What is Marcasite Jewelry?

The history of Marcasite jewelry.

The Incas are the first known civilization to have used marcasite in jewelry, with notable marcasite jewelry pieces having been found in several Incan burial chambers. The stone can be found in high quantities throughout South America and has been called the stone of the Incas who not only used it for jewelry but for round plate-like objects that may have been mirrors, items to be used in their sun-worship rituals or as a means of seeing into the future.

Native Americans believed they could look into the very soul when peering into a polished piece of Pyrite. Their shamans used it as "a stone of power," and their medicine men used it in certain healing rituals earning it the name of the "Healer's Stone".

Widely available across the world, marcasite continued to be used by many nations and for a variety of uses. In the late 1700's, the Swiss began to produce Marcasite for the European market to bypass the Sumptuary Laws which forbade the use of diamonds by all but the most aristocratic. These laws were introduced at various times to protect and regulate the social hierarchies and morals of the lower orders, through restrictions on clothing, food and luxury goods. This made it easier to identify rank and privilege, and was primarily to ensure that commoners did not imitate the appearance of aristocrats.

The laws were passed in England and Europe right up to the middle of the 1600's. In fact Louis 14th of France decreed that no-one but he should wear diamonds opening the market to the Swiss and Italians to develop the manufacture of marcasite, an excellent imitation.

The Venetians, in particular, became famous for making imitation glass gems and even published recipes for false pearls. These were made from white powdered glass, mixed with egg white and snail slime, to produce beads which could be sold to the rich merchants to adorn their wives and daughters in the style of the aristocrats.

When Napoleon eventually emerged as the Emperor of France he began a new era of pomp and ostentation. A wave of jewelry wearing flooded Europe, and even poorest women would wear some adornment in the form of brooches, ribbons, earrings and so on.

The masses could not afford real gems and marcasite became the standard substitute. By the time Queen Victoria took the throne, brooches, particularly mourning brooches, earrings, necklaces and so on were worn by everyone and the wearing of each piece was regulated by a code of conduct which gave clues to the position the wearer had in society.

This is when Marcasite jewelry truly excelled since they were not restricted by cost and, when crafted properly, were as beautiful as diamonds. Craftsman worked the jewelry producing the most remarkable designs such as art deco watch designs, rings, wonderful pins and brooches, and lovely bracelet settings.

Today Marcasite is as popular as ever. It is no longer the poor relation of the diamond but has come into its own to be highly prized and worn with delight. The Vintage look with romantic Art Nouveau styles or classy Art Deco styles are still the best sellers when it comes to marcasite Jewelry which reflects the influence these periods had on modern design.

The marcasite confusion

Marcasite is the jewelry term given to a form of iron pyrite. Pyrite is the common name for iron sulfide which is generally found in nature in a wide variety of locations. The form of pyrite that is used in jewelry is an angular crystal form whilst true marcasite, although of the same composition, can not be used due to the way it crystalizes making it far too brittle to work.

Mineral Pyrite has a metallic luster that shines beautifully when chiseled with facets. It is brass yellow in color leading to it being occasionally mistaken for gold and earning it the nickname of ‘fool’s gold’ whilst true marcasite is more of a white yellow.

The name ‘pyrite’ comes from the Greek word ‘pyre’ meaning fire on account of the sparks that are created when the rock is struck. Although the more correct name for the material used in jewelry is pyrite, the name ‘marcasite’ , derived from the Arabic word for pyrite, 'markaschatsa', was adopted many centuries ago and has remained the jewelry term. The perfect partner for marcasite is silver.


Silver and Marcasite

Marcasite and Sterling Silver are a match made in heaven. Sterling Silver has been proven to be the perfect medium for the dark coloration of marcasite and makes marcasite blend in spectacularly without making it look like it was a cheap stone.

Marcasite and sterling silver have long been partners and it is with silver that marcasite excels the most. Almost all of the marcasite jewelry found in the market today is inlaid in silver. The darkness of the marcasite compliments the light color of silver as well as its reflectivity.

All sorts of jewelry have been made with the use of marcasite and silver. From brooches that were popular in the Victorian Era to modern style of jewelry like hoop earrings and modern style pendants. There seems to be no end to the possibilities that marcasite and Sterling Silver can achieve together.

Marcasite and Gold does not seem to be so successful however. The yellowish tint of gold tends to clash with the yellow brass tone of marcasite and the gold tends to make both minerals looks dull and ruddy. This has not stopped jewelers from working to overcome this and there does exist some beautiful gold and marcasite jewelry.