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A Bridge to Washington made of Mineral and Perseverence

The Roebling Suspension Bridge Connecting Cincinnati, Ohio with Covington, Kentucky

The river is just about a mile wide at this point. Mud colored waves roll along gently, interrupted occasionally by pleasure craft or a mock riverboat filled with sightseers. I am far above the river looking into a blue sky interrupted by light blue steel girders and rock towers. I am standing on the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge with the Ohio River below, Covington, Kentucky behind me and the tall steel and concrete skyscrapers of Cincinnati reaching into the sky along the near horizon ahead. This bridge was completed in 1867 and in its time was considered the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet in length.

Photo taken from west side of bridge, with demonstrators marching on bridge.

Girders and Towers of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, with Cincinnati, Ohio in the Background

by Cdv1014 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, hBy White-acre – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62604393

This bridge is named after, well, John Roebling, and it has an unusual connection to Geology. John Roebling was a Prussian born engineer. After his university studies (where he attended lectures by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, among others) he emigrated to the United States in 1831 with a group of like minded Germans who believed in the possibility of creating a technical based utopia. Quickly finding work, which had been scarce back in the German states, he was gainfully employed up until the American Civil War. The war had many impacts one of which was disruption, slowing or halting of infrastructure projects as money and resources were diverted to the war effort. The bridge over the Ohio was one of the projects affected. It was begun in 1856, but halted with the onset of the war, resuming again in 1863 and eventually completed in 1867. That same year John Roebling started work on an even more ambitious suspension span, this time to cross the East River in New York. This new project would eventually be known as the Brooklyn Bridge and also stand as a marvel of engineering in its day, but Roebling would not live to see its completed. He died of tetanus as a result of an accident, before the plans for the Brooklyn span had been fully drawn up. It was left to his son, Washington Augustus Roebling, thirty-two years old at the the time, to complete the task that his father had begun.

Plaque on the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati, Ohio

by Cdv1014 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51857635

Colonel Washington Roebling was a civil engineer, like his father. His title was not honorary – he enlisted in the Union Army upon the outbreak of the Civil War and served until his resignation in 1865 to help his father with Ohio bridge. The colonel’s favorite hobby happened to be collecting rocks and minerals, a hobby he acquired while studying at the Rensselaer Polytechnic institute in Troy, NY. Later in life he would revisit his hobby when, while personally supervising the building of the Brooklyn span, he spent so many hours under high atmospheric pressure while working on sinking the caissons for the foundation of the bridge that he developed a case of the bends. It was so bad that it permanently injured his health, forcing him direct the work on the bridge from a convalescent bed. Casting about for something with which to relax from the stress of the bridge project he turned his attention back to his hobby. Wealthy, but unable to travel while convalescing, he collected specimens by correspondence.

Over the years Col. Roebling dealt with nearly every dealer and collector of importance in his time. He set his sights on the goal of a representative collection – one with a sample of every known mineral in his day, no matter how interesting or insignificant. Over his lifetime he accumulated over 16,000 specimens of unusually high quality. In the end, his came close to achieving his goal: at the time of his death, of the 1,500 established known mineral species at the time, his collection lacked less than 15. Among the many outstanding examples of his collection were: Brazilian and Siberian topaz, California and Madagascar tourmaline, phenacite, paramelaconite, roeblingite, peridot, opal, Russian malachite (“Brought from Russia about 1874 by the Grand Duke Alexis and given by him to Henry A. Ward, of Rochester, for a mounted buffalo head”), kunzite, Brazilian euclase, Arkansas diamond, chrysoberyl, Brazilian beryl, zoisite, afghanite, pyromorphite, apatite, and a beautiful example of carved quartz (variant chrysoprase).

Photograph of a group of fluorites from the National Gem Collection showing a range of colors, Namaqualand, Western Cape, South Africa, Africa, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Photograph of a group of fluorites from the National Gem Collection showing a range of colors, Namaqualand, Western Cape, South Africa, Africa, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Afghanite, Koksha Valley, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Asia, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Afghanite, Koksha Valley, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Asia, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Roebling was quite generous, freely letting his specimens be used for scientific purposes, thereby contributing directly to the publication of important papers, although he himself was not inclined to research. He never catalogued the collection, but he did label every specimen personally. Roebling developed a friendly relationship with the National Museum in Washington, D.C. an institution that would eventually become the Smithsonian, and this no doubt played a role in the decision of his son to donate the collection, as well as $150,000 for its maintenance, to the Smithsonian upon Roebling’s death on July 21, 1926.

Opal, Querétaro, Mexico, North America, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Forsterite (var. peridot),
Zabargad Island, Egypt, Africa, Washington A. Roebling Collection

Colonel Roebling had deep contacts in the mineral collecting community, so much so that the mineral roeblingite was named after him in 1927 by Samuel Lewis Penfield and Harry Ward Foote. He was also a charter member of the Mineralogical Society of America which was founded in 1919. He served as Vice President in 1924, and made a $45,000 gift to the Society not long before his death. The Society named the Roebling Medal in his honor. Among the many recipients of the medal are two Nobel Laureates Linus Pauling (laureate in chemistry “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”) and Lawrence Bragg (laureate in physics “For their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays“). 

Perhaps no finer tribute to Roebling’s passion for minerals can be made than that of Alexander H. Phillips 1927 memorial to Roebling in the pages of American Mineralogist:

He would always ask a visitor what mineral he was interested in, or what mineral he wished to see, with that quiet touch of pride which is a pardonable companion of a conscious knowledge of completeness. However rare the mineral, the Colonel could go directly to the proper drawer and produce a specimen. He has often remarked that he had a specimen of every known mineral and variety; then he would always add “with few exceptions.” The Roebling collection was never catalogued, nor was a specimen ever numbered to connect it with its label. For this reason he seemed to be very particular in the handling of his specimens, as he had the constant fear of getting the labels misplaced. Very often the history of a specimen would be found neatly folded in the tray, with the opinion of noted mineralogists in regard to it, together with notes by the Colonel, often written in a humorous strain, in that fine and perfect script. The Colonel’s quiet humor was always the delight of his friends, and this is reflected all through the collection. Here and there a tray will be empty, with a note “This specimen has been loaned now for two years. Time it was returned.” These remarks were not always complimentary, but he would record a joke on himself with equal fairness. He loved each specimen, as his collection in his later years was his enjoyment, his pleasure, his complete interest, his life. Near the end, when his sight was failing, he remarked: “My life is over, as I can no longer see my minerals.” He was always willing to sacrifice specimens for research or analysis; and many were the calls for rare minerals or type specimens, and it was indeed seldom that he failed to deliver the material.

Washington Roebling.

Washington Roebling

By RPI Library Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15725762

Top photo by Derek Jensen (Tysto) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=122754

We are located in Cincinnati, Ohio not far from the banks of Ohio River. Visit our rock, mineral, and crystal shop in person, or browse our selection of crystals, minerals, rocks, meteorites and fossils online by clicking here.

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Hours After Discovery, Meteorite Crashes to Earth Near Iceland

Ensisheim Meteorite

March 22nd, 2022, 21:22 UTC. A small object plunges from the frozen depths of space into the earth’s atmosphere above Iceland. On the other side of Europe the fiery descent is noticed by a middle-aged Geography teacher who also happens to be the head of the Hungarian Astronomical Association. Krisztián Sárneczky – that very same teacher – happens to be at a private observatory in Budapest that evening. Watching from the Piszkésteto Mountain Station, part of Konkoly Observatory – when he notices the 3m wide object. The object, now recognized as an asteriod and posthumously named 2022 EB 5, entered the atmosphere at around 11 miles per second, rapidly burning up. Less than two hours after it’s discovery, 2022 EB 5 disappeared, a brief romance doomed from the start. Did it survive? No one knows. No meteorite debris from it have been discovered yet. Goodbye 2022 EB 5 – we hardly had a chance to get to know one another.

While we don’t have a photograph of 2022 EB 5, we have a substitute to entertain you with. Above is a woodcut showing the fall of the Ensisheim meteorite on November 7, 1492 from the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel (1493). We also have a variety of meteorites for sale.

Woodcut showing the fall of the Ensisheim meteorite on November 7, 1492. From the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel (1493).

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Roman Era Emerald Mine in the Egyptian Desert

Roman Era Egyptian Emerald Necklace

Fifteen miles or so from the Egyptian coastline of the sparkling Red Sea stand a series of crumbling structures. Standing upon an area known in antiquity as “Mons Smaragdus”, these ruins in the Egyptian Eastern Desert are all that remains of Sikait, the Roman Empire’s only emerald mine. Archaeological work conducted in 2020 and 2021 by the University of Barcelona suggests that as the Empire’s grip on the area loosened and eventually receded, some of the buildings were occupied or possibly even built by a nomadic tribe, the Blemmyes, which gained influence in the area.

The Blemmyes appear in written records starting from the 7th century B.C. and disappear sometime around the 8th century A.D. they are mentioned in Strabo’s Geographica in the 1st century A.D. as essentially non-bellicose nomadic raiders. Their cultural and military power increased to the point they formed a kingdom on the flank or Roman Egypt requiring repeated intervention of the Imperial army to keep them from causing trouble.

The researchers believe that the Blemmyes took over not just the site but also the mining activities at the site, possibly also making improvements to building some of the structures on the site.

Remarkable among the finds of the researchers are ancient inscriptions including at least one by a members of a Roman Legion. This inscription would be the first evidence that the Roman army was involved in exploitation of Egypt’s emerald mines, not just to defend them but also probably to help construct them. It was not uncommon in the empire for the legions to be used for civilian construction projects. Not only would this kind of work keep the troops in good physical shape between campaigns, it would keep them busy and productive. It was a Roman belief that a busy army was less likely to mutiny. The legions were involved in the construction of town walls, roads, aqueducts and mining related buildings and equipment such as water mills, stamp mills and dewatering machines.

Roman Era Egyptian Emerald Necklace

Roman necklace originating in Egypt made of gold, blue stone and emerald, A.D. 2nd century

Roman beryl intaglio portrait of Julia Domna

Beryl intaglio with portrait of Julia Domna A.D. 200-210.

Julia Domna was wife of Emperor Septimus Severus and mother of Emperor Caracalla. The Egyptian mine at Sikait is the only source of Emerald, a form of Beryl, within the Empire, and thus the likely source of the material for this object if it was not imported.

Roman gold and emerald necklace 1st – 2nd century A.D.

Ruins near Egyptian Emerald Mine

Ruins at Sikait, Egypt

In the mountains along the Red Sea coast of Egypt, across from Sinai, lie the remains of Sikait, location of the only emerald mine in the Roman Empire. This photo shows the ruins of the most impressive building complex at the site, known as Tripartite Building.

By Roland Unger – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71533171

We may not have any Egyptian emeralds, but do check out our selection of gemstones.

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Curious, Glittering Goldstone: Mineral, Crystal, Something Else Altogether?

Goldstone glass under magnification

Goldstone. You know it, that gorgeous with a glittering star field that comes in blue, red, green or purple. It’s used for jewelry. It looks wonderful on your desk as a paperweight, or on a shelf as an eye-catching display object. Kids love it because of the sparkles. Adults love it too – take a deep look into a dark blue example and after a few moments you lost in what feels like the star field in the opening of Star Wars. But what exactly is Goldstone, and were does it come from? What mine do they dig the stuff out of?

Well, as it turns out, it comes from no mine. Even though it sure likes an amazing example of mother nature’s artistry, perhaps helped along with human assistance and a tumbler, it is actually man made. That’s right, it is synthetic. But not synthetic in a bad way, and certainly not synthetic in the modern sense such as with Ruby, which is created by fusing potash alum at a high temperature with a little chromium as a pigment. No, Goldstone is no lab or factory born. It’s birth is traced to the hand of the artist and artisan. But before we look at origins, let’s look at exactly what Goldstone is.

What is Goldstone?

Goldstone is form of man-made glass. It has a glittering, metallic character luster caused by flat faced and highly reflective inclusions of copper. The luster is caused by heating molten glass to the temperature necessary to dissolve copper oxide granules added to the molten glass. The melt is then cooled slowly allow the copper ions to grow into uniformly dispersed octohedral shaped crystals. The size of the copper crystals formed is directly related to the length of time taken to coll the melt. The longer the cooling, the larger the crystals. It is these copper crystals that creates the glittering luster.

But wait, you ask. What make gives the goldstone it’s red, or blue, or green, or purple color in which the copper stars are fixed? Well, the answer to that differs with each color of goldstone. Glass itself is typically colorless, and goldstone is no exception. Red goldstone is red because of reflection off the copper crystals. Blue, green, and purple goldstone use metals other than copper, but the background color doesn’t come from the metal, but rather from the addition of other elements to the glass itself. The blue in blue goldstone is caused by the addition of cobalt to the glass, green from the addition of chromium, and purple from the addition of manganese. Goldstone without copper is easier to work with when reheated, because of less stringent reduction requirements and higher melting points of manganese and cobalt.

Regardless of the metal used to create the particular color of the star field pattern, the glitter effect is intensified when a piece of goldstone is moved under light, when a lighting source is moved over the goldstone, or when the observer is in motion relative to a piece of lighted goldstone. If that sound technical, then think of it like this. A lighted piece of goldstone gets a whole lot glitterier if either you move it, you move yourself, or you move the light.

History of Goldstone

Goldstone dates as far back as the period between the 12th and 13th centuries A.D., the earliest known goldstone object being an amulet excavated in Iran with an inscription dedicating it to one of the rulers of Syria during that period. It was being manufactured in Italy by the 17th century, in Murano and Venice. The Motti family of Venice was granted an exclusive license to manufacture the material by the Doge (think “Duke”, they both originate from the same word) of Venice. The Chinese were making goldstone around the same time as the Italians with bottles made of the material by the Imperial Workshop handed out by the Qing Emperor’s court as gifts and rewards.

Goldstone is actually a more recent name for the material. An earlier common name for it aventurine glass, based on the Italian “avventurina” meaning “by chance” or “accident” in reference to the tale that the discovery of how to make the material was an accident. Goldstone should not be confused with the mineral aventurine, which is a feldspar or quartz with a mica inclusion that can also be glittery. In point of fact, the mineral was named after the goldstone because it’s glittery luster was reminiscent of of goldstone.

Party Tricks with Aventurine

So the heading is a bit of joke – there will be no party tricks discussed here. Instead let’s talk a little bit more about the name aventurine, the early name for goldstone. Besides gifting it’s name to the natural mineral aventurine, goldstone has lent it’s original to several technical terms used to describe that glittery loveliness goldstone is in possession so much of.

First is the term “aventurescence” which refers to the phenomena that occurs when a material with light-reflecting particles that produce a sparkly or glittery luster.

Then we have the term “aventurescent” which describes (also see the definition of adjective) materials that exhibit the phenomena of aventurescence. Usage examples include: aventurescent quartz, aventurescent feldspar, aventurescent iolite, and aventurescent soda pop. Actually that last item is joke, but soda pop beside shimmery and bubbly right after pouring does remind one of goldstone, well, a bit.

Cousins of Goldstone and Other Curious Facts

There are other types of glass that have some similarity to goldstone. For example, there is transparent red copper ruby glass and also opaque “sealing wax” purpurin glass, all of which have beautiful reddish colors of which are created by colloidal copper. The key difference among these is the size of the copper crystals. Goldstone has macroscopic (large) reflective crystals; purpurin glass has microscopic (small) opaque particles; copper ruby glass has submicroscopic (very small) transparent nanoparticles.

The outer layers of a batch of goldstone often has a duller color and less glittery goodness, characteristics usually dues to poor crystallization which decreases the size of the reflective copper crystals and makes the surrounding glass more opaque with non reflective particles. This may also be due to partial oxidation of the copper which may lead the crystals dissolving leading to a transparent blue-green glass.

Sometimes goldstone only displays the glittering effect from two directions rather than from any vantage point.

Goldstone is actually popular for cutting jewelry. As rough pieces, it is usually sold as broken chunks and as slabs suitable for cutting cabochons. Smaller pieces might be rock tumbled, while larger chunks might weight over 50 pounds. A single batch of goldstone usually weighs in at 100 pounds or more, before being cut into smaller chunks. The quality of the goldstone due to variability from the manufacturing process will dictate the end use.

Metaphysical, Spiritual, and Healing Properties of Goldstone

Even though goldstone is synthetic, many believe it has spiritual or metaphysical properties, and can be used in physical healing. The specific properties and effects of the goldstone vary depending on who you consult, and their particular perspective. One thing is certain, contemplating the start field of a beautiful example of goldstone can be a calming and meditative experience!

We sell goldstone. Check out our selection, or visit us in-person.

Top photo depicting a piece of ‘red’ or ‘brown’ Goldstone glass under magnification to show the crystals inside – by Albionfireandice – website, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104498606

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The Uncertain Future of Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth

Corundum

Poor Afghanistan. It is the country that never seems to catch a break. Remote, poor, land-locked, and yet highly strategic because of its position as the gateway to India and its position athwart the ancient silk road trade route to China, it has seen armies pass through from Alexander the Great to the Moghuls (think the creators of the Taj Mahal), to the British and Russians, and finally the Soviet and Americans.

Map of Mineral Resources of Afghanistan

Afghanistan Mineral Resources

Photo By This file was contributed to Wikimedia Commons by National Archives at College Park – Cartographic as part of a cooperation project. The donation was facilitated by the Digital Public Library of America, via its partner National Archives and Records Administration.National Archives Identifier: 159081989Source record: http://catalog.archives.gov/id/159081989DPLA identifier: a982bb69e64e77d42e7d7f8e0a1c5f33, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96782925

One ever-constant bright spot for the nation has been the enormous mineral wealth it sits above. A massive upheaval about 40 million years ago between the Indo-European, the African, and Asian plates created the towering mountains upon which the nation sprawls. This also created a wide variety and enormous quantity of mineral wealth, particularly in the north and northeast of the country All told there are over 1,400 mineral fields encompassing barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulfur, lithium, talc, and zinc, rare earth minerals, and high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet, tourmaline, turquoise and ruby just to name a few examples. This enormous wealth has been well know for over a century from surveys conducted by the British and Russians. During their occupation the Soviets conducted their own survey. Most recently, a United States Geological Survey estimate prepared after the overthrow of the Taliban that there was perhaps a trillion dollars worth of mineral wealth in Afghanistan.

Industrial Minerals

Madan Turquoise Mines

An early turquoise mine in the Madan village of Khorasan

Photo by Major Henri De Bouillane de Lacoste (tr. by J. G. Anderson) – “Around Afghanistan” as digitised by the Internet Archive’s text collection., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3850890

The mineral wealth can be divided into industrially useful and specimens & gemstones. Just in Baghlan Province one finds important deposits of clay, bauxite, gypsum, limestone, and coal. Clay in particular has been used since ancient times. Other industrially useful minerals include chromium, mercury, copper, gold, silver, iron ore, lead, tungsten, zinc, lithium, beryllium, cobalt, marble, sulfur, tin and talc. Perhaps the world’s largest copper lode exists in Aynak.

Doost marble Factory

An Afghan Marble Factory

Photo by USAID Afghanistan – 100525 Hirat Marble Conference 133, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15375462

Green Ceramic Tile

Green Tile with Star Design, 12th–13th century, Earthenware; molded decoration, monochrome glazed, Attributed to Afghanistan

Gem Producing Regions

Afghanistan is particularly noted for it’s rich gemstone wealth. Lapis Lazuli, Kunzite, Morganite, Emerald, Aquamarine, Tourmaline, Beryl, Spinel, Sapphire, Topaz, Fluorite, Garnet, Corundum (Ruby), and Green Serpentine are all present. Indeed, the Black Prince’s Ruby and the “Timur ruby” in the British Crown Jewels (both actually Spinel and not Ruby) are both believed to have originated in or near Afghanistan. Most recently, and perhaps controversially Hiddenite (or “Hiddenite-like”) has been discovered.

There are four main gem-producing regions: the Panjshir Valley for emeralds, the Jegdalek area for rubies and a range of fancy colored and blue sapphires, Badakhshan for lapis lazuli, and Nuristan for a wide variety of semi-precious gems including as tourmaline, kunzite, aquamarine, spodumene and beryl.

The Panjshir emerald deposit may refer to the ‘smaragdus (green stones) from Bactria’ in Pliny’s in his ‘Natural History’, written in the first century AD. The emeralds occur at altitudes of between 3000 and 4000 meters. The clarity of these emeralds rivals that of the world-famous Colombian emeralds. The remote and inaccessible Panjshir valley, is also the home of the Northern Alliance – the main Afghan resistance to both the Soviets and the Taliban in the 1970 – 2000s. The same inaccessible terrain makes extracting the emeralds a challenge.

Beryl

Beryl (Var.: Emerald) Locality: Panjsher (Panjshir) Valley, Hessa-e-Say District, Panjshir (Panjsheer) Province, Afghanistan

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10135249

Jegdalek Gandamak rubies are mined in Kabul Province from Proterozoic calcite-dolomite marble bed between 500 and 2000 m thick in a regionally metamorphosed marble cut by Oligocene granitic intrusions. This mine was worked to provide marble for the Taj Mahal – but it is uncertain whether rubies were actively mined at that time. Jegdalek rubies range from nearly colorless to deep red and purplish red with strong UV fluorescence. True rubies form about 15 % of production, along with pink sapphires (75 %) and blue sapphire (5 %), and 5 % mixed blue and red-to-pink corundum.
Clean faceting quality rubies from this mine are said to match the very best in the world.

Corundum

Corundum Locality: Jegdalek (Jagdalek; Jagdalak; Jagdalik) Ruby Mine, Sorobi District, Kabol (Kabul) Province, Afghanistan 

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10448845

Afghanistan is world famous for its lapis lazuli, a rock composed of the feldspathoid minerals lazurite, hauyne, nosean and sodalite, with other minerals including calcite and pyrite and lesser amounts of diopside, amphibole, feldspar, mica and other silicates. Lapis from Badakhshan in the north of the country is still regarded as the world’s premier source in terms of quantity and quality. The name derives from a mixture of Latin and Persian: the Latin ‘lapis’, meaning ‘stone’ and the Persian ‘lazhward’ meaning ‘blue’. Then material is used to make beads, boxes and other decorative articles, often carved into figurines and is popular for men’s jewelry.

Lapis is mined on the right bank of the Kokcha River in Badakhshan in an area known as the ‘Blue Mountain’ in skarn lenses 1–4 m thick in marble. At one time there were as many as seven lapis mines there is only one, the Sary-Sang deposit at an elevation of around 3500 m where, on because of low winter temperatures, mining occurs only between
June and September.

Lapis Lazuli

The highest quality lapis lazuli in the world is from northeastern Afghanistan (northern Kuran Wa Munjan District, southern Badakhshan Province)

Photo by James St. John – Lapis lazuli (lazuritic gneiss) (Sar-e-Sang Deposit, Sakhi Formation, Precambrian, 2.4-2.7 Ga (?); Sar-e-Sang Mining District, Hindu-Kush Mountains, Afghanistan) 1, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83302689

Lazurite

Lazurite, Pyrite, marble Locality: Sar-e-Sang District, Koksha Valley (Kokscha; Kokcha), Badakhshan (Badakshan; Badahsan) Province, Afghanistan. A well-formed euhedral crystal of lazurite (lapis lazuli) – not to be confused with lazulite

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10175015

Afghanite

Afghanite on Calcite, Koksha Valley, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Asia

The fourth major gemstone region is Nuristan on the eastern side of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, an area dotted with high mountains cut by numerous steep-sided valleys. The region is notable for its pegmatite fields, a late-stage crystallisation from molten rock, hosting a wide variety of minerals and gems commonly of unusual size and quality. Gem-quality tourmalines in a wide range of colors from pink though pale blue, indigo blue (indicolite), green, and emerald green. In addition, rare two-colored stones of green-pink and blue-green are much sought after. The crystals are beautifully formed, elongate with a distinctive ‘rounded triangular’ cross-section.

Elbaite

Elbaite Locality: Paroon Mine, Darra-i-Pech (Pech; Peech; Darra-e-Pech) Pegmatite Field, Nangarhar (Ningarhar) Province, Afghanistan

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10448930

History

Some of the world’s oldest mines are believed to be in Afghanistan. Production in antiquity focused on precious stone production as well gold and silver extraction. Lapis lazuli was produced in the region of Badakhshan as early as 8000 B.C. Lapis was traded to the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, Babylonians to be made into amulets, seals and other objects. The Aynak copper mine has been in use for at least two thousand years based on the coins and tools found on the site. Afghan ruby and spinel is mentioned in writing of many travelers from the Muslim world from the mid-900s onward. Rich iron, metal, gold, copper and silver deposits are indicated by a strong metal working tradition, and the deposits of lapis, marble, alabaster and other materials led to a strong stone carving tradition.

Gold and Turquoise Shoe Buckle

Shoe Buckle in the Shape of a Recumbent Ram, Bactria, 1st century B.C.–1st century A.D. Gold inlaid with turqoise.

Khyber Knife

Khyber Knife, made of steel and iron, Afghanistan, 18th – 19th centuries. Afghanistan has significant iron deposits.

Seated Alabaster Figure

Bronze Age Seated female, ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C., Steatite or chlorite, alabaster, Bactria-Margiana

Today’s Challenges

Capitalizing on its sovereign mineral wealth has always been challenging for Afghanistan. Corruption, civil war, occupation, have meant problems extracting, and transport minerals, and great difficulty in the wealth being used to improve the well-being of the population. Mineral extraction, particularly in the high mountain mines remains exploitative and dangerous. These challenges are compounded now by the renewed takeover of the country by the Taliban. Traditionally, whichever party ruled the nation tried to exert control over the mineral wealth, and the Taliban are no exception. There is discussion of the government imposing new taxes on the mineral extractors, transporters, and exporters. Will any of the taxes make their way into the common good? Will those who labor at the bottom the industry benefit? Will the money simply support the Taliban? Will the endemic corruption inhibit or expedite the mineral extraction? All of these questions remain to be answered.

In addition to all these factors, Afghanistan is now the subject of new geo-strategic maneuvering. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal and the collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan, new players are angling for power and influence to exploit the mineral wealth. Players like Iran, and Russia are making moves to strengthen their hand with the Taliban, and the discovery of vast deposits of rare earth mineral (in reality not terribly rare, but that’s another discussion entirely) and the newly recognized importance of the lithium deposits for use in electric car batteries has led to keen interest and competition by the Chinese in and Afghanistan. How this all plays out remains to be seen, but unfortunately it is most likely that little will change for the common laborer working in the mines of Afghanistan.

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Rare Jade Artifact Up for Auction – the Jade Seal of Emperor Qianlong

Emperor- Qianlong

It’s not often in Geology that you have an opportunity to personally link an item to a historical figure but thanks to Freeman’s auction house we can tie a beautiful piece of jade to one of the later Qing Dynasty emperors. Little did the Qianlong Emperor (born Aisin Gioro Hongli) and sixth emperor of the last Chinese imperial dynasty suspect one of his personal items would appear in an internet auction catalogue, but life is stranger than fiction. The item for sale is a gorgeous pale and luminous high relief carved jade seal in a celadon white tone. The carving depicts three qilong (unicorns) which are symbols of good luck among carved scrolling clouds which likely refers to the Chinese saying “Canlong jiaozi”, which may be translated as “The Eastern [blue] dragon teaching his son[s]”, probably referring to the personal situation of the emperor.

Jade is a traditional carving material in China. In ancient days in China jade was symbolized the inner beauty within humans. This certainly isn’t the first jade imperial seal. The first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, created the first Imperial seal, in 221 B.C., also of Jade. By the time of the Ming dynasty (starting in 1368) the first imperial seal was lost. Until the Ming dynasty seals were typically reserved for Imperial use. A Chinese seal (印章 yìnzhāng) is a device used to mark important documents, pieces of art, contracts, or any other item that requires a signature – in effect similar to a signet ring or in modern times an ink signature stamp. These seals were usually carven stone, but sometimes were made of wood, bamboo, bone, or ceramic. They would be dipped in either red ink or cinnabar paste.

View a video of the seal below or visit the Freeman auction site to learn more about the seal.

Top image

We may not have any imperial seals, but we have plenty of jade for sale. Check out our selection of Jade. If you don’t see something that tickles your fancy, contact us as we only post only a portion of our inventory online.

The Qianlong Emperor in court dress. Top image by Giuseppe Castiglione – Palace Museum, Beijing, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15172620

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The Black Diamond, an Engima Weighing 555.55 Carats

Black Diamond

A gigantic black diamond, certified by Guiness as the world’s largest cut diamond is for sale through Sotheby’s auctions. Weighing in at a whopping 555.55 carats, the carbonado piece has 55 cuts and is heavier than its rivals the Great Star of Africa and the Golden Jubilee. The typical diamond is an uncovered kimberlite rock that was formed quite deep with the earth. Carbonado diamonds, one of the toughest of natural diamonds, however, are found in alluvial, sedimentary deposits. Lead istotope analyses of carbonados suggest their crystallization about 3 billion years ago, but this poses a paradox as the material carbonado is typically found is much younger than that. This paradox and a lack of mantle minerals often found in non-carbonado diamonds has lead some believe that carbonado has an extraterrestrial origin. In fact Sotheby’s suggest this hypothesis in their auction listing.

Check out Sotheby’s video of the the Enigma above or view their auction listing.

We may not have any black diamonds for sale, but we have plenty of gemstones and lapidary material. Don’t see exactly what you are looking for? Contact us as we make only a small selection of our inventory available online.

Top Photo is the Million Dollar Rarest Natural Black Diamond known as “shaan-e-kolkata” with a weight of 121.32 carats (24.264g) good round-cut presently in India.It’s certified by Golconda Institute of Diamonds, Hyderabad on 25th May 2012, an issued Certification of Authenticity by Mr. Imran Shareef (Certified Diamond Grader GIA New York, USA). Currently owned by Prem Singh from West Bengal,India. Photo by Trishtha – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35937431

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New Miocene Fossil Find in Australia

Fossil Fern

A spectacular new fossil trove has been reported in New South Wales, Australia. Located in the Central Tablelands regions, about 25 miles from the 19th century gold rush town of Gulgong, and named McGraths Flat after the person who discovered the fossil cache, the site is a window into the wetter and forest dominated past of Australia.

The fossil cache includes thousands of beautifully preserved specimens of flowering plants, ferns, spiders, insects and fish dating to the Miocene (23.03 to 5.33 million years ago) era. Climactic upheaval during the Miocene dried the rainforests that once covered Australia. At the time of the fossil cache’s formation the rainforest that had once covered the site had changed into temperate forest around a small lake. A fine goethite (an iron hydroxide mineral) matrix acted to help preserve plants and insects in the water. A diverse array of flowers, ferns, arachnids, insects and other soft bodied animals have been found in the fossil cache.

Image is illustrative of fossilized fern Dennstaedtia americana. Image by James St. John – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/39373225554/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97215903

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Simply Brilliant – An Exceptional Collection of Fine Jewelry with Outstanding Stones and Crystals

Cincinnati Art Museum Modern Jewelry Exhibit 1960s-1970s

The Cincinnati Art Museum has a new exhibit running through February 6th titled “Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s”. This exhibition of approximately 120 explores the international renaissance in fine jewelry in the 1960s and 1970s and features  the work of independent jewelers such as Andrew Grima, Gilbert Albert, Arthur King, Jean Vendome and Barbara Anton along with work created for Bulgari, Cartier, Boucheron and other major houses drawn from one of the most important private collections in the world, assembled by Cincinnatian Kimberly Klosterman.

Andrew Grima (British, b. Italy, 1921–2007), Brooch, 1969, gold, watermelon tourmaline, diamonds, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh
Andrew Grima (British, b. Italy, 1921–2007), Brooch, 1969, gold, watermelon tourmaline, diamonds, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

The exhibition is accompanied by a full color illustrated catalogue and includes essays by some of the most important scholars in the field. Biographies of each designer/house represented are paired with full color images, extended text for a select number of highlighted pieces and an appendix of maker’s marks.

Jean Vendome (French, 1930–2017), Collier Veracruz (Veracruz Necklace), 1972, white gold, platinum, amethyst, diamonds, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

The individual makers represented in the exhibition referred to themselves as artists first, jewelers second, approaching their work as a modern art form. Largely utilizing yellow gold and incorporating both precious and semi-precious gems, and inspired by nature they focused on organic forms, favored abstract shapes and concepts related to space-age trends. Using unconventional materials such as coral, shell, geodes and moldavite bringing unrivaled texture to their jewelry. Theirs was a style that was appreciated by individuals who were looking for something different in an era when different was best.

Chopard (Swiss, est. 1860), Alexandra Watch, circa 1971, gold, diamonds, lapis lazuli, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

The exhibition is free and located in the Vance Waddell and Mayerson Galleries (Galleries 124 & 125), and is absolutely outstanding. We recommend you take advantage of the opportunity to see these pieces while you can.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is open 11am – 5 pm Tuesday – Sunday except for 11 am – 8 pm on Thursdays. Click here to for more information about the exhibit and the Cincinnati Art Museum.