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Learning Library

Fool’s Gold - Pyrite Gemstone

It is known for causing excitement when prospectors believe they have found gold.


Pyrite is a pretty, shiny, sparkling gemstone that is far underrated within the world of gems. Its “claim to fame”, or “Achilles heel” depending on where you stand, is that it was often mistaken for Gold. Pyrite occurs in a number of interesting shapes and sizes and has come to be known as “Fool’s Gold”.

Its similarities to Gold are extremely close. However, Pyrite does not mark or dent when bitten, whereas Gold famously does. Interestingly though, Pyrite often gets found next to Gold deposits, so in years gone by if one had found Pyrite then a little more searching could have yielded the miner a more lucrative precious metal.
Pyrite also has the same chemical make up as Marcasite, although the crystal structure is slightly different. The name Marcasite stems from the Arabic word for Pyrite (see Marcasite in volume II) and the gem industry uses the term Marcasite when often it is Pyrite. The name Pyrite comes from the Greek word “pyr” meaning “fire” because when the gem is struck it releases sparks. As it is highly reflective, the ancient Aztecs and Incas would polish large slabs of Pyrite and use it as a mirror. In the Stone Ages it would be used to start fires and was a natural way for prehistoric man to survive harsh conditions.

Pyrite is thought to possess the power of balancing between your left and right side of your brain and throughout the ages it was thought that owning a piece of Pyrite would help you gain great wealth and prosperity. In more modern times Pyrite has been used in the arms industry and also has many industrial uses. In World War II it was mined for its sulphur content, which made sulphuric acid (in high demand at the time).

It can be mined the world over but some of the most well known deposits are in Oruro and Colavi, Bolivia. Larger and more cubic forms of Pyrite can be found in Spain and also on the Island of Elba, off Italy. Very high quality specimens can be found in Freiburg, south-west Germany.

Pyrite can also be found as shining golden specks inside other varieties of gemstones. For example Lapis Lazuli can be unearthed with or without the presence of Pyrite. When veins and patterns of Fool’s Gold are seen on the surface of a Lapis stone, its value is nearly always enhanced.

Astraeolite, a brand new gem discovery in 2011 (see separate feature), also has small pieces of Fool’s Gold magically suspended in its transparent crystal structure.

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The difficult task of separating Gold from Pyrite.