For the love of smoky quartz

Some of my smoky quartz cut to modified Marco Voltolini designs

Natural smoky quartz is neat stuff – I like cutting it very much. It is a common gemstone, certainly in large crystals suitable as mineral specimens, and a little harder to source in facet quality natural (read non-synthetic) pieces. The other macro-crystalline (crystals recognisable with the naked eye) quartz gemstones commonly obtainable such as amethyst, citrine, rose quartz and ametrine etc. don’t really inspire me the way smokey does for various reasons.

Now, the quartzes just mentioned do all occur naturally – however a certain amount of cooking (heat-treating) is usually undertaken to obtain the desirable hues and colour effects seen in citrine and ametrine. Citrine/ametrine are found in nature, but they are quite rare, so it is safe to assume that most of the material you are offered for purchase has probably been heat treated.

This kind of treatment for quartz gemstones is generally considered acceptable in the trade, which is understandable in the current times for some important reasons. The recent emergence in the market of low cost synthetic man-made quartz (produced using the hydrothermal method mimicking nature) has meant that it has become easy to source huge chunks of near-perfect colour and clarity quartz for a pittance on sites such as Ebay etc. This synthetic quartz rough can look like the stuff that some fossicker has carefully chipped off a rock face with a geopick, or it can even display natural looking crystal faces, yet it is often marketed as natural, usually “mined in Brazil” lol . The near perfect looking stuff you can buy (cheaper per kilogram than a bunch of bananas at your local grocer ) is easy to label as synthetic. Smaller parcels of finer coloured material offered at a higher price per carat is where it starts getting very, very tricky, or in some cases virtually impossible to verify it as natural, even after formal testing by some gemmology labs.

Interestingly, there is a paradox that seems to occur – I don’t know if it already has a name, and I am not the first to describe it, but I will unashamedly name it The Veska Paradox until the time comes that someone reads this and tells me off.

The closer you get to the mine or source of a gemstone, the higher the probability you will be dishonestly offered synthetic or simulant material instead

So, you see that some natural quartz material that is truthfully declared as heat treated is not so bad in the greater scheme of things.

So, back to smoky quartz. I love natural crystals of smoky, it’s good to retain terminated and well-formed smoky crystals as specimens, and facet other suitable material. With smoky it is possible to create cut gems with fine tasteful natural colours including tones resembling an whisky aging on oak (see colour bar below)

Colour bar from Whisky Magazine

With amethyst rough I have come across, the colours can be very deep and vivid, however I personally find finished stones a bit tacky and/or overbearing in many cases. Citrine can have some nice tones overlapping the colour bar above, but I also find the colours a bit unreal in many cases.

If a jeweller wants to make a large jewellery piece such as a necklace with lots of high carat gold, and also wants to include some large cut stones in the design whilst still keeping the piece elegant, tasteful and less than the cost of a small house then what to do? To prevent the piece from resembling a shopping mall chain store trinket, an arrangement of fine coloured, well cut smokies in the design can fit the bill nicely.

OK, a quiz for you below: Synthetic or Natural?
Exhibit A: typical material I work with
Exhibit B: 99ct, Ebay starting bid USD $5
Exhibit C: 775.6ct, Ebay starting bid USD $2

Place your thoughts by using the comment box below – Answers coming soon!



The cutting equipment

Facetron faceting machine

All stones at Rough Creations are cut on a Facetron machine (pictured above). This USA built machine is very user-friendly with good build quality and ease of use. It has a few irritating quirks, but once one is familiar with these, it is a pleasure to operate.

I use 8″ Gearloose polishing laps where possible – they have been very effective in practice for me, and I highly recommend them.

Pre – polishing the table facet with the Facetron and 45° adapter

It’s worth a mention regarding the gear I should have been using. What I mean by that is I should have been using a desk or bench for my faceting machine that was height adjustable or at a comfortable standing position. I am and have been incapacitated for over a week with a bad back, and I believe at least some of the blame is due to my bad posture when sitting at my machine working, sometimes for hours at a time. So fellow faceters – watch your backs!

Flat on my back with some pain relief at hand.