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.
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 Gemological Properties: Back to Top
Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemology-related terms.
Serpentine: Related or Similar Gemstones Back to Top
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.
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.
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
Serpentine 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: May-29-2014
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