A Stone Valued by 1.5 Billion People
This rock is of no value to jewellers. Yet thanks to the peculiar shape of its crystals, this dark reddish-brown mineral enjoys unusually high demand.
Staurolite is a stone, which is unique in its appearance: its crystals intertwine in a characteristic cross-shape, with the size and forms of the cross varying greatly. Sometimes cruciform-shaped twinnings barely reach several millimetres in length; in other cases, they can grow up to tens of centimetres. These crystal aggregates, in many ways, resemble Latin, Orthodox, and St. Andrew's crosses.
Because of this odd feature, the rock was of interest to humans already back in ancient times. Even the mineral's name is derived from the Greek, meaning literally 'cross stone'.
One of the world's richest deposits of staurolite is located in the US. It is the official state mineral of the US state of Georgia. There is even a legend telling the story of the Cherokee tribe that once lived in the area.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the US federal government decided to destroy settlements where Native Americans lived and move people to empty lands. The Cherokees, as a result, had to leave their homes; over four thousand American Indians died in the course of the forced relocation. Now this series of forced relocations is known under the name 'the Trail of Tears'. The old story says the Cherokees who were mourning over the loss of their homes shed some tears, which upon falling onto the ground turned into stone crosses.
In Russia, staurolite was called «крестовик», which, once again, translates as the 'cross stone'. Mounted and consecrated stones were worn next to the skin. Such jewels were then believed to be Christian pendants, particularly protecting children. In medieval Europe, staurolite was revered by knights and monks. Inclusions of red colour were at the time thought to symbolise blood drops of Jesus Christ crucified.
Archaeologists are still digging out staurolite amulets. As a matter of fact, several American presidents were wearing staurolite pendants believing the stone would bring them luck.
Through the shape of its crystals, staurolite made its way into numerous collections. The price of a particular sample depends directly on the way it looks. Detached bar-shaped crystals are found throughout the world, with their value rarely exceeding a few dollars. Twinned and triple crystals are much rarer, and since they are harder to find, they may cost hundreds of dollars. There are deposits where such specimens may be found in Russia in too - on the Kola Peninsula. Some of the largest and most spectacular in its appearance stones were found on the peninsula.
Staurolite crosses require only a little pre-sale preparation. Stone edges need to be filed, oiled, and set into the frame. Crystals that are less processed and keep to the most extent their original look are the ones of the highest value. There is actually a massive market for such products, as there are 260 million Orthodox Christians and 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.
Collection-quality staurolite is always extracted manually; otherwise, it is easy to damage samples. The most common colours the mineral takes are yellowish-brown, dark-reddish to blackish brown, rarely blue. Some stone samples, usually large ones, can be radioactive. Statistics claim specimens with an angle of crystal intergrowth approximating 90 degrees are often most harmfully radioactive. But if the angle is, for example, 60 or 120 degrees, the stone presents no danger.