Quartz: an Elusive Natural Treasure


Quartz is a mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, with the chemical formula SiO2.”
But that technical definition of quartz tells you nothing about why prospectors will spend a large part of their lives in hunting for this common yet elusive mineral in many parts of the wold.

But perhaps where words can’t, the free pictures in this edition of the newsletter will make the appeal of quartz clearer?

Although it is so valuable, quartz is the most common of all minerals, and it is this knowledge that drives quartz hunters, like it used to do gold diggers in the gold-rush days. It consists of silicon dioxide and is found in many rocks, particularly acid igneous rocks such as granite and metamorphic rocks such as gneisses. It is also found in sand and gravel, which form sandstone when consolidated. Quartz typically occurs as colourless or white hexagonal prisms. The colourless form is the purest and is often used as imitation diamonds. Uncut clusters of rock crystal as in the copyright-free pictures below are very popular with collectors and tourists alike.

‘Rock crystal’, ‘feldspar’, ‘cairngorm’, ‘amethyst’, ‘citrine’, ‘agate’, ‘prasolite’, ‘carnelian’, ‘tiger’s eye’, ‘chrysoprase’ and ‘chalcedony’ are the names of just some of the varieties of quartz found in locations such as the Swiss Alps, or manufactured from naturally occurring quartz to make gem stones, most commonly by heat treatment. The different colours of these quartz-based gemstones occur because of impurities in the quartz crystals, which were formed 10kms (6.2 miles) down in the earth’s crust 15 million years ago, sometimes where precious metals were also present.

Chamonix has a long tradition of crystal hunting, and the Crystal Museum (Musée des Cristaux) in the town centre celebrates the brave young men who have ascended Mont Blanc since 1786 on crystal hunts; many of these later became the first mountain guides – perhaps once the tourists came it was an easier way to make a living? In Chamonix there is still a Club Minéralogie with a programme of activities, and the crystal hunters are honoured with a street named after them: the ‘Chemin des Cristalliers’.

Quartz crystals have now become a part of our culture. In the 20th century a belief grew about the healing power of crystals, and practitioners placed crystals on various parts of the body as treatment for their clients’ ailments. There is apparently no scientific basis for this superstition, but that didn’t prevent clear quartz becoming known as ‘the master healer’, no doubt opening up a new market for the quartz hunter.

Perhaps it was as a spin-off from this pseudo-scientific side of quartz crystals that computer games and aps have been created: in one players have to kill creatures which have magic powers and capture their crystals. In another game players have to find all 100 missing crystals before they are captured by the bad guys. On British television, in a game called ‘The Crystal Maze’, you can watch teams of contestants take on challenges as they travel through a labyrinth, to win golf-ball-sized glass crystals.

But in spite of these tenuous connections with human society, the best reason for looking at these photos of quartz crystals is still to admire the strange beauty of nature!

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