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What is hematite

Those who have an interest in costume jewellery, will no doubt have noticed that it is sometimes made from a material called hematite. But what is hematite?

Deriving its name from the Greek word blood, hematite is the common name for an Iron Oxide mineral with the chemical formula Fe2O3. It belongs to the “rhombohedral” lattice system, a sub-category of the trigonal crystal system. This means that the lattice structure of the atoms looks a bit like a cube that has been stretched diagonally. It shares its trigonal crystalline structure with ilmenite, with which it can fuse at high temperatures.

It’s natural colour can vary from red through brown and grey to almost silver. It is one of the most abundant ores from which iron is extracted. Like pig iron, only more so, it is hard but brittle. It is sometimes found in nature together with magnetite, in an ore called Magnemite.

It is sometimes formed in soil by weathering and can also be brought to the surface by volcanoes. But another common place for finding it is in Precambrian sedimentary rocks, usually in close proximity to standing water or hot springs containing mineral water. In such circumstances, it can separate from the water and collect under the influence of gravity on the floor of a lake or spring. It has also been discovered on Mars through “spectral photography” (photography looking only at certain particular colour combinations). This was subsequently confirmed by samples taken and analyzed by the Mars Exploration Rovers.

One of the most interesting aspects of hematite is its magnetic properties. At low temperatures (below -20° C) it is said to be antiferromagnetic (i.e. the magnetic properties of its atoms line up in opposite directions, cancelling each other out). Above that temperature but below 700° C, it becomes ferromagnetic, but only weakly so.

In practical terms, hematite has a number of uses, especially as a pigment. Indeed, in the past it has been mined for this purpose in Germany, Italy and eastern Europe. It is believed by anthropologists that this pigment was used for body painting, to mark the status of the wearer.

However, perhaps the most important modern use of hematite is in jewellery. Although not a precious metal, hematite has been used in costume jewellery since time immemorial, probably reaching its peak in the late Victorian era. Today it is commonly used by the Armenian community and it is now undergoing a massive resurgence in widespread use Europe and North America.

The particular motivating factor for this resurgence is for its use in magnetic jewellery. Hematite bracelets, like other magnetic bracelets for women and men are believed by many to have healing properties. The development of magnetic therapy and the widespread availability of these items from any magnetic products store, has led to Magnetic jewelry adorning women (and men) more than ever before.