Malachite – a Banded Botryoidal Ornamental Gem

Malachite is a banded gemstone with alternating dark and light shades of green.  Malachite’s name is derived from the Greek adjective malakos, meaning soft, delicate, charming and sweet.  Each specimen is unique!

Botryoidal Malachite

Malachite Photo by J McKercher

Is Malachite an Ornamental Gem or an Ornamental Gemstone?

In everyday english an ornamental gem would be considered a gem that is used for ornamental purposes. In the case of personal adornment this would mean rings, necklaces, earrings and brooches. The term gemstone is a general term for transparent minerals and precious, asset-maintaining rarities. The term ornamental gems refers to mainly opaque gems that are either aggregates of a single mineral (agate, malachite, turquoise) or polymineral rocks (lapis lazuli, maw-sit-sit).

Malachite is Botryoidal

Botryoidal Malachite at the Royal Ontario Museum

Malachite at the ROM, photo by J McKercher

Malachite is an aqueous copper carbonate and is used for beads, cabochons and carvings.  When found in the rough Malachite usually has a botryoidal habit (resembles a bunch of grapes).   The nodules with their roundish, clustered, kidney-shaped, turned, twisted, and cone-shaped surface forms indicate that the rock must have bubbled and boiled before solidification.

Malachite is Banded

Malachite Necklace Earrings Ring Box

Malachite Flickr Photo by coco+kelley


Malachite is great for jewellery.  But the concentric rings, curves, stripes and meandering patterns can best be displayed in large carvings.  The banded green colours have been described as emerald green, dark leek green, spinach green to black green.

Russian Mosaic Technique with Malachite

Malachite Columns in St. Isaacs

Malachite Columns in St. Isaac's Cathedral

The pillars in St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg are fully clad with malachite and lapis lazuli.
Russian craftsmen employed valuable materials, such as lapis lazuli or malachite, which usually occur as huge boulders, and cut these minerals into thin slabs that could be used to cover large surfaces with an impression of a solid stone. This method called the “Russian Mosaic” technique was applied to many mantelpieces, the Malachite Room, large columns and a large number of excellent malachite vases now in the Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg.

Malachite is a Source of Copper – the First True Smelted Metal

Your Input

(Join our poll or Scroll Down To The Bottom and leave a comment) – Emerald is winning the poll!

Malachite Frog

Malachite Frog Photo by J McKercher

I plan to introduce different gemstones alphabetically.  I started with “A” (Ammolite) and it has taken me to Malachite!  Leave a comment and let me know if you have a favourite gemstone that starts with the letter “N”.  Take the poll!  Can you name a reference to a gemstone in a song, movie or book?

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About Jen McKercher

Jennifer McKercher teaches gemmology at the Canadian Gemmological Association. A passion for gemstones drives Jen to learn as much as she can about the wonders of gemstones and how they enhance our lives.

Posted on November 4, 2011, in Individual Gemstones and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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