April Sparkles

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding  
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing  
Memory and desire, stirring  
Dull roots with spring rain.

It’s also the most expensive in terms of birthstone. It’s traditional birthstone is diamond, that incredibly expensive cousin of graphite. It is a beautiful stone with an interesting (and brutal and sordid enough for an opera- soap or Wagnerian take your pick) history. It is in some ways a newer gem, not really making any impact until more advanced gem cutting came along. It’s an unimpressive stone until cut properly, so lacks the raw appeal and richness of the semiprecious stones that can be polished into cabs or precious stones like emeralds and rubies that can shine even in rough cuts. For information about diamond history and mining I’d suggest Tom Zoeller’s book The Heartless Stone. It was an excellent read and covered a lot of ground at a pretty good pace.

Moonlitcreek's clever take on April's birthstone.

There are plenty of beautiful pale gems. White sapphire, topaz…the less impressive but omnipresent cubic zirconia… My favorite alternative is an option I stumbled across on deviantart. Another wrapper had the clever idea of making a herkimer diamond birthstone wrap for a friend. It’s never something I’ve had to ponder, I’ve no April birthdays to gift for, but I thought it was a really cute option. I like Herkimer diamonds anyway. Much more pocketbook friendly.

Herkimer diamonds are called such because they were first found in Herkimer County in New York, and their popularity with collectors earned the diamond part. They were apparently first found by workers cutting into the stone of the Mohawk River Valley in the 18th century, then later mined by geologists.  They’re double pointed six-sided quartz crystals that occur in tiny darker crystal lined cavities in the paler rock. Sometimes they’re found in larger pockets. Many of the crystals of some sort of imperfection, but an impressive number are clear and sparkle nicely. The amazing part is that the lovely shape is natural. Clear quartz alone isn’t wildly exciting.

The impurities range from the common and disapointing-like cloudyness or malformation, to the amazing-crowns of crystals growing together, ones impaled on rock like scepters. I think the most interesting imperfections are the fluid inclusions, little pockets of water trapped inside these amazing crystals. It’s just fascinating, what other minerals are in that water, what was the earth like when the water was trapped?

I did a very brief tourist stint at trying to mine them. It was a bit theraputic in a way at first, swinging a sledgehammer to beat the hell out of the rocks. Basically you’re looking for traces of those cavities (also called vugs) in the rocks, and then hoping to find herkimer diamonds in them. It gets very hot very quickly, so we didn’t last too long in a summer afternoon. I had a very patient tween try to explain to my friend and me the best ways of looking for them. (From his patience I suspect he was used to dealing with younger siblings…) The afternoon ended in a few tiny crytals, a smashed thumb for me, and popsicles for both of us. I’d love to try it again at a better time of day, with proper gloves and a bigger sledgehammer.

Later I cheated and bought a crystal still partially in its vug from a dealer at an antique show. (Cold drinks, coffee, minerals *and* jewelry, that’s a tough combination to beat.)

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2 Comments

Filed under Crafts, Gems, Natural Science

2 responses to “April Sparkles

  1. Cynthia/The Fairies Nest

    Even though I’m originally from NY state, I had never heard of Herkimer diamonds, how fascinating! And a much nicer alternative for a whole host of reasons.

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