Strands of Hematite Gemstone Beads
Hematite is iron oxide, a mineral in the trigonal crystal system that is the most important ore of the metal iron. Banded iron formations several billion years in age are the primary industrial source of hematite. As primitive cyanobacetria relased oxygen into the Earth's primordial atmosphere, it combined with iron dissolved in the Earth's early oceans, precipitating insoluable iron oxides that sank to the sea bed and consolidated as banded iron formations.
In mineral form hematite ranges in color from steel grey to black. Hematite is named after the greek word for blood due to the red coloration of powdered hematite. Weathered soils and rocks that are reddish in color usually contain hematite. Hematite is what makes Mars the "Red Planet". Red ochre, one of the first pigments used by prehistoric humans, was obtained from hematite bearing clay. Pieces of hematite, worn down as though they were used as crayons, have been discovered in 300,000 year old archeological sites in Europe.
Hematite has a metallic luster and eye-catching mirror-like shine when highly polished. The use of hematite as a gemstone was especially popular during the Victorian era. Hematite remains a popular gem material although a good deal of "hematite" marketed in the jewelry trade today is actually "hematine", a convincing synthetic imitation. Hematite is not magnetic and powders brownish-red. Hematine is often magnetic ("magnetic hematite" is hematine) and powders grey to black.
Hematite is most commonly presented in jewelry as cabochons, beads and carving. Hematite has intermediate hardness (5-6 Mhos hardness) and should be stored apart from harder gems that can scratch it. Clean hematite stones using warm water, mild soap and a cloth or soft brush. Do not use an ultrasonic or steam cleaner and keep hematite out of contact with heat, acids, ammonia and other chemical cleaners.