Serpentine Gemstone Information
The serpentine gemstone is a visually striking stone, a favourite among jewelry designers (and wearers) and collectors alike. Serpentine comes in vivid colours and unique patterns, giving each piece unique qualities to stand out from its brethren.
However, while serpentine is breathtaking, it isn't as widely known as more popular gems like diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald. If you're curious about this gem, here's what you need to know about the serpentine stone.
Technically, serpentine isn't a single gemstone. Instead, it's a group of stones that feature a similar composition.
When it comes to the serpentine composition, the group of stones is classified as silicate minerals. The main structural difference involves the presence of specific metals, as different versions will feature other metals.
Otherwise, the physical properties are highly similar. The patterning and feel of the gems are primarily alike. The same goes for the luster, which tends to be waxy and readily accepts a polish.
Serpentine also tends to be fairly soft, usually coming in somewhere in the 3 to 6 range on the Mohs scale. This makes it ideal for many ornamental purposes, as it's easier to carve and shape than some other gemstones.
The serpentine stone is also naturally heat resistant. As a result, fibrous versions have value as an insulator. However, fibrous serpentine is used in the production of asbestos, a known carcinogen that's associated with respiratory illnesses and lung cancer.
Like many other stones, the serpentine gem comes in a range of colours. Green serpentine is the most widely known version. It's available in a range of shades. You can find serpentine stones in lime, mint, kelly, forest, and many more green hues. There are also pieces of green serpentine that have an earthy tinge, leaning into olive or moss territory.
With green serpentine, some degree of mottling, banding, or striating is normal. In many cases, the variations are other shades of green. However, you can also find pieces with cream, brown, or white markings.
Serpentine can come in hues other than the traditional green, as well. Blue serpentine is incredibly striking, usually coming in shades close to denim or navy. Often, those pieces are either striped or mottled, featuring either a range of blues or segments of white, gray, or cream.
In some cases, blue and green serpentine are found in a single stone, with clear boundaries between each hue. At times, the blue and green shades blend, creating an ombre effect. Additionally, there can be intermediate blue-green serpentine gemstones.
There's also red serpentine. This version of the serpentine stone tends to come in deeper, earthier shades, like brick, maroon, or mahogany. It can also feature mottling or banding, often in shades of white, beige, or gray.
The History of Serpentine
The serpentine gemstone got its name due to its appearance. It's derived from the Latin "serpens," a nod to the stone's snakeskin-like appearance.
Historically, serpentine is primarily an ornamental gem. Along with jewelry, serpentine carvings and similar lapidary works have been quite popular since the stone's discovery. One issue that's arisen due to these uses is that serpentine has a strong resemblance to jade. As a result, some less scrupulous designers or manufacturers may falsely advertise a piece as jade when it's actually serpentine.
Serpentine has also been marketed as marble for architectural purposes like tile, window sills, and similar building applications. However, it isn't technically marble.
However, serpentine has also had industrial uses, serving as a source of magnesium and asbestos. The presence of asbestos in serpentine causes some people to worry if serpentine is safe. While care needs to be taken when cutting, polishing, or shaping the stone – as those processes can release asbestos fibers – the risk is incredibly low once that work is complete.
Where Is Serpentine Found?
Since serpentine is a group of minerals and not a single type of stone, it's more widespread than some other gems. There is actually some version of serpentine on every continent, including Antarctica. When it comes to top producing countries and regions, Austria, Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, and Wales all potentially qualify.
Different versions of serpentine are also found in various parts of the United States. In fact, serpentine is the state rock of California.
Serpentine jewelry has been popular for centuries. The striking colouring and patterning make it an eye-catching stone. Plus, it works well against a range of metals, increasing its versatility.
However, you don't typically find serpentine in chain stores. Usually, that's because the gem, while beautiful, tends to be inconsistent. Every stone has a unique look. Plus, variations in hardness levels aren't ideal for mass-produced pieces.
Instead, serpentine is more commonly used by independent designers. Since they can produce small batches and navigate variances in each stone, choosing to use serpentine doesn't create the same challenges.
Independent designers may use serpentine in several different ways. For rings and pendants, faceted stones or cabochons are popular. With a serpentine bracelet, serpentine beads are a common option. You may also see beads in strand necklaces and on pendulums.
Some designers also use tumbled green serpentine rock. It allows the stone to maintain an organic shape while ensuring the gem's colouring is highlighted.
The serpentine crystal meaning can vary depending on an individual's belief system. Some feel that the serpentine stone benefits focus on wisdom, memory, and emotional balance. Others think that the serpentine stone protects a person from bad luck or those with bad intentions and can dispel negative energy.
Due to its colouring, serpentine is also associated with the heart chakra, connecting it to love. Also, the colour of the stone causes some to relate it to money. In either case, serpentine is said to attract those things to the person.
In some circles, serpentine is believed to benefit those with diabetes or hypoglycemia. Others think it can eliminate parasites and assist with detoxing. However, there is no scientific proof that serpentine – or any other gem, for that matter – can provide any health benefit. If you have a medical condition, treatment from a trained medical professional is always the best choice.
Stones Similar to Serpentine
If you're looking for stones that are similar to serpentine, you do have some options. Green serpentine and jade are incredibly close in appearance, though serpentine tends to have more patterning than jade. However, since genuine jade tends to cost more, it isn't always an economical substitute for serpentine.
Prehnite, chrysoprase, grossular garnet, and aventurine can also resemble serpentine. The same goes for certain pieces of agate or jasper, though that will depend on the individual specimens.
Smithsonite can look a bit like serpentine. However, since it's rare and incredibly soft, it isn't widely available and can be surprisingly expensive.
Due to the texture, dyed marble can resemble a wide variety of serpentine colours. However, the colour isn't genuine and may be more vibrant than what you'd find in a natural stone.
For blue serpentine, sodalite may be the best substitute. It has similar colouring and patterning and is reasonably affordable. Lapis lazuli is another potential option, as well as some pieces of azurite, dumortierite, and lazulite.
When it comes to red serpentine, carnelian can come in the right shade, though it lacks the patterning you usually see in serpentine. Red jasper may also work in some cases, as well as friedelite.