Found all over the world, agate has been creatively striped by nature. It is a type of chalcedony quartz that forms in concentric layers of colors and textures. Each individual agate forms by filling a cavity in a host rock. As a result, agate often is found as a round nodule with concentric bands like the rings of a tree trunk. Tiny quartz crystals called druzy (sometimes spelled as drusy) often form within the stone, adding to its beauty and uniqueness. Agate is a hard stone, within the range of 7.0-9.0 on the Mohs Scale.
In 1497, the mining of agate in the Nahe River valley in Germany gave rise to the cutting center of Idar-Oberstein. When the Nahe agate deposit was exhausted in the nineteenth century, Idar cutters started to develop the agate deposits of Brazil, discovering Brazil's rich deposits of many other gemstones. A famous collection of two to four thousand agate bowls, accumulated by Mithradates, King of Pontus, shows the popularity of agate at the time. Agate bowls were also popular in the Byzantine Empire. Collecting agate bowls became common among European royalty during the Renaissance and many museums in Europe, including the Louvre, have spectacular examples.
Although the small town of Idar-Oberstein is still known for the finest agate carving in the world, today Idar imports a huge range of other gem materials from around the world for cutting and carving in Germany. Cameo master carvers, modern lapidary artists and rough dealers flourish there, exporting their latest gem creations. It is an entire industry that grew from the desire for agate products during the Renaissance.
Agate was highly valued as a talisman or amulet in ancient times. It was said to quench thirst and protect from fevers. Persian magicians used agate to divert storms. Today, some believe that agate is a powerful emotional healer and helps people discern the truth.
Created or simulated gemstones:
How are created or simulated gemstones different from natural gemstones? Natural gems are created by the forces of nature and must be discovered, usually by digging in the ground or sifting through a riverbed. When these stones are created in a laboratory, they are called created, simulated or synthetic gemstones.
The purpose of creating gemstones in a laboratory isn’t necessarily to reduce the cost, but also to produce larger, more perfectly consistent stones. Created or simulated gems can be made of any material. Synthetic gems, however, share virtually all chemical, optical and physical characteristics of their natural mineral counterparts.
Austrian crystals: These are known for their excellent reflective quality and prismatic brilliance. This man-made crystal is created using natural minerals and quartz sand, which are then heated and slowly cooled using a process similar to that of creating hand-blown glass. This process creates an end product that can be fashioned into a beautiful crystal.
A special machine is used to create a highly faceted crystal. The crystals are cut in various directions, which allows for excellent light refraction, exceptional brilliance and unsurpassed color quality at an affordable price.
Today Swarovski® is one of the largest suppliers of high-end crystals. In the late 1800s, Daniel Swarovski invented a machine to cut crystal with extreme precision. He patented his technique and to this day, only select Swarovski family members and employees have unrestricted access to the production facility that creates these crystals. They are used to decorate everything from stilettos and sculptures, to chandeliers, jewelry and clothing.