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Cheap But Beautiful

Joint project of St.-Petersburg Mining museum and Forpost Nord-West.
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Agate is a pretty common and readily available mineral, two completely identical samples of which do not exist in nature. Each specimen has a unique pattern, the same as with human fingerprints.

The mineral may exhibit unusual patterns, and if cut various forms may appear, resembling, for instance, annual rings of a tree or picturesque landscapes. This effect is due to the structure of this rock. One centimetre thick slice of agate can encompass over eight thousand successive multi-coloured layers that joined together form various shapes.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Thanks to the mineral’s rare beauty and its wide occurrence, agate became one of the first stones to be used as an ornamental material. Humanity got interested in agate already in the Bronze Age, with the most popular items back then being stones looking similar to eyes. People used to place such specimens into the heads of statues believing it would scare off the dark forces.

Agate was also used to make dishware, interior objects, jewellery. Agate cameos - brooches with the carved image of a human - deserve particular attention. A person’s face was cut from the white-coloured layer, whereas the hair and clothes from the dark-coloured one. These portraits were of interest to collectors, but only nobility could afford them.

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Фото © Gareth eckley

In the Middle Ages, when the Crusades were taking place, knights did not embark on a journey without a picture of their beloved ones carved in agate. The legend said the stone could keep lovers’ feelings intact while being apart, and two people would stay faithful to each other. In the Renaissance, agate jewels did not lose their popularity. Instead, they rose in price manifoldly. In fact, noblemen of Europe were competing in their attempts to create the most elegant interior of agate.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

Agate was first carved in Russia at the end of the XVII century. Yet it quickly became popular and gained recognition. A noteworthy example of making use of agate in interior decoration is the Agate Rooms, which were constructed under the order of Catherine II, the Empress of Russia.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

With all that said, prices on agate vary a lot. Rare specimens - usually picturing landscapes or forming portraits - may cost as high as precious gems do. Some collectors even find similarities with world-famous paintings. Predominantly agate is, however, a widespread mineral, which has an incredibly large amount of types and varieties. As of now, over a hundred and fifty different forms of agate have been identified.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /