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From Stone Age to the 21st Century, Exploring Our Passion for Gems and Minerals.

Whether you're passionate about lapidary, or curious enough to attend a gem and mineral show, the world of geology offers an amazing spectrum of opportunities for both study and enjoyable hobbies.

So, are you familiar with lapidary? How about if I told you that it had been around since the stone age and still catches the interest and imagination of millions of people across the world, even today?

So, What is Lapidary?

Lapidary is the term given to the cutting and polishing of stone. Now you might assume that the caveman's focus was on using stone for manufacturing weapons, and on the whole, that's correct. However, there's also evidence that they had developed the ability to carve, cut, and engrave to transform natural materials into decorative items such as jewelry.

Lapidary now usually refers to the creation of smaller pieces from gem materials using four key techniques:

Tumbling. A great entry point to the hobby, tumbling involves placing the rough gems into a revolving barrel. Progressively finer abrasives are then added until the polished gem emerges. You could think of this as being the same type of process as takes place in nature with rocks in a stream or on a beach.

Tumbling can transform a dull stone into a beautiful piece ready for display or placement into jewelry. This a perfect family pastime, children are fascinated by the process, and it's a great inexpensive entry to the hobby.

Cabbing. This is one of the most common lapidary arts and involves cutting the gems so that they have a curved or domed top along with a flat bottom. The cost of equipment is higher than for tumbling, and it is a more complex process, but the resale value can be high, meaning that this could become a profitable hobby!

Faceting. If you have ever stood in front of a jeweler's window and seen the light sparking off the diamond pieces, then the chances are that you've been looking at a faceted gem. These geometrically arranged, flat surfaces or facets cover the surface of each diamond.

Faceting brings out the brilliance of the gem. They reflect the light entering the stone and bring it back to you in that telltale sparkle. While this technique can be highly profitable, you'll need to make a considerable investment in the required equipment, and then you'll need to perfect your technique. Faceting is an art, but it also requires a logic and planning process that can appeal to mathematicians and engineers!

Carving. As one of the most challenging techniques within lapidary, few go on to become experts within this field. Gem materials present limitations as to what can be carved, and so this approach requires extensive knowledge of lapidary techniques combined with strong artistic skills.

Cameo is the best-known form of gem carving with seashells and agates being common material choices. While cameos are generally destined to be used within jewelry, many carved pieces become stunning stand-alone pieces.

What About Mineralogy?
But not all finds are destined to be crafted. Many of us will remember the thrill of finding an attractive stone as we walked on the beach or while out on the trails. Perhaps you were remodeling the back yard or digging in the garden's annual bulbs when you came across something which caught your eye. As we hold that stone in our hand, we cannot help but consider its background. Wondering just how old it is and how it was formed are probably two of the key questions which cause us to seek out more information. From there, we discover the science of mineralogy, which provides answers to our questions and ignites a spark of desire to know more.

How Do You Identify a Mineral?
Do you know that there is no one single property of a mineral that would allow you to identify it? The Illinois State Geological Survey state that there are eight key characteristics that we can use in identifying minerals:

1. Tenacity, which measures how well a mineral resists breakage

2. Luster, which considers the reflection of light from the mineral’s surface.

3. Hardness is the resistance to scratching, measured by the Mohs scale of hardness, named after the German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs.

4. Cleavage, which describes how some minerals can have the tendency to break or split along flat surfaces

5. Fractures, which are the rough nonplanar breaks which cut randomly through mineral crystals.

6. Color. This may seem one of the easiest ways to identify a mineral, but that can send us down the wrong track when used in isolation! That's because the color of a mineral can be significantly affected by chemical impurities.

7. Streak, which is the color of the mineral when it's in powdered form, which can sometimes be completely different from the color of the piece in whole.

8. Specific gravity, measured by comparing the weight of the mineral's and comparing it to that of an equal volume of water. Although this can be measured precisely within a laboratory, you can also get a sense of the gravity through handling.

Gem and Mineral Societies and Shows
Whether it's lapidary or mineralogy, across the US, there are societies and clubs which bring together those who are passionate about the geology of the world around them. Society meetings provide the opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding while also networking with others who are keen to share their latest finds and new discoveries.

These organizations also have another strong theme, and that's in the form of education. The Tucson Gem & Mineral Society, for example, provides interactive classroom learning experiences that aim to inspire and inform both students and teachers.

Many societies also organize annual events, with the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society being the very first organization to bring together the hobby enthusiast, the public, and the professionals at their gem and mineral show. For four days each year, the event provides what can only be described as an unrivaled museum/shopping experience as thousands of visitors indulge their passion for world-class minerals.

The theme of captivating youngsters also runs through the society's annual show. Working alongside the students from the University of Arizona, they provide a fun yet educational experience for the younger visitors.

In a specially designated Junior Education area, children are challenged to explore a maze of educational experiments assisted by the university students. Once they've completed a mineral treasure hunt, they can bring home mementos of clearly identified specimens that provide a lifelong memory of this fascinating field of study. Perhaps this will inspire future generations to also discover and be curious about this amazing world that we live in.

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