Thursday, July 26, 2012

Amethyst Geodes, Specimens and Jewelry

Amethyst is a truly amazing crystal.  Just ponder amethyst’s stunningly gorgeous purple color, combined with affordable price ranges over a wide variety of sizes and forms.  Amethyst is such an attractive crystal form, that the ancients believed the amethyst to be a precious stone worthy of gracing royalty.  The tradition of royal purple persists even today.

Modern discoveries of large amethyst deposits in Russia and Brazil have increased availability and kept pricing at truly affordable levels for even fine grades of amethyst.  Amethyst is popular in all types of jewelry and is especially appealing to people who were born in February, since amethyst is February's birthstone. Especially popular are amethyst rings and amethyst necklaces, although other types of amethyst jewelry abound. For a great example of an amethyst necklace visit Contemporary Amethyst Necklace .  Specimens, ranging from small clusters of crystals up to an entire geode are highly popular to both collectors and as uniquely natural décor accents.

Many of the world’s best amethyst crystals are harvested from geodes regardless of their final use.  Geodes are large natural pockets of crystals inside of larger pieces of hollow stone.  A geode can hold anywhere from a few ounces to hundreds or even thousands of pounds of crystals.  The next few paragraphs will help you understand how geodes come to be and how they get to you.

Mother Nature’s Part – Almost all amethyst geodes began life when a volcano erupted.  As the lava flowed to the surface, gas pockets were entombed in the solidified lava, usually in a form of volcanic rock called basalt.   Deep below the solidified basalt, Mother Nature continued to maintain a very hot molten lava structure.  From time to time, super-hot fluids would rise from the molten lava area and find their way to the gas pockets through small cracks and crevices in the basalt.  These liquids carried with them the mineral components to build a beautiful crystal.

Over millions of years, Mother Nature would typically do many cycles of this super-hot, mineral carrying liquids inundation process.  Depending on the exact mineral composition of the liquids at various times, many colors of crystals and indeed different mineral crystals could be formed.  Very often, the quartz that forms in a geode could include large amounts of clear or milky white quartz in addition to the purple amethyst. Less often, entirely different kinds of crystals can be formed on top or embedded in the quartz……most often this takes the form of very interesting, accenting crystals of calcite.  Usually the calcite crystals are clear or white, but occasionally they are a very attractive hue of pink.

Where on Earth Are the Geodes Found? – In principle, geodes can be found anywhere on earth where volcanos helped shape the earth’s crust.  Volcanos are important mountain range builders, and most existing sources of geodes are in or near mountains.  For amethyst, some of the most important deposits are found in South America.  A huge area in southern Brazil contains large basalt structures, many of which contain geodes of varying qualities.  Brazil is by far the largest exporter of amethyst geodes by volume.  Across the border in Uruguay, a much smaller area contains important deposits of some of the world’s very best colored amethyst geodes.  Also nearby, in eastern Bolivia, there are a few mines that contain amethyst deposits that include cavities with enormous crystals.  It is impractical to extract these large crystals in complete geodes owing to the massive quantities of rock involved, but from time to time clusters or individual crystals extracted from those structures make their way to the USA.

So How Did Man Extract the Geodes? – Extracting geodes is a well refined mining process.  Although the process involves heavy equipment and explosives to reach geode producing areas in the basalt, all of the main work involves a hefty dose of manual labor.  The geodes are first exposed through mining efforts.  The basalt is removed revealing the shape of a geode in the floor, wall or ceiling of the mine.  The next step is to examine the interior of the geode to determine if the crystals are of high enough value to pay for the manual effort required to extract the geode.  This is most often done by cutting an inconspicuous hole in the geode and inserting a small light and viewing device that resembles a flexible periscope. 

 If the crystal is an ordinary color like milky white quartz, the geode will be bypassed and often destroyed in subsequent mining efforts.  If the crystal is amethyst of a good color, then the geode will be manually chipped out of the basalt a little at a time.  This process can take days of labor for a single geode.  Once the geode has been removed from the base basalt, it is then carried to a workshop some distance from the mine.  This typically involves using a wheel barrow to manually remove it from the mine itself, and then a wagon, narrow gauge rail car, or truck to carry the piece to the workshop. 

At the workshop any remaining basalt is removed and the geode is cut open to display the crystals.  Often geodes are of a broadly columnar shape.  These will be cut vertically along the longest portion of the geode.  These pieces are then prepared as a form known as a cathedral. To see a great example of an amethyst cathedral visit Amethyst Cathedral.  The geode at this early stage has an exterior surface that contains many, many sharp protrusions of the base level of the quartz.  These are dangerous to both the workers and to the ultimate customer.  To avoid the attendant danger of cuts, the geode is coated in a thin layer of cement to cover the sharp points.  The cement is then ordinarily painted with a flat black color to enhance the aesthetics of the purple amethyst crystals.  If the piece is to be displayed as a cathedral there will often also be a small fill of cement at the bottom of the piece to form a level structure on which to stand the piece.  Any remaining sharp quartz points along the entrance to the geode are then polished to a smooth surface for both appearance and safety reasons.

Sometimes, the crystals will be of such high quality the geodes will be displayed on steel stands.  This is often the case with geodes from Uruguay, which is world renowned for the extraordinarily rich deep color of its amethyst.

How Do the Geodes Get Delivered? – Geodes are heavy.  A single cathedral that stands 40 inches or so tall, will typically weigh over a hundred pounds.  They are also vulnerable to breakage.  Remember the geode is a relatively thin exterior of quartz with a large empty space inside.  This structure makes the geode vulnerable to breaking, especially when exposed to the shipping process…... which sometimes feels like it attracts all of the world’s 800 pound gorillas.

To protect the geodes, they are individually packed inside of wooden crates  Crating costs are relatively inexpensive in Brazil where hundreds are made for a single shipment to the USA.  These crates are built for a single use and shipped strapped together to combine the strength of all of the crates.  In the USA, crating costs of $200-300 for a 40 inch geode….. made to order for a single geode in one of our locations is quite common.  This does not include the cost of shipping the piece, which varies a lot based on distance and the delivery type on the receiving end……where residential costs more than commercial, and “white glove delivery” inside of the home or office costs more than curbside delivery in your driveway.

How To Choose the Best Amethyst – The short form of this is based entirely on stunningly good looks!  High quality amethyst makes for very attractive jewelry pieces, small specimens and small to large geodes that are suitable for use as exquisite accents in your home or office décor.  The dramatic good looks make a choice for only very high quality amethyst  a great decision. Brazilian geodes of the highest qualities, have great color and very little ordinary colored quartz in their bases.  These geodes are great choices if you want to add a dramatic piece to your décor.  Very high quality Uruguayan geodes make even more dramatic choices when they can be sourced.  These are often displayed on polished steel stands.  Uruguayan amethyst has some of the best color of any amethyst found on earth.  To visit an Uruguayan amethyst geode click here Uruguayan Geode.

We invite you to view our current offerings in our Touchstone Galleries in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Sedona and Taos, or online at   Touchstone Gallery's Sedona location is currently offering a stunning Uruguayan amethyst geode for sale. This geode weighs in at over 1,400 pounds and is a deep, rich purple. You can visit this amazing piece at Monster Amethyst Geode.  Touchstone also offers a wide variety of amethyst geodes and amethyst jewelry for sale at its locations in New Mexico and Arizona. Bolivian, Brazilian and Uruguayan amethyst cathedrals and geodes are featured, as are amethyst necklaces, bracelets, rings, ear rings and pendants.