Hematite is perhaps one of the most recognizable minerals in existence. As the mineral form of iron(III) oxide, it comes in several different colors, ranging from steel gray to red or reddish brown. It is renowned for its distinctive metallic luster.
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What is Hematite?
Hematite is one of several iron oxides with a rust-red streak. It is actually harder than iron, but it is very brittle. Some hematite contains titanium inclusions. It tends to be found in areas with mineral hot springs as it precipitates out of water. It can also occur in standing still water.
Occasionally it may form without any water at all. In these situations, it usually is the result of volcanic activity or soil weathering.
Intriguingly enough, hematite spherules have been discovered on Mars. These spherules may indicate a watery past on the planet.
Hematite Properties and Color
The name “hematite” comes from the Greek word for “blood.” This is a reference to the red color which hematite sometimes forms in. The appearance of hematite can vary quite a bit. Sometimes it forms on a quartz matrix and you may see translucent reddish crystals. Most times, however, hematite is opaque.
It may appear as a dull brownish or grayish rock, or as one with a shiny metallic sheen. Oftentimes, you will see shiny metallic masses with rust-red streaks. Hematite is quite dense and heavy. On the Mohs scale of hardness, it is only a 5-6.
Well-Known Varieties of Hematite
Because there is so much variation in the appearance of hematite, a number of popular varieties which have been given special names to identify them:
- Bloodstone. This is perhaps the best known variety of hematite. It actually can refer to two different types of stones. One is a form of dark green or blue chalcedony which includes a number of reddish or brownish spots. The spots are iron oxide impurities, usually hematite. Sometimes the name “bloodstone” also refers to a form of gray hematite which includes brownish or reddish spots.
- Iron Rose. This type of hematite is named for the shape of its formation. An iron rose consists of a number of flat hexagonal planes of hematite which are joined together in such a way as to resemble a rose. An example can be seen below.
- Kidney Ore. This refers to globular forms of hematite.
- Paint Ore. Red or brown masses of hematite are known as “paint ore.”
- Titano-hematite. This is a form of hematite which contains significant amounts of titanium.
- Specularite. This type of hematite includes numerous tiny intergrown hexagonal plates. These plates cause the stone to glimmer as you turn it in your hand, producing a mesmerizing effect akin to a starry night sky.
- Rainbow hematite. This is an iridescent form of hematite. In its raw form, it is incredibly brittle.
Is Hematite Magnetic?
One of the most confusing questions about hematite is whether or not it is magnetic. When you are at a gem store, you may see certain magnetized stones for sale which look exactly like natural hematite and are sometimes marketed as such. They will even be labeled “hematite” in some cases.
These stones are not natural hematite!
The actual chemical composition of “magnetic hematite” may vary. Many manufacturers are highly secretive about it. According to many manufacturers (and this is a lie), “magnetic hematite” actually does contain hematite, but it is mixed together with a resin or binder substance. The goal (supposedly) is to lower the cost and reduce the brittleness of the hematite. That way it will be more suitable for everyday wear as jewelry.
The truth is quite different.
Analysis of one such specimen demonstrated that it was made up of a ceramic barium-strontium ferrite magnet. This is a synthetic substance which has been shaped and polished to look like hematite, but it is not hematite.
The real goal here is to convince people that hematite is strongly magnetic. Real, natural hematite only demonstrates an incredibly weak magnetic charge, if any.
Sometimes manufacturers of this substance market it as “hemalyke” (sometimes spelled “hema-like”). Sometimes hemalyke is also marketed as “hematine.”
Many sellers of hemalyke/magnetic hematite claim that the magnetic properties of the substance have healing properties. There is no scientific foundation for these claims.
Also note that not all hemalyke is magnetic. If you encounter a magnetic piece of hematite, then you know you are dealing with the synthetic imposter.
But just because a piece is not magnetic, that is not a guarantee. Some hemalyke isn’t manufactured with magnetism, but it is still artificial. You have to be very careful with what you are buying. The misleading marketing is everywhere.
Historically, hematite has been used as a pigment and as chalk—more on this later in the section on history.
Today, it is used mostly to create jewelry. Hematite jewelry first rose to prominence during the Victorian era, and has remained quite popular ever since.
Hematite Buying Guide
The main thing to watch out for when you are buying hematite is just to make sure that you are getting actual hematite. As discussed above, misleading language is everywhere. Read the fine print. Remember that anything marketed as “magnetic hematite” is not real hematite.
Also be wary of products which promote themselves as related to “healing” in any way. They are likely magnetized, and therefore are unlikely to be real hematite, even if they claim that they are.
Hematite is not a very expensive material. You can usually get even large specimens for just a couple of dollars. The main cost of hematite will generally be for the setting of the jewelry (if applicable) or the general craftsmanship. Sometimes raw specimens may be more expensive, say for example if they feature unique and beautiful formations.
Hematite is very popular for jewelry because it is inexpensive and has such a unique beauty to it. Many people enjoy the reflective quality of the stone as well as its weight. Hematite can easily be carved into interesting shapes. While it is often set in metal for pendants, earrings, and rings, it may sometimes be carved into actual ring shapes. Those types of hematite rings have no settings at all!
Hematite is commonly shaped into beads for stringing, and may be used to create necklaces and bracelets.
While hematite is sometimes used in its raw form in jewelry, it is far more common for it to be tumbled and polished or faceted.
Another interesting thing to note about hematite jewelry is that it has a unisex appeal. The gray color makes a suitably sedate fashion statement for men as well as women. So if you are shopping for a male recipient who enjoys jewelry, hematite is one of the safer choices.
Hematite Engagement Rings
Hematite is rarely used for engagement rings. Most people prefer gemstones which are transparent and have some depth and sparkle to them. This is not to say that hematite engagement rings are unheard of; they are simply uncommon.
Pros of Hematite Jewelry:
- Hematite is easily recognizable since it has such a distinctive metallic luster. It is aesthetically appealing and many people gravitate to it.
- Hematite is an excellent gender-neutral choice for jewelry. The gray color fits great with male and female wardrobes. And because gray is also a neutral color, it can accompany any outfit.
Cons of Hematite Jewelry:
- Because hematite is only a 5-6 on the Mohs scale of hardness, it may break easily. This means that it may not always be the best stone for everyday wear.
- There is no sparkle or clarity to hematite. Many people prefer traditional faceted gemstones which showcase some depth. This is especially true when it comes to engagement rings.
- Shopping for hematite is a difficult process. Because so many lookalike substances have been engineered, it can be difficult to know for sure that what you are getting is the real stuff. This obviously can be very frustrating if you are a serious collector or only want to wear natural jewelry.
How to Clean and Store Hematite
- Cleaning Hematite: As with any gemstone, you need to be careful when you are cleaning hematite. You should use only warm water and a mild soap with a soft cloth. Do not use harsh chemicals, and particularly steer clear of acid or bleach. Scrub your jewelry gently clean with a soft old toothbrush if you need to. Afterwards, dry gently with a soft cloth or wait for your piece to air-dry. You may even want to stick to a jeweler’s polishing cloth; any scratches on hematite will show up very clearly, and you do not want to damage the smooth, perfect surface of your piece.
- Storing Hematite: Because hematite is not all that hard, you will want to store it separately from your other jewelry. That means that it should rest inside its own soft box or pouch. That way it will not be scratched by harder items.
- Wearing Hematite: You do not want hematite to get scratched or fractured while you are wearing it either. That means before you work out or work with your hands or do anything else really active, you should take it off and set it aside. Otherwise, it should be fine for everyday wear. If you apply cosmetics in the morning, wait to put on your hematite until afterward so that you do not expose it to harsh chemicals. Likewise, if you are cleaning with harsh chemicals, set aside your hematite until you are done.
A beautiful example of a hematite ‘iron rose’.
Hematite has quite an interesting history. While the recorded use of many gemstones can be traced back to antiquity, human usage of hematite can be traced back an astonishing 164,000 years!
Around that time, there was a group of homo sapiens whom researchers believe inhabited a cave at Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay in South Africa. This group was known collectively as the “Pinnacle Point Man.”
These early ancestors used red chalk made from the ground dust of hematite to draw on the walls of the cave. The reasons for the drawings are not certain, but it is possible that they served a social function.
This discovery is actually quite significant, since it challenges previous notions about the timeline for human evolution. Previously, researchers believed that behaviors like using chalk to draw on cave walls didn’t come about until around 45,000 years ago.
There was also a notion that advances like this were the result of a “large cultural leap.” Now scientists are questioning that as well. Other hematite residues have been discovered in ancient graveyards dating back 80,000 years.
More modern humans used hematite chalk as well. The Linear Pottery culture of the Upper Rhine in Poland and Hungary mined red chalk around 5,000 BC. Additional hematite deposits on the island of Elba are known to have been mined as far back as Etruscan times.
Hematite is also used in ochre. Ochre is the oldest known natural pigment. It is actually a type of clay which has been stained by various minerals. You find ochre in a range of hues—there is yellowish ochre, reddish ochre, and so on. The red ochre derives its tint from the addition of hematite.
Ochre was used in many early burial sites. In fact, one particularly famous skeleton is the so-called “Red Lady of Paviland.” This skeleton actually belongs to a human male from the Upper Paleolithic-era. It dates back 33,000 years, making it one of the oldest examples of a ceremonial burial ever found in Western Europe. It was found in 1823 by Reverend William Buckland, who misjudged both its age and sex. The red color staining the bones comes from the hematite in the ochre pigment.
Even though many pieces of hematite are gray, the red streak associated with the mineral is also linked to the root chakra. As a result, hematite is considered to be a strong grounding stone which keeps the wearer centered and in touch with the physical world.
There are a number of stones and substances which may resemble hematite. Here are the ones you are most likely to confuse with it.
- Hemalyke. Also known as “hemalike” and “hematine,” this is the artificial ceramic barium-strontium ferrite magnet imposter which is sometimes marketed as “magnetic hematite.” Some manufacturers admit that hemalyke is a lab-created substance, but still insist that real hematite is a constituent ingredient. Hemalyke studied in a lab however has been revealed to contain no real hematite content. Not all hemalyke is magnetic, but many specimens are. Real hematite has no strong magnetic charge.
- Pyrite. Pyrite is another common gemstone which has a metallic luster. It is an iron sulfide with the formula FeS2. Whereas hematite is gray in color, pyrite has a warmer brassy tone—and thus the moniker “fool’s gold.”
- Lepidocrocite. Lepidocrocite is an iron oxide-hydroxide mineral with an orthorhombic crystal structure. It is marginally softer than hematite, ranking only 5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. It shares the red streak of hematite, but in thin splinters, it is translucent while hematite is opaque.
- Goethite. This iron bearing hydroxide mineral is incredibly easy to mix up with hematite. Like hematite, it has a steely metallic luster, and it occurs in some similar formations as well. Whereas the streak in hematite is red, the streak in goethite is brown, orange-yellow, or brownish yellow. To complicate matters, the color of the stone may sometimes be reddish. On the Mohs scale of hardness, it is a 5.5. Just as hematite is used in ochre, so is goethite. Hematite is used to create red ochre; goethite is used to create brown ochre. Just as hematite may sometimes be iridescent, goethite can be as well. How can you tell the two apart? Aside from the differences in the streaks, you can look at the luster, which is significantly duller in goethite.
You now know all about hematite, one of the most distinctive minerals in existence. While it can be hard to shop for hematite and be sure of what you are getting, there are many authentic high-quality pieces out there which can add a metallic gleam to your jewelry or gemstone collection.