Published December 2012
by Judy Jenkins, JTV contributing author
Jasper a popular gem with jewelry makers, comes in intriguing patterns and designs and usually doesn’t eat a hole in the bead budget. There are many types of jasper and a myriad of names attached to each variety, with new names seemingly added every year.
Names for jasper usually recognize color, pattern, composition or mine location. Ribbon, bird's eye, paint brush, leopard skin, rain forest, Dalmatian and zebra are just some of the highly descriptive names for the gem. Two highly prized (and rare) jaspers--picture and scenic jasper--look hand painted with life-like images or scenes. Yet man can’t take credit for these pieces of art; Mother Nature did it all on her own!
Jasper is a variety of the chalcedony or cryptocrystalline (small crystal) quartz family. Individual crystals are so small they’re visible only with a microscope. Jasper gems may appear striped, banded, spotted, or even streaked, and are rarely uniform. The patterns may be erratic, regular, or otherwise unusual. Other chalcedony varieties include agate, bloodstone, carnelian, chrysoprase, prase, and sard--all beautiful opaque gems.
Iron oxides and foreign materials give jasper their colorful and extremely unique bands and patterns. When buying jasper, it is a good idea to ask whether the color has been enhanced in any way, although reputable dealers should readily disclose treatments. In jasper, some color may be 100% natural, but it is sometimes enhanced with dye to achieve remarkably beautiful hues for beads and jewelry.
Jasper has been viewed with significance for centuries. Scholars identify it as one of the “stones of fire” mentioned in the bible in Ezekiel 28:13-16. Moses had the jasper gems mounted into a breastplate for his brother Aaron (Exodus 28:15-30). In the New Testament (Revelation 21:19), jasper is listed as one of twelve gemstones in the foundation of the walls of Jerusalem. Referenced in Latin, Hebrew and Greek literature, jasper’s ancient history includes usage for fashioning amulets or object d’art to protect the wearer against evil, disease or unhappiness.
The name jasper comes from the Latin, Jaspis, meaning spotted or speckled. It has a hardness rating of 6.5-7 on the Mohs hardness scale, making it durable enough to wear in jewelry. Because it polishes to a good shine, jasper offers so many choices in jewelry design.
The United States is one of the most important sources for jasper today. California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Washington provide good quality gems. Globally, it is found in many places including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Russia, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
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