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Crystal Formation

The study of crystallography can be quite overwhelming and without first obtaining a degree in science, is difficult to grasp. Here we have tried our best to explain how crystals are formed in plain English.

 


First, it is important to understand that most coloured gems are also minerals (other than those which are organic such as Pearl, Coral, Amber, Jet etc).

Secondly, take it as a fact that most minerals occur as crystals.

Finally, crystals are formed when billions and billions of tiny atoms link together in a precise three-dimensional pattern that is repeated over and over again.

So how do crystals grow? In the beginning, a few atoms start to hang about together, not on street corners, but normally in water-based solutions or molten rock in fissures and cavities. Over time, as their environment around them changes, they start to connect with each other in bigger and bigger clusters. Each new atom that joins the group must join in a precise way, and those that follow must also be identically locked in.

When other groups of crystals start to grow in the same space, they stunt each other’s growth and prevent them from forming into beautiful gemstones; the net result being an igneous rock and not a valuable mineral waiting to be discovered by gem hunters.

Those rare groups that manage to keep space around them, who find themselves in the right temperature zone, those that experience just the right amount of pressure and a steady recruitment of new like-minded atoms, joining at just the right rate over a prolonged period of thousands and thousands of years, might just evolve into that one tiny fraction (approximately one hundredth billionth) of the Earth’s crust that you would feel proud to wear on your finger. However, these odds diminish even further: the crystal needs to be free of major faults, it needs to be hard enough to withstand the cutting process, yet not too brittle to break. It needs to be large enough to be set into jewellery and above all it needs to be attractive. These additional factors deny the majority of the 4000 plus minerals identified to-date to obtain the “gemstone” title. As you can hopefully now appreciate, gemstones really are rare!

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All crystals are made with precise atom

structures.

Pyrite forms naturally in a cubic crystal

structure.