Many people are familiar with the dark green colour of malachite. We often see numerous malachite carvings in craft markets from simple statues to entire chess sets. Malachite has been used a long time for its distinctive green colour and is considered to be a precious stone, even though it is, morphologically speaking, a mineral.
Malachite is a copper carbonate that forms in copper rich environments where carbonate rocks are also in evidence. It aggregates as crystals in concentric rings. Finding large crystals of a malachite is very rare and it is hardly ever cut in facets due to the distinctive circular design that it has. This is one of the reasons why many people often consider malachite to be a rock instead of a gem – despite its mineral qualities. But while malachite may be opaque in most of its forms, it does show some translucency when thinly cut.
This strikingly green precious stone is closely related to azurite. In fact, the two are so closely linked that azurite is known to 'change' into malachite as it become weathered. This is mainly due to the fact that azurite, that has one more carbon atom in its structure than malachite, is more unstable and weathers quite easily. Losing that carbon, it pseudometamorphises into malachite. Malachite, being more stable does not weather as easily.
This soft green stone has been mined for nearly 3 000 years and has been used in a number of applications. They are used to make jewellery, ornaments and carvings (as most are familiar with). They were also used to make eye make up, especially in Ancient Egypt. Ground into a powder, malachite was often used as a dye for cloth and paints. In homoeopathic medicine, malachite was also often prescribed as a cure for upset stomachs and extreme vomiting! Whether this last use was effective as cure is doubtful at best.
Malachite is an attractive green stone that works well with many other stones in the same settings. Those cultures that knew of malachite and had it in abundance, knew this and the fact can be seen in many old pieces of jewellery. Even today people are attracted to the lustrous malachite with its high polish and remarkable shades.
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