Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

August 10, 2011

Today I measure wealth and abundance in the ancient way, with a handful of skystones…although these aren’t turquoise.  I cut this set of smithsonite beads from a single chunk of pale bluish-white, chalky-looking rock that I picked up at an old copper mine.  The black material is mostly manganese oxide but there are also a few tiny crystals of murdochite, a rare lead-copper halide.  The center bead is 15 mm in diameter.  Smithsonite (ZnCO3) is an ore of zinc and is usually found as translucent, pearly-looking bubbly layers in a variety of pastel colors.  Massive smithsonite has a sugary texture, like marble, but is heavier and a bit harder.  The beads might be confused with a copper ore, but they are more translucent than turquoise and softer than chrysocolla.  The polish on these is rather uneven because some parts of the rock were soft and chalky and others were hard and glassy; this is one reason (other than rarity) why smithsonite isn’t often cut as a gem.  When it is cut, it’s usually as cabochons, not beads.  Still, they turned out much prettier than I expected.  The polishing brought out a lot of color and patterns, and the beads have a lot of presence.  The hardness is only 4 (same as fluorite), so they would be too easily scratched for a bracelet.  They will make a nice necklace but I’ll have to make some more beads – probably from various copper ores – to go with them.

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

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2 Responses to “Handcarved Smithsonite Beads”

  1. judithornot said

    These are beautiful, Lorena. I have a chunk of Smithsonite, but it is too spiky and angular to carry in my pocket. Sounds like the beads would still be too easily damaged that way, too. But I look forward to seeing the neckace you create! 🙂

  2. ironwing said

    Thank you! I dropped a couple of these by accident while I was working on them, and they’re tougher than I thought they would be. I’ve been playing around with them today, combining them with various stones and metals to see what looks best. Here’s a larger photo that shows the beads in more detail:
    Handmade Smithsonite Beads

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