Malachite is probably one of the most recognizable minerals around. When you walk into a gem store, you can’t miss its bright, vivid green color or its distinctive bands.
If you want to learn more about this distinctive gemstone, you are in the right place!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Malachite?
Malachite is defined as a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral. It has the chemical formula Cu2CO3(OH)2. The name “malachite” is derived from the Greek “molochitis lithos,” which is a reference to the color of the stone. “Molochitis” comes from “mallow,” the name of a plant which also has a distinctive green color. So basically, “malachite” is a “mallow-green” stone.
Malachite is frequently found in association with another stone called azurite. Azurite is a copper carbonate mineral, just like malachite. Whereas malachite is bright green, azurite is deep blue. Malachite is a pseudomorph of malachite.
Azurite is unstable, and when it is exposed to air, it weathers. It is then replaced by malachite. On a chemical level, the carbon dioxide molecules in the azurite are actually being replaced with water when this occurs.
The chemical formula for the process is as follows:
2 Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 + H2O → 3 Cu2(CO3)(OH)2 + CO2
The bottom line is that malachite is more common than azurite because it is the end product of the transformation process.
Malachite Properties and Color
The crystals of malachite may take on a massive form, or they may be stalactitic or botryoidal. That means that there can be quite a bit of variation in the raw forms of malachite that you stumble across.
The crystal formations can be quite fantastic, but it is most common for malachite to be tumbled and polished. When malachite is tumbled, you can see the distinctive bands clearly.
Malachite is typically opaque, but may sometimes be translucent. It comes in at 3.5-4.0 on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it is relatively easy to carve. For this reason, it may be shaped into vases or dishware or carved into various forms.
As far as color goes, most malachite stones are bright green with bands of darker and lighter hues. You may sometimes run across darker malachite stones which have a blackish-greenish color. Sometimes you will also find yellowish-green pieces.
As mentioned previously, malachite and azurite are often found together, and you may even find a piece which contains both.
Historically, malachite has enjoyed a number of uses. For one, it was a common mineral pigment used in paints until it was replaced in the 19th century with a synthetic form called verditer.
For another, it has been used to create many beautiful works of art—and not just jewelry. Consider the following magnificent examples of malachite in architecture, interior decorating, and vase-work:
- The Malachite Room of the Winter Palace: This beautiful room was designed in the 1830s in St. Petersburg by architect Alexander Briullov. It served as a formal reception room for the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. Malachite was used in the construction of the columns and the fireplace, and there is also a sizeable malachite urn in the salon.
- The Malachite Room in the Castillo de Chapultepec: This room is located in the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. It was once sacred to the Aztecs, and features a room with an incredible set of malachite double doors with ornate gold ornamentation.
- The Tazza: This remarkable malachite vase is one of the largest pieces of malachite on the North American continent. It was a gift bestowed by Czar Nicholas II and presently resides in the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri. Incidentally, Nicholas II was the husband of Alexandra Fyodorovna, mentioned above in the discussion about the Malachite Room in the Winter Palace.
While malachite has been used in the carving of vases and sculptures since antiquity, it also has been popular in jewelry since ancient times. Today, malachite remains fashionable. Few gemstones are as beautiful and affordable as malachite, or as versatile. Malachite makes an excellent jewelry choice for women or men. Its color and patterns have a distinctive unisex appeal.
Malachite Buying Guide
What you should look for in malachite very much depends on what you subjectively value. While bright green pieces are the most common, some people prefer darker green stones. Malachite pieces with distinct bands of color are generally considered most desirable.
Of course, you may also be shopping for raw malachite crystals with unique formations, and may even be seeking a piece which includes azurite.
Malachite is not a very expensive gemstone, because it is fairly common. It will usually be less expensive than azurite (pieces which include azurite may cost more than those which include malachite alone).
If you are shopping wholesale for malachite, you will probably pay around $1 per carat—sometimes even less, depending on the quality and size of the piece (very large pieces may actually cost less per carat since you are essentially buying a common stone in bulk!).
You may pay slightly more for pieces with a certain cut. A malachite stone which has been elaborately carved may be a great deal more expensive, since you are paying for the craftsmanship that has gone into the piece.
When shopping for malachite jewelry, you will want to pay special attention to the setting used. Malachite may be made into necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, pendants, brooches, and just about anything you can imagine.
Again, malachite is not all that expensive, so you are typically going to pay a higher cost for pieces which are set in precious metals like gold than those which are set in cheaper metals like copper. Malachite jewelry made with other semi-precious or precious gemstones will also cost more. Once again, you will pay for quality craftsmanship.
Faceted malachite is not all that common since malachite is opaque. Most malachite jewelry is made using tumbled and polished stones, cabochons, and gems cut with a few simple flat surfaces. Sometimes carved pieces are used as well.
Malachite Engagement Rings
Malachite engagement rings are actually quite popular, despite this being an opaque, common, relatively inexpensive stone. This is a testament to how beautiful malachite is. Most malachite engagement rings are encrusted with diamonds, which adds considerably to their value.
- Malachite is a beautiful and unique choice for an engagement ring. For someone who loves this stone, it really makes an elegant statement.
- Because malachite itself is not all that expensive, you can focus on buying a ring which features a more elaborate setting.
- Malachite may not match every skin tone or every wardrobe. Diamond is the most popular choice for engagement rings for a number of reasons, but one is that it matches everything.
- Malachite is a relatively soft stone, which means that it may easily get scratched or chipped. You will need to take extra care with it. This means it is not the best gemstone for everyday wear. On the bright side, however, you can replace the central stone itself without too much cost or trouble (hardly the case with a diamond or another precious gemstone)!
- Malachite is not all that traditional. A lot of women will only be happy with a diamond.
- Malachite is not in itself an investment. But if you buy a beautiful ring with an elaborate setting encrusted with diamonds, the ring may still make an excellent heirloom.
It is absolutely essential to ask your recipient if a malachite engagement ring is something she is open to before you make the decision to go out and purchase one! If your partner is a traditionalist, she probably will not be too happy with a malachite ring. If she loves malachite, then it is something to talk to her about.
How to Clean and Store Malachite
- Cleaning Malachite: Since malachite is not a very hard gemstone, extra care must be taken when cleaning it. Avoid using tools like ultrasonic and steam cleaners. Wash it by hand using a soft old toothbrush. Do not use any harsh chemicals. Stay with a mild detergent. Scrub it gently and then either lightly mop it dry or let it air dry. Be very careful if you need to polish the setting; use a jeweler’s polishing cloth only—anything else might end up scratching the malachite.
- Storing Malachite: Because malachite is so easy to scratch, you will want to store it separately from the rest of your jewelry. The facet of another stone or a metallic setting could easily damage the stone. Keep it in its own pouch or lined box.
- Wearing Malachite: Malachite is not an ideal stone for everyday wear. Because it scratches easily, you will want to take it off before you do any hard work or exercise. Never wear it while you are applying cosmetics or using harsh detergents. It is always best to play it safe and put it on later after you are done with your task.
A beautiful slice of polished malachite stalactite from Congo.
Malachite History and Meaning
You already know a few things about the history of malachite. You know that it was a gemstone that was greatly prized by Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, and that it was used in the construction of a couple of famous palace rooms. What else is there to learn about the history and meaning of malachite?
Malachite has long been regarded as a protective stone. In Italy it used to be worn to ward against the Evil Eye since the bands on malachite may resemble eyes. Archaeologists have found that malachite was mined by the ancient Egyptians near Mount Sinai clear back around 4000 BC.
Malachite stones were engraved with an image of the sun to protect the wearer from evil. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkable malachite sculptures and vases created by the ancient Greeks and Romans as well.
Malachite is associated with the heart chakra because of its green color, and may help to balance your emotions. It is a great gemstone for times of stress when you are looking for centering and perspective.
Similar and Related Gemstones
- Azurite: Azurite is the gemstone most readily associated with malachite. As discussed before, the two do not look similar. Their colors are very distinctive. They are closely related however since they are both copper carbonate minerals, and as mentioned, one pseudomorphs into the other. Malachite is the end-state of azurite as it weathers. It is quite common to find malachite and azurite in the same specimen (as seen below).
- Chrysocolla: This is a form of hydrated copper silicate with a greenish-blue hue. It is softer than malachite, rating a 2.5-3.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Though it may exhibit bands of color which are similar to those found on malachite, typically it will be bluer in hue. The fact that both blue and green hues may occur on one specimen can be quite confusing, as this may give the illusion that you are looking at a combination of malachite and azurite. Typically, azurite is a much deeper, darker blue. Malachite has a truer green color as well; the green in chrysocolla is bluer in tone. The contrast on malachite-azurite pieces tends to be a lot sharper than it is between the greens and blues of chrysocolla.
- Limonite: Limonite looks nothing like malachite. It is an iron ore with a yellowish-brownish color. The reason it is listed here is because it is often associated with malachite. Just as you may find malachite in conjunction with azurite, you may also find it in conjunction with limonite.
- Chalcopyrite: This is another mineral you would never mistake for malachite, as it is a form of copper iron sulfide which forms distinctive tetragonal crystals with a metallic brassy luster. This is yet another mineral which commonly forms in association with malachite.
- Copper: It is worth mentioning copper itself on this list, since it is an important component of both malachite and azurite. Interestingly enough, copper does oxidize to green given time (most people have seen oxidized green copper rooftops or statues at one point or another). Copper oxidizes to green because of the formation of copper carbonate and copper sulfate along with chloride salts. So this is a related process.
- Brochantite: There are a number of different copper-based minerals, all of which oxidize into different hues. Brochantite, like malachite, has a green color. In its raw form, it tends to form spindly crystals. Its color is incredibly close to malachite, so it can be very hard to tell the two apart. It doesn’t help that the two gemstones are exactly as hard as one another either. Brochantite however does not effervesce in hydrochloric acid, which is a key difference that may be used to differentiate between the two.
- Aurichalcite: This is a carbonate mineral that may occur in copper and zinc deposits. Aurichalcite may occur in a very warm blue or a light greenish-bluish color. When it has a greenish hue, it is possible to mix it up with malachite. Since it usually occurs with a much bluer tone, it is generally possible to tell the two apart on sight.
- Antlerite: This hydrous copper suflate mineral forms tabular crystals which may be similar in color to malachite. Oftentimes (but not always), antlerite crystals are a deeper, darker green. It is also more common for the mineral to be translucent and even glassy.
Now you know all about malachite! The next time you walk into a gem shop, you will be able to select a unique and beautiful piece at a fair price. If you are shopping for an engagement ring for someone who loves malachite, you may even find a ring featuring malachite and diamonds which your recipient will adore.
Malachite has been used in beautiful jewelry and architectural creations since antiquity, and remains a mainstay today. It truly is a gemstone for the ages!