Minerals Used in Testing Hardness

The use of minerals in testing the hardness of gems and precious stones that are harder than a file and the gems that represent the degrees of hardness

Minerals Used in Testing Hardness. For testing stones that are harder than a file the student should provide himself with the following set of materials:

1. A small crystal of carborundum. (Most hardware stores have specimen crystals as attractive advertisements of carborundum as an abrasive material, or the Carborundum Co., Niagara Falls, N. Y., will supply one.)

2. A small crystal of sapphire (not of gem quality, but it should be transparent and compact. A pale or colorless Montana sapphire can be had for a few cents of any mineral dealer).

3. A small true topaz crystal. (The pure white topaz of Thomas Mountain, Utah, is excellent; or white topaz from Brazil or Japan or Mexico or Colorado will do. Any mineral house can furnish small crystals for a few cents when not of specially fine crystallization.)

4. A small quartz crystal. (This may be either amethyst or quartz-topaz or the common colorless variety. The fine, sharp, colorless crystals from Herkimer County, N. Y., are excellent. These are very inexpensive.)

5. A fragment of a crystal of felspar. (Common orthoclase felspar, which is frequently of a brownish pink or flesh color, will do.)

These five test stones represent the following degrees of hardness:

1. Carborundum is harder than any gem material but diamond. It will scratch sapphire and ruby, which are rated 9 in hardness, hence we may call carborundum 9 1/2 if we wish. It is, however, very much softer than diamond, and the latter will scratch it upon the slightest pressure.

2. Sapphire, of hardness 9, scratching any gem material except diamond.

3. True topaz, of hardness 8. It is scratched by sapphire (and, of course, ruby), also by chrysoberyl (which is hence rated 8 1/2), but scratches most other stones. Spinel (which is also rated as 8 in hardness) is really a bit harder than topaz.

4. Quartz, of hardness 7, and scratched by all the previous stones but scratching those that were listed above as of less hardness than a file.

5. Felspar, of hardness 6, hence slightly softer than a file and yielding to it, but scratching the stones likewise rated as 6 when applied forcibly to them. Also scratching stones rated as less than 6 on slight pressure.

We must next consider how these minerals may be safely used upon gem material. Obviously it would be far safer to use them upon rough gem material than upon cut stones. However, with care and some little skill, one may make hardness tests without particular danger to fine cut material.

The way to proceed is to apply the cut stone (preferably its girdle, or if that is so set as not to be available, a corner where several facets meet) gently to the flat surface of one of the softer test stones, drawing it lightly along the surface and noting the feel and looking to see if a scratch results. If the test stone is scratched try the next harder test stone similarly. Do not attempt to use the test stone upon any valuable cut stone. Proceed as above until the gem meets a test stone that it does not attack. Its hardness is then probably equal to the latter and perhaps if pressed forcibly against it a slight scratch would result, but it is not advisable to resort to heavy pressure. A light touch should be cultivated in this work. Having now an indication as to the hardness of the unknown gem look up in the table of the previous lesson those gems of similar hardness and then by the use of some of the tests already given decide which of the stones of that degree of hardness you have. Never rely upon a single test in identifying a gem.

For further study of hardness and its use in testing gems see Gem-Stones, G. F. Herbert-Smith, Chap. IX., pp. 78-81, and table on p. 305; or see A Handbook of Precious Stones, Rothschild, pp. 19, 20, 21.


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