|Malachite from Africa
Malachite is a basic copper carbonate that is formed from copper-containing solutions near copper ore deposits. Though fairly soft compared to most gemstones (3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale), it is popular for jewelry and ornaments due to its striking green colors and interesting vein patterns.
Malachite is now relatively rare, but has been found in many locations around the world. The most important deposits were once in the Ural Mountains in Russia, where 20 ton blocks once came from the quarries and were used to decorate the palaces of the Russian tsars.
Perhaps some of the most famous malachite in the world is the Malachite room of the Winter Palace of the Russian Royal family. Designed in the late 1830s, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I, used it as her drawing-room. The room, including columns, pilasters, fire-place trimmings and decorative vases is made completely of malachite using the "Russian mosaic" technique.
Today much smaller deposits of malachite are found in Africa, in Zambia, the Congo, Namibia, and Zimbabwe; malachite also been found in Israel, England, at Lyon in France and in Arkansas and Arizona in the US. It has even been discovered at the famous mining district of Broken Hill in New South Wales, Australia.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, once known as Zaire, has become the most important malachite producer. The richest deposits are found in the mining district of the "Shaba Crescent" in Katanga Province. The mines are found in the Ruashi district of Lubumbashi which is the province's capital and the second largest town of the country after Kinshasa. The Belgians founded it as a mine settlement in 1910 and it quickly became the center of the copper belt.
The malachite which is of carving and jewelry quality is mined mainly by hand in small copper mines which were often long abandoned, when copper deposits dried up. Many of the most spectacular specimens of malachite found here contain combinations with other minerals, such as azurite, cuprite, or chrysocolla.
Malachite is an opaque stone with a unique ornamental light and dark green banding which particularly lends itself to making jewelry and carvings, and there are many local artisans involved in the trade. The malachite carvers in the Ruashi district of Katanga irrigate their lapidary machines to keep the blades and grinding stones working well, and their houses are easily identified by the streams of green water trickling out.
- First Published: May-23-2008
- Last Updated: March-05-2011
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