What Is Marcasite Jewellery?
Used for millennia, marcasite is a gemstone that features in many distinctive jewellery pieces. The term ‘marcasite’ generally refers to jewellery set with the semi-precious stone, but also to jewellery made from silver with tiny pieces of its chemical twin, pyrite. Marcasite creates a uniquely intricate design that is instantly recognisable, and this sort of jewellery has been sought-after in vintage pieces over the last few years.
What is marcasite?
Marcasite is a metallic stone that is incredibly brittle with a low hardness. Its brittle nature actually makes it quite unsuitable for everyday wear as jewellery, which is surprising since that is all it is used for in the modern day. Marcasite is the perfect replacement, however, for more expensive materials like diamonds because of its high shine and low-price tag.
Because it is so fragile, a lot of marcasite jewellery also contains pyrite – more commonly known as ‘fool’s gold’.
Marcasite and pyrite are sister stones – they have the same chemical makeup, but slightly different crystal habits. This makes pyrite stronger and more durable than its brittle relative, hence why it is featured in marcasite jewellery. Pyrite was actually referred to as marcasite until the 19th century, when it was discovered that the materials – whilst incredibly similar – were actually different. Hence, in most marcasite jewellery, it is actually pyrite featured as the main compound.
The history of marcasite
Marcasite was first used in jewellery as far back as ancient times, with Greeks, Thracians and Egyptians featuring the stone in their embellishments. Cleopatra herself was said to have worn marcasite. Incans also used both marcasite and pyrite in their jewellery, as well as in tools of ritual sun worship around items like plates and mirrors. Aside from this, marcasite jewellery has been found in burial chambers all over South America.
In the Victorian era, marcasite made a resurgence following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Victoria entered a lifelong period of mourning, which saw her and the ladies of her court wear only black and less extravagant jewellery. Marcasite was a good alternative for bright (and expensive) diamonds, so this became a suitable substitute for nobility and common folk alike.
In the 1920s, marcasite was used in the popular ‘light/dark’ contrast of the Art Deco era alongside large gemstones like onyx and sapphire. It was often set alongside a large gemstone, the centre of the piece, with intricate detailing created by the marcasite around it. This sapphire solitaire ring is reminiscent of this style, although it opts for the more expensive diamond as opposed to marcasite to highlight the large sapphire. Marcasite was also used to create inexpensive jewellery of a similar nature, commonly featuring jet.
What is the value of marcasite jewellery?
Marcasite jewellery is often inexpensive due to the brittleness of the material, so it is best to determine worth based on individual pieces. As mentioned above, marcasite was often used to highlight other gemstones, so they should be taken into consideration as part of the overall value.
You should also look at the design, size and branding of the piece to determine its value. Additionally, it is also important to remember that marcasite was used in place of diamonds in many circumstances, and that many pieces of vintage jewellery may have the effect of marcasite without the fragility, such as this Victorian diamond and pearl brooch, and these pieces will have a justifiably higher value.
How to look after marcasite jewellery
The biggest thing to note when cleaning marcasite jewellery is that it is soft and brittle, so you must be gentle and avoid using anything with a high level of chemicals. You must also be wary of the metal used and care for that appropriately, as well as taking into consideration any other gemstones in the piece.
Usually, a very soft cloth with lukewarm, soapy water should clean the piece and help to lift out any dirt. When cleaning your marcasite jewellery, be particularly careful not to dislodge the small stones. If you notice that any are coming loose, take it to be repaired if you can. You should thoroughly dry it, both manually and by leaving it in an open space on top of a dry cloth to soak up any excess moisture.
You should avoid using anything abrasive to clean your piece, even if it is a soft jewellery brush. You could run the risk of scratching or damaging the jewellery.
In terms of storage, you must not store your marcasite jewellery in a wooden jewellery box alongside your other items. Wood is corrosive to delicate material. Best practice is to store it in a velvet pouch, which will prevent it from scratching. Ideally, you should also store it somewhere away from light or moisture, which should prevent it from tarnishing.