Serpentine (no we are not talking about the winding lake in Hyde Park here!) is a family of minerals mainly green in colour and often mottled like a snakeskin. The family contains many gemstones such as Bowenite (new Jade), Olivine, Lizardite (name after the mine in Cornwall), Atlantisite (when combined with Stichtite) and the wonderfully named Infinite from South Africa. If you are a fan of the colour green, then this group of stones are worth considering for your jewellery-making.
Historically, Serpentine has frequently been confused with Jadeite or Nephrite Jade because of its similar colouration but the chemical composition is actually quite distinct. It is made up of magnesium, iron, and silicon and is much softer and scratches more easily than true Jade. Serpentine is sometimes mislabelled as “Korean Jade” or “New Jade” (actually Bowenite), however using the term Jade to describe Serpentine is a misnomer, so be aware!
Extensive areas of Earth's surface are underlain by Serpentine. These areas occur near present or ancient boundaries where remnants of oceanic plates were exposed at the surface. Serpentine can therefore be found in every continent on earth with an abundance specifically located in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Korea, Madagascar, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
The name Serpentine was given to a group of minerals in 1564 by Georgius Agricola from the Latin word Serpentinus, which means “of or belonging to a snake”
In ancient times, Serpentine was thought to be a cure for poison. Amulets of serpentine were worn to protect against snakebites or poisoning. Legend holds that a king insisted that his chalice be made of Serpentine as it was believed that if a poison were put into his drink in a Serpentine vessel, the vessel would sweat on the outside, thus giving the game away!
Serpentine was popular in the United States during the first half of the 20th century as an architectural but is more popular today in jewellery-making.
Serpentine has been used as an architectural stone for thousands of years. It is available in a wide variety of green and greenish colours, often has an attractive pattern, works easily, and polishes to a nice lustre.
Some varieties of serpentine can be carved into beautiful stone sculptures. Fine-grained, translucent material with a uniform texture and without voids and fractures is preferred. Serpentine is relatively soft and carves easily. It also accepts a nice polish.
Attractive serpentine can be cut into a wide variety of gemstones. It is most often cut into cabochons and beads. They usually display a range of green, yellow, and black colours and often have magnetite, chromite, or other minerals as interesting inclusions.
Serpentine has a Mohs hardness of 3 to 6 which is softer than granite, and usually harder than most marble. This means that it has some durability concerns because 3 is far too soft for anything but the most gently worn jewellery such as earrings, brooches, or pendants. 6 is not hard quite enough for confident use in a ring. Beads and beaded bracelets can be made from the more durable Serpentine.
Serpentine is thought to be spiritually connected to the Kundalini energy. This is the believed life force energy that runs through our bodies and is often represented as a snake. Serpentine is said to be a classic curse-breaking stone, especially if one suspects that someone is throwing negative psychic energy or even premeditated spells with ill intent at oneself.