You've probably seen it on your friends, on celebrities and in the jewelry store: marcasite.
Easily recognizable because of its brilliant shine, marcasite is a popular choice for anyone wishing to add a bit of pizazz to their look.
But do you know what it is or where it originated?
Don't worry; most people don't.
However, the history and powers behind the mineral make it all the more attractive--and all the more mystical.
Care for a history lesson? We guarantee it will make you appreciate that piece of marcasite jewelry you've been curious about all the more.
A common (and completely understandable) confusion surrounds marcasite's use in jewelry.
The pieces we refer to as marcasite are actually not made from the marcasite mineral. Can you guess what they are really made of?
Also known as iron pyrite, fool's gold boasts just as spectacular of a sheen as the real marcasite. Because many would confuse the two, eventually it led to the jewelry's common name of marcasite today. The name simply stuck.
While its chemical makeup is literally identical to fool's gold, actual marcasite crystallizes differently, putting it in a completely different mineral species.
While beautiful, it is not used for jewelry because it crumbles into a fine dust when handled, making it unsuitable for any sort of manipulation.
On the other hand, fool's gold is much more durable, making it the prime candidate of the only two yellow metallic minerals that are hard enough to be used for jewelry.
So when we say "marcasite" throughout this article, know we are secretly whispering "iron pyrite" under our breaths.
The mineral pyrite forms under a wide variety of environmental conditions. It is extremely common in hydrothermal veins, but it can also be produced by magma or stalactite growth.
In fact, in the oceans, iron pyrite is dispelled from hydrothermal vents as small, microscopic particles. These widespread particles act like a vitamin for life, giving the sea creatures the iron they need.
So you'll find this mineral here and there and a bit of everywhere if you know what to look for.
But iron pyrite's effectiveness is not limited to sea critters' well-being.
Gold has long been associated with healing powers and deities. In fact, the Inca civilization believed gold was sweat descended to Earth from the Sun God. Gold has also been used in the medical realm for dental work or a defense against "magic potions."
Fool's gold, however, seems to lend its healing powers to the internal mind and spirit.
According to Doreen Virtue and Judith Lukomski's Crystal Therapy, "This mineral assists you in creating material abundance, and meditation with pyrite increases your ability to balance energies by providing a stabilizing force."
Fool's gold also strengthens your resolve, boosts confidence and helps manifest positive things in your life.
Lest you think it's all nonsense made for fools (heh, see what we did there?), science also points to the fact that it regulates oxygen. In fact, it's responsible for almost 80% of the sulfur removed from the ocean.
Why does that matter? Because that sulfur turns into the oxygen we breathe.
So while scientists may have once thought pyrite played a minimal role in oxygen formation, they have recently discovered quite the opposite.
As for the supposed healing powers of gold, well. Let's just say scientists are a tad more skeptical.
One last fun fact: fool's gold is said to be coveted by faeries.
As a result, you will sometimes hear iron pyrite be referred to as "fairy's gold."
Fairy's gold. Iron pyrite. Marcasite.
It all gets rather confusing, we know. Perhaps the real reason behind the many names lies with the tricky Fey creatures themselves.
Iron pyrite's first use can arguably be one of humankind's greatest discoveries: fire.
The mineral's name derives from a Greek phrase meaning "stone which strikes fire."
To the early generations, this stone was invaluable because of this characteristic, especially to the Eskimos and Fuegians. However, other findings indicate early uses may have also been for mirrors and dye.
What else do you think it was used for?
You guessed it. You didn't think ancient people would pass up such beauty on jewelry, did you?
Civilizations in China, Greece, Egypt and South America used fool's gold for necklaces, rings and the like. It was even rumored to have been worn by Cleopatra.
The Incan civilization especially is noted as being the first recorded people to have used fool's gold for jewelry, with archaeological findings dating its use between 1100 to 1500. It has especially been discovered in burial sites.
After the early civilizations, the mineral's use in jewelry becomes somewhat hazy. That is, until the 1700s.
In early Europe, marcasite jewelry once again made a comeback, ironically through a distinction of the classes.
When the Sumptuary Laws were put into effect, the idea was to enforce clear differences between higher and lower classes. Women of lower classes were forbidden to wear or purchase diamonds and other such rarities.
The result was a great demand for marcasite, which was just as beautiful and much less expensive.
Starting from the late 1830s to the early 1900s, Britain was under the rule of Queen Victoria. Her reign also ignited interest in iron pyrite jewelry, although by this time it was widely used.
After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, Queen Victoria mourned his death until she passed away in 1901. (The regular mourning period for a husband was two years, by the way. Talk about devotion!)
She requested her entire court to wear black, and she herself dressed as a widow. Etiquette during times of grief was strict, and to adhere to it the Queen began wearing marcasite jewelry.
During her reign, mourning etiquette was all the rage (many would fashion jewelry out of the deceased one's hair), and following her new choice in jewelry marcasite once again became a fashionable attire choice.
Prohibition raged. There were flappers and cocktail parties.
While Victorian thoughts persisted, society found itself largely pushing against them in the 1920s and 1930s.
In swept the Art Deco Movement, which paraded through Europe and America and modernized fashion, including jewelry. Using the new-age machines of the era, it blended vivid color combinations to provide stark contrast.
As the fashion centered on new times, natural elements were often used in combination with man-made ones. One common design included crystals and diamonds to contrast with the "bold whiteness of platinum." In fact, diamonds were especially common.
Because geometry and hardness were also important in this movement, the faces found on iron pyrite, its sparkling texture and its low cost made marcasite a valuable commodity and cost-efficient alternative for those who couldn't afford diamonds.
Shortly after the Art Deco Movement, World War II erupted and pyrite became valuable for a much different reason.
With the fervor of wartime came an increased demand for sulfur, which was integral in the success of the Industrial Revolution. Sulfuric acid became the staple chemical for production, and it was (and is) necessary for almost all produced goods.
In fact, it is so significant to industrial production that it has been called the "workhorse chemical of the industrial world."
During the War, however, sulfur was in short supply. As a result, the government turned to other means from which sulfur could be extracted.
As you may guess, iron pyrite once again jumped to the center stage.
Today, marcasite jewelry has become a common and accessible commodity. Because of its old-world charm and relatively inexpensive price, it's a common choice in jewelry.
Generally, a marcasite stone is set in sterling silver to better show off its shine and can be worn in virtually any environment.
It's so popular that it rivals diamonds. And, really, why shouldn't it? You get almost the same beauty for a fraction of the price.
Irony pyrite pieces usually do not hold particular value unless they are ancient relics. However, don't be so quick to move on.
Geologists sometimes use it as a marker, as the presence of fool's gold can indicate priceless gems are nearby.
While we don't expect you to undertake mining anytime soon, it's an interesting fact that does make it valuable to geologists and miners.
Further, just because a marcasite ring or necklace won't sell for hundreds of dollars doesn't mean it's virtually worthless. A 1918 brooch would net about $120.
Sure, it's not hitting the jackpot, but when you consider other minerals, metals or stones commonly used in jewelry, it's not awful.
Jewelry made with fool's gold is extremely easy to maintain.
Avoid getting the piece wet, as it can loosen the stones and encourage them to fall out of their settings. Even when the piece is being cleaned, it should not be splashed or submerged in water.
Do not use steamers, chemicals or ultrasonic chemicals to clean the jewelry. This may damage it.
Instead, take a soft cloth and gently wipe the piece. The cloth can be dry or damp, but it should remove any tarnish on the outside of the stone.
If a damp cloth is used, be sure to let the jewelry dry completely before use.
Also, avoid excessive sweating while wearing the jewelry. If you plan to partake in any sports or exert yourself, take it off until you have finished.
That's all there is to it! It's that easy to clean.
As an added bonus, the more you wear a piece of jewelry made with iron pyrite, the less likely it is to tarnish.
Marcasite jewelry can be easily confused with other stamped steel or stamped sterling. However, if you know what to watch for you'll be able to spot a vintage piece wherever you travel:
If you are checking for age, take a very close look at the setting. Old pieces were set stone by stone; the maker would literally curl the base metal over each one.
Yes, it had to have taken eons.
And, yes, you'll probably need a magnifying glass.
Further, it's normal to have a few missing stones in older pieces. Don't immediately toss it to the side just because a few have been lost to the ages. If anything, that lends weight to the testament of its age.
As we're sure you've gathered, this jewelry type is a fantastic choice for a variety of reasons.
We guarantee you won't find the quality, craftsmanship or service we offer anywhere else! Browse our selection of marcasite jewelry today and take your pick.
The Rose Pendant is one of our personal favorites, but you're sure to find something that just screams "you."
It's your turn to sparkle.