Artisans have used malachite as material for creating art since ancient times. Today we have an exceptional example of chinese art incorporating malachite. A pommel (likely of a sword) inlaid with malachite. The object dates to the 3rd century B.C.E. during the Eastern Zhou period.
This Week’s Mineral Spotlight: Gorgeous Green Malachite
If the mineral is green and gorgeous there is a good chance it’s malachite. Like its copper cousins Turquoise, Azurite, and Chrysocolla, Malachite is found in copper deposits. It first became useful to humans as an ore used by the ancients to produce copper metal. Today, its primary use is decorative: bracelets, necklaces, pendants, as a gemstone and cabochon, and other types of jewelry. It’s also popular as a tumbled stone and as a standout display specimen for rock and mineral collections.
North American deposits include Mexican deposits in Milpillas; American deposits in Bisbee, Morenci, Bingham Canyon and others; African deposits in Namibia, Gabon, Zambia, Uganda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire). Russia was at a one a major source of Malachite, particularly gem quality stones, however most of these deposits have been mined out and eclipsed by the quantity and quality of the African deposits. African mines product spectacular massive malachite specimens as well as gem quality malachite, and plancheite, cuprite and carrollite are also present in these deposits.
Malachite from a Smelter’s Crucible, Egyptian, Joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, ca. 1479–1458 B.C., 18th Dynasty
Copper deposit don’t typically yield huge amounts of malachite. Previously, Russia was the only significant source of a large volume of gem-grade malachite, but as the Russian mines have declined and the African mines became available the African finds have far exceeded Russian production. African banded layers malachite is sometimes over a foot thick with very tightly packed submicroscopic needle crystals. Since the opening of the African mines, the mineral market has great cutting-grade malachite with bands of very light green to almost black- green.
Malachite was well known to the ancients. It’s Latin name, “Molchitis” derives from the Greek “molochites lithos” whose meaning is “mallow green stone” due to the mineral’s resemblance to the mallow plant’s leaves. Some evidence exists o Malachite mining in Britain at the Great Orme Mines perhaps as far back as the 3rd and 4th millenia B.C. There is also archaeological evidence of Malachite mining and smelting to produce copper 3,000 years ago in the Timna Valley, associated with King Solomon’s Mines in modern day Israel, where it is still mined to today to produce copper.
Lapidary, work with malachite requires a facemask. The copper carbonate dust from Malachite is poisonous. Most lapidaries use water to cut down on the dust in the air. Undercutting is often a problem during polishing, since each malachite band has a slightly different Mohs hardness, however experienced lapidaries shouldn’t have a problem. Banded malachite is always beautiful no matter how it is used.
Qing Chinese Malachite Carving, Late 18th – Early 19th Century. Seated Luohan With Servant
Above is an outstanding example of carved malachite. A Qing era Chinese art work originating in the late 19th through early 20th century, it depicts a seated luohan, or one who has achieved enlightenment. This particular luohan is identified as Nakula who sits in meditation with a rosary; a boy-servant attends at his feet. From his long eyebrows and position beneath a tree. Carved writing in the upper right corner is a poem of praise for Nakula in the upper right was authored by the Jiaqing emperor (r. 1796–1820) and inscribed in the hand of his elder brother Yongxing (1752–1823).
French Monumental Malachite Vase. Lapidary Work Early 19th Century, Pedestal And Mounts By Pierre Phillippe Thomire
The monumental vase above is crafted from Russian malachite, bronze, gilt bronze and a filling material. Malachite grows in layers of tiny crystals its colors correlating with different crystal sizes, creating the pattern. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most malachite came from Russian mines by the noble Demidov family. The family exploited hardstone quarries and metal deposits located on their estates in the remote Ural Mountains. In the 1820s on of the great discoveries in the history of semiprecious stones happened when an enormous malachite boulder around five hundred tons was unearthed there. Malachite is extremely brittle, so only small display objects can be cut from single blocks of the material. Large objects require a core structure, to which the malachite can be attached in thin pieces, effectively a veneer. Russian craftsmen developed a method to use the stone’s natural pattern and a precision cutting technique to form a continuing or “endless” ornamentation. This type of veneering appears nearly seemless and is called “Russian mosaic”.
The Demidov family used the flashy appearance of malachite to improve their social status, filling their palaces with the material and even decorating an entire room with the green stone, which inspired Czar Nicolas I to commission the famous Malachite Room in the Czar’s Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
The monumental vase above is modeled on an ancient Roman bell-shaped krater, the most famous example of which is the first-century Medici Vase, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. This shape was quite much admired through the early nineteenth century. Count Nikolai Demidov commissioned this particular malachite vase for his villa at San Donato, near Florence. Unlike with the Russian mosaic technique, large areas of this vase’s surface is composed of small malachite particles mixed with filling substance in the same way as modern terrazzo. This raw malachite was probably transported from one of his mines to Florence to be shaped and finished by local artists not trained in the specialized Russian technique. The vase would then have been sent onwards to Paris to be fitted with its mounts and pedestal.
The gilded bronze winged female figures on the body of the vase represent Fame. Their trumpets are shaped like handles, although the vase is too heavy to be lifted like a loving cup. A gilded bronze laurel garland of laurel (Laurus nobilis) runs under the lip mount. The laurel had been adopted by Lorenzo de’ Medici (who was also a lavish patron of the arts) as an emblem of his house with the motto “Ita ut virtus,” or “Thus is virtue”— that is to say, virtue is evergreen. It’s use here implies that the Demidov’s hoped that their fortune would also be evergreen.
The mounts and bronze pedestal were made by Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751–1843), known throughout Europe for his bronze decorations and ornamental sculpture. He established a reputation before the French Revolution with beautiful mounts for Sèvres porcelain vases. In 1804 he founded a workshop that produced furniture as well as luxury bronzes.
Malachite with Azurite
|Property||Description of Malachite|
|Mohs Hardness:||3.5 to 4.0|
|Specific Gravity:||3.6 to 4.0|
|Cleavage:||Perfect in one direction, fair in a second direction|
|Diaphaneity:||Most examples are opaque while crystals are translucent|
|Luster:||Polishes to a very bright luster. Large specimens tend to be dull and earthy. Silky luster in fibrous examples. Unusual crystals trend from vitreous to adamantine.|
Even though chyrsocolla and azurite are both copper based minerals, malachite is a better indicator of the presence of significant copper deposits. The Copper Queen mine in Brisbee was created on the basis of malachite deposits.
Malachite Copper Crescent from Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Image of Malachite Taken Under a Stereoscopic Microscope
Malachite has a number of different cultural meanings and associations. For the Chinese, Malachite is a lucky stone for those born in the Year of the Rabbit or Year of the Tiger. For the ancient Egyptians, the color green was associated with death and the power of resurrection – as well as new life and fertility. They believed that the afterlife contained the “Field of Malachite”, an eternal paradise resembling their lives but with no pain or suffering. They also used the material in powder form for cosmetics, particularly to try to resemble Horus, the falcon headed god Those who believe in crystal healing, crystal spirituality believe the stone has any number of healing, or metaphysical properties on the body, spirit or chakra.
View our collection of beautiful malachite specimens for sale, perfect as display piece on your table or mantle, for your collection, or for use in spiritual or crystal healing.
Learn more about Malachite at Mindat.
First image by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7515677 .
Fifth image by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10148274.
Sixth image by Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10130475.dex.php?curid=10148274.
Seventh image by Karolina Fok – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84931097.rg/w/index.php?curid=10148274.