesium silicate, with many specimens containing iron as well. Other elements in small quantities may also be present, including chromium, nickel and cobalt. Most serpentine rocks are translucent to opaque with a hardness score that can range from 2.5 to 5.5, depending on exact composition. Serpentine is fairly soft and light, with a specific gravity (density) ranging from 2.44 to 2.62, which is slightly lower than quartz. Its luster can be greasy, waxy or silky. It can sometimes be confused with nephrite jade, but nephrite is much harder, tougher and has a less greasy luster.

Serpentine; Origin and Sources Back to Top

Serpentine varieties are found in many places in the world, including Canada (Quebec), Afghanistan, Britain, Cyprus, Greece, China, Russia (the Ural Mountains), France, Korea, Austria, India, Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Norway, Italy and the United States.

Buying Serpentine and Determining Serpentine Value Back to Top

Serpentine Color

Serpentine is usually greenish in color, but it can also vary from white or yellowish to gray, and from brown to black. Most serpentine rocks are veiny or spotted and may exhibit areas of chatoyancy, which can appear lighter or darker depending on the viewing angle.

Serpentine Clarity and Luster

Serpentine is typically translucent to opaque and rarely semi-transparent. Most serpentine contains impurities of calcite and other minerals. The inclusions can cause white or black veining, marbling or spotting. When polished, serpentine has a greasy to silky luster.

Serpentine Cut and Shape

Serpentine is typically cut en cabochon or carved as an ornamental gemstone. The most common shapes includes ovals and rounds. Most serpentine gemstones are cut with very high domes to bring out desirable patterns.

Serpentine Treatment

Serpentine is not known to be treated or enhanced in any way.

Serpentine Gemological Properties: Back to Top
Chemical Formula: Mg6[(OH)8lSi4O10]; Basic magnesium silicate
Crystal Structure: Monoclinic; microcrystalline
Color: Green, yellowish, brown
Hardness: 2.5 to 5.5
Refractive Index: 1.560 to 1.571
Density: 2.44 to 2.62
Cleavage: None
Transparency: Semitransparent to opaque
Double Refraction or Birefringence: 0.008 to 0.014
Luster: Greasy, waxy, silky
Fluorescence: Weak; greenish (Williamsite)

Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemology-related terms.

Serpentine: Related or Similar Gemstones Back to Top
Olivine - Peridot
Olivine - Peridot

A number of trade names have been introduced to refer to serpentine variants, including 'bastite', 'bowenite', 'connemara', 'verd-antique' and 'Williamsite'. Terms such as 'new jade', 'noble serpentine' and 'precious serpentine', are also used, but these are not used in gemology circles. 'Arizona tiger's eye' and 'California tiger's eye' are names often used for serpentine rocks from the USA that exhibit chatoyant bands caused by aligned chrysotile fibers.

Some other well-known and popular similar or related materials include:

Asbestos: A very fine and fibrous chrysotile serpentine.
Bastite: A silky and shiny pseudomorph of serpentine.
Bowenite: A massive, usually greenish serpentine with densely packed fibers.
Connemara: An intergrown rock composed of marble and serpentine.
Deweylite: Chrysotile serpentine with traces of stevensite or various talc minerals occasionally used as a gemstone.
Garnierite: Nickel-rich green serpentine minerals, sometimes called 'nepouite'.
Retinalite: Antigorite serpentine with a very waxy luster, usually yellowish.
Ricolite: A fine grained and banded serpentine rock.
Satalite: A fibrous serpentine rock which often exhibits cat's eye chatoyancy.
Serpentinite: A rock composed of mostly serpentine minerals and traces of pyroxene, olivine, magnetite, calcite, dolomite and amphibole minerals.
Verde-Antique: A dark-green serpentine rock with white veins of calcite.
Williamsite: An oil-green serpentine often with black spots or inclusions.
Serpentine Mythology, Metaphysical and Crystal Healing Properties Back to Top

The name 'serpentine' is thought to be derived from 'serpent' as its color is said to resemble that of a snake. Serpentine has been used for centuries by many cultures as an ornamental and healing stone. Serpentine was thought to protect against disease and evil sorcery. Serpentine is a strong stone of meditation and it is believed to help its wearers find inner-peace.

In ancient times, serpentine was used in offerings to gods and goddesses to request blessings. Physically, serpentine is thought to protect against the poison of snakes and other venomous creatures. It is also thought to help alleviate pains of the kidney, stomach cramps and tension. Serpentine is best for stimulating the crown chakra, but can be used for clearing all chakras.

Disclaimer: Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers and Properties are not to be taken as confirmed advice. Traditional, Ceremonial and Mythological Gemstone Lore is collected from various resources and does not represent the sole opinion of SETT Co., Ltd. This information is not to replace the advice of your doctor. Should you have any medical conditions, please see a licensed medical practitioner. GemSelect does not guarantee any claims or statements of healing or astrological birthstone powers and cannot be held liable under any circumstances.
Serpentine Gemstone and Jewelry Design Ideas Back to Top

Serpentine is not often used for jewelry owing to its lack of hardness, though some materials are a bit harder because of varying compositions. Serpentine could be worn as earrings, pins, pendants or brooches; but its use as a ring should be limited to occasional-wear and well-protected settings. Serpentine can often exhibit an attractive silky chatoyancy and luster that no other gemstone can imitate. Most serpentine is fashioned into decorative gemstones or made into ornamental gemstone carvings, but if worn with care, serpentine can be incorporated into wonderful custom jewelry designs for both ladies' and gentlemen's jewelry.

Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.

Famous Serpentine Gemstones Back to Top

A high-grade and almost pure form of green serpentine from the historic Punjab province in South Asia was known for many centuries as 'sang-i-yashm', or in English as 'false jade'; it was used by local craftsmen for many generations as a carving material to create swords and dagger handles. The Maoris of New Zealand were known to carve ornamental objects from locally sourced serpentine that they called 'tangiwai', meaning 'tears' in their native language.

Serpentine Gemstone Jewelry Care and Cleaning Back to Top

How to clean your gemstonesSerpentine is rather soft and fragile, especially compared to most jewelry gemstones. It is susceptible to acid, so harsh chemicals and cleaners should be avoided. Use only a soft cloth and warm water to clean serpentine gemstones. Chrysotile serpentine may exhibit basal cleavage and conchoidal fracture. It also has a brittle and splintery tenacity so it should be protected from rough wearing and harsh weathering conditions. Always remove serpentine jewelry before exercising, playing sports or performing any household chores. Always store serpentine away from other gems and jewelry. If possible, wrap stones individually in a soft cloth and place them inside a fabric-lined jewelry box.

  • First Published: March-24-2014
  • Last Updated: December-09-2014
  • © 2005-2014 GemSelect.com all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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