It’s So Lovely, Being Green

Green has always been my favorite color.  My first 10-speed bike was green.  My high school class ring had a simulated emerald in it, and my favorite beach is the Green Sand Beach on the island of Hawaii.  Turns out that green is the most soothing color.  Scientific evidence points to green as the color that calms the ‘cones’ in your eyes.  When I first heard of ‘rods and cones,’ I was in gemology school.  Before a colored stone test, the teacher would tell us to go outside and “look at green.”  She felt we’d do better on the test because our eyes would be rested.  Optometrists will tell you that ‘rods’ sense dark and light, but ‘cones’ sense color.  And their peaceful color is green. 

It’s also true that more gemstones are green than any other color.  Why is that?  Well, one reason is because so many elements in the earth’s crust are green coloring agents.  The most common ones are iron, chromium, copper, nickel, and vanadium.  What’s confusing, but also interesting, is that these elements have different effects on different minerals.  Chromium makes an emerald green, but it makes a ruby red!  It’s a lot like cooking–different ingredients in different amounts have different flavors.  But with so many possible recipes for minerals, the most likely result is green.  We have Emerald, Peridot, Turquoise, Tourmaline, Jade, Variscite, Chrysoprase, Grossular Garnet, Chrysoberyl, Sphene, . . . and the list goes on.  Let’s concentrate on the first four.

                        Emerald Crystals

Emerald is a variety of beryl.  It’s a mineral that’s colored by chromium or, in some cases, vanadium.  The most common places to find emerald are Columbia, Zambia, and Egypt.  Emeralds have always been treasured by royalty and those in power.  Cleopatra’s love for them is well known.  Elizabeth Taylor, who portrayed Cleopatra, also loved emeralds.  And Napoleon gave his Josephine an emerald suite, famous for its disappearance.  A side story on this is that the man who eventually found the jewelry was a known criminal who used undercover agents and deductive reasoning to find the culprits!  Emeralds are intriguing. They always come with an interesting story.

Peridot is the gem quality of the mineral, olivine.  The coloring agent is iron.  Peridot is mined in Egypt, Pakistan, China, Brazil, and the southwestern United States.  Olivine is one of the first mineral crystals formed when volcanic magma cools.  Because it’s denser and heavier than volcanic ash and sand, it can collect and create magical places like the Green Sand Beach(aka Papakolea Beach) in Hawaii.  According to legend, Pele, the Goddess of Volcanos, cried tears of peridot.

The tears of Pele, Peridot crystals

Turquoise is typically thought to be blue, but there is a lot of green turquoise, especially where the ground has less copper and more aluminum or iron.  Common places to find green turquoise are China, Mongolia, India, the Sinai Peninsula, and the state of Nevada.  Turquoise has always been prized.  King Tut had turquoise in his treasures, and Queen Victoria had many pieces of turquoise jewelry.  While both of them seemed to prefer the “robin’s egg blue” color, green turquoise is gaining popularity in current markets.  Two mines in Nevada, the Carico Lake and the Blue Ridge, are famous for their supply of lime and apple green turquoise. 

Tourmaline comes in many colors because of its complicated chemical make-up, but green is one of the most beautiful.  Chrome tourmaline is colored by chromium but, normally, tourmaline’s coloring agent is iron.  The mineral is found in many places, including Brazil, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and the United States.  When the green color is combined with pink, the result is bi-colored or watermelon tourmaline.  

Bi-colored tourmaline ring, custom made by Dearborn Jewelers

Watermelon tourmaline, carved into butterfly wings, made into a pendant by our benchjewelers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kermit the Frog always sang, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”  His song was one of sadness for being ordinary.  It wasn’t until the end of the song that he recognized his own beauty.  A  green gem stone, though, never doubts its beauty, and it’s in lovely company.  With so many to choose from, what is YOUR favorite green gem?

 

 

The Green Sand Beach

There are four green sand beaches on Earth.  One of them, Papakolea Beach, is at the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii.  And I was lucky enough to go there this January, during my 2-week vacation in the Hawaiian Islands.  (Side note:  If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii, TAKE IT!)   This beach isn’t easy to get to, as it’s about two and a half miles from the dirt parking lot.  Your choices are a “shuttle” which is actually an old van or pick-up truck for $15, or a good 45 minute walk.  Both choices leave you dusty and thirsty, as you make your way towards an amazing oasis.  

The Green Sand Beach

Why is the sand GREEN?  Well, the answer lies under the crust of the Earth, in the upper mantle, where one of the dominant rocks is Peridotite.  The name may remind you of August’s birthstone, Peridot, whose color is a yellowish to brownish green.  Peridotite is brought to the surface on the waves of magma that erupt from the same volcanos that formed the Hawaiian Islands.  It’s made primarily of the mineral, Olivine, which has a much higher melting temperature than most minerals.  So, the magma brings it to the surface, surrounds it with lava rock (basalt), but doesn’t melt it into the mixture.  These peridotite xenoliths eventually reveal themselves as erosion breaks down the basalt host rock.  

What happens next is what happens to every rock, given time and exposure to the elements.  The peridotite breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s a bunch of tiny olivine grains.  But these little grains are heavier than most sand, so if the conditions are protected enough, they have a tendency to stay.  And if enough of them stay in one place, it makes the beach look green.  Conditions are rarely as perfect as here in this bay, cut by the ocean into the side of a former cinder cone.  

So, how does it feel to play on a beach of green gems?  The truth is, most peridotite is not gem quality, and grains of sand are way too small to be valuable.  But there is something special, at least to this gemologist, about having tiny peridot between your toes.   It was great building a sand castle out of what the Hawaiians call their Hawaiian Diamonds.

The sand is protected by the state, so you’re not allowed to fill a container with it unless you are a native Hawaiian.  But, wouldn’t you know, the driver of my shuttle was a twelfth generation Hawaiian, and he was trying to impress the young, pretty woman sitting next to him.  He gave her a handful of green sand, mixed with larger peridot pebbles, in an empty water bottle.  When she showed them to me, I gasped in delight.  “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed.  “They’re beautiful!!”

When she found out I worked with gemstones, she secretly gave me the water bottle, saying, “You’ll appreciate it so much more than I will.”  So, I have my special little stash of green sand which I will keep forever!

Hawaiian Diamonds (aka The Tears of Pele–Goddess of Volcanos)