a publication of the International School of Gemology 10.April.2013

ISG: Veritable Variscite

In the ongoing search for viable gemstone materials that offer beauty and affordable price points, variscite is often overlooked when it offers both. At the recent Tucson Gem Shows we had the pleasure to once again meet with our friends at Mia Mia Mining and Mfg. from whom we obtained some wonderful specimens of Lucin, Utah variscite that we would like to share with you today. These specimens were mined between 1960 and 1970 from the Turner Mine, at Lucin, Utah.

Variscite is a phosphate gem material that forms very much in the same manner as turquoise. It is formed when water percolates down through rocks that contain a lot of phosphate minerals, then encounters rocks rich in aluminum. When the mixture is complete and fills in fissures in the existing rock the end result is nodules of the green color variscite as seen above. (an excellent article is in the current Rock and Gem Magazine by Bob Jones on Variscite) While the formation of variscite is reported to be very close to turquoise in method, the coloring elements that result in the green color are significantly different. According to the US Geological Survey and other resources, variscite gets its green color from replacement of some of the aluminum with chromium and iron, which would explain the deeper green color than the green turquoise found in places like Carico Lake, Nevada.

According to our friends at Mindat.org: Variscite was first described in 1837 and named after Variscia, the historical name of the Vogtland, Germany. (http://www.gemdat.org/gem-4156.html)

Gemological Properties

Variscite Properties are reported in GEMS by Website (5th Edition, pp382).

Refractive Index: 1.55 - 1.59
Crystal System: Orthorhombic B-
Specific Gravity: 2.4 - 2.6 range
Hardness: 5
Absorption at 688nm with weaker at 650nm

Below is a cut nodule obtained from Kevin Kessler of Mia Mia Mining who graciously assisted us in obtaining these important specimens for the ISG Student Reference Collection.

This outstanding gem material is part of a growing list of materials that are just now becoming known, in spite of the fact that they have been well documented in lapidary circles for many years. This is a strong indicator of the growing awareness of the need for the jewelry and gemstone industry to establish stronger ties with the lapidary industry and some of the many wonderful gemstones being produced by local gem and mineral cutters. It is no longer a matter of traveling to far, exotic places to obtain viable and affordable gem materials. As in the case of variscite, there are many beautiful and commercially viable gem materials right in our own areas, no matter where you live.

Over the coming months we are going to be investigating more relatively unknown or unpublished gem materials in an effort to bring our ISG Community a greater awareness of the business opportunities available with these sometimes overlooked gem materials.

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