Before proceeding to the study of precious stones as individual gems, certain physical properties common to all must be discussed, in order to bring the gems into separate classes, not only because of some chemical uniformity, but also because of the unity which exists between their physical formation and properties.
The first consideration, therefore, may advisedly be that of their crystals, since their crystalline structure forms a ready means for the classification of stones, and indeed for that of a multitudinous variety of substances.
It is one of the many marvellous phenomena of nature that mineral, as well as many vegetable and animal substances, on entering into a state of solidity, take upon themselves a definite form called a crystal.
These crystals build themselves round an axis or axes with wonderful regularity, and it has been found, speaking broadly, that the same substance gives the same crystal, no matter how its character may be altered by colour or other means.
Even when mixed with other crystallisable substances, the resulting crystals may partake of the two varieties and become a sort of composite, yet to the physicist they are read like an open book, and when separated by analysis they at once revert to their original form.
On this property the analyst depends largely for his results, for in such matters as food adulteration, etc., the microscope unerringly reveals impurities by means of the crystals alone, apart from other evidences.
It is most curious, too, to note that no matter how large a crystal may be, when reduced even to small size it will be found that the crystals are still of the same shape. If this process is taken still further, and the substance is ground to the finest impalpable powder, as fine as floating dust, when placed under the microscope each speck, though perhaps invisible to the naked eye, will be seen a perfect crystal, of the identical shape as that from which it came, one so large maybe that its planes and angles might have been measured and defined by rule and compass.
This shows how impossible it is to alter the shape of a crystal.
We may dissolve it, pour the solution into any shaped vessel or mould we desire, recrystallise it and obtain a solid sphere, triangle, square, or any other form; it is also possible, in many cases, to squeeze the crystal by pressure into a tablet, or any form we choose, but in each case we have merely altered the arrangement of the crystals, so as to produce a differently shaped mass, the crystals themselves remaining individually as before.
Such can be said to be one of the laws of crystals, and as it is found that every substance has its own form of crystal, a science, or branch of mineralogy, has arisen, called "crystallography," and out of the conglomeration of confused forms there have been evolved certain rules of comparison by which all known crystals may be classed in certain groups.
This is not so laborious a matter as would appear, for if we take a substance which crystallises in a cube we find it is possible to draw nine symmetrical planes, these being called "planes of symmetry," the intersections of one or more of which planes being called "axes of symmetry."
So that in the nine planes of symmetry of the cube we get three axes, each running through to the opposite side of the cube. One will be through the centre of a face to the opposite face; a second will be through the centre of one edge diagonally; the third will be found in a line running diagonally from one point to its opposite.
On turning the cube on these three axes—as, for example, a long needle running through a cube of soap—we shall find that four of the six identical faces of the cube are exposed to view during each revolution of the cube on the needle or axis.
These faces are not necessarily, or always, planes, or flat, strictly speaking, but are often more or less curved, according to the shape of the crystal, taking certain characteristic forms, such as the square, various forms of triangles, the rectangle, etc., and though the crystals may be a combination of several forms, all the faces of any particular form are similar.
All the crystals at present known exhibit differences in their planes, axes and lines of symmetry, and on careful comparison many of them are found to have some features in common; so that when they are sorted out it is seen that they are capable of being classified into thirty-three groups.
Many of these groups are analogous, so that on analysing them still further we find that all the known crystals may be classed in six separate systems according to their planes of symmetry, and all stones of the same class, no matter what their variety or complexity may be, show forms of the same group.
Beginning with the highest, we have—
(1) the cubic system, with nine planes of symmetry;
(2) the hexagonal, with seven planes;
(3) the tetragonal, with five planes;
(4) the rhombic, with three planes;
(5) the monoclinic, with one plane;
(6) the triclinic, with no plane of symmetry at all.
In the first, the cubic—called also the isometric, monometric, or regular—there are, as we have seen, three axes, all at right angles, all of them being equal.
The second, the hexagonal system—called also the rhombohedral—is different from the others in having four axes, three of them equal and in one plane and all at 120° to each other; the fourth axis is not always equal to these three. It may be, and often is, longer or shorter. It passes through the intersecting point of the three others, and is perpendicular or at right angles to them.
The third of the six systems enumerated above, the tetragonal—or the quadratic, square prismatic, dimetric, or pyramidal—system has three axes like the cubic, but, in this case, though they are all at right angles, two only of them are equal, the third, consequently, unequal.
The vertical or principal axis is often much longer or shorter in this group, but the other two are always equal and lie in the horizontal plane, at right angles to each other, and at right angles to the vertical axis.
The fourth system, the rhombic—or orthorhombic, or prismatic, or trimetric—has, like the tetragonal, three axes; but in this case, none of them are equal, though the two lateral axes are at right angles to each other, and to the vertical axis, which may vary in length, more so even than the other two.
The fifth, the monoclinic—or clinorhombic, monosymmetric, or oblique—system, has also three axes, all of them unequal. The two lateral axes are at right angles to each other, but the principal or vertical axis, which passes through the point of intersection of the two lateral axes, is only at right angles to one of them.
In the sixth and last system, the triclinic—or anorthic, or asymmetric—the axes are again three, but in this case, none of them are equal and none at right angles.
It is difficult to explain these various systems without drawings, and the foregoing may seem unnecessarily technical. It is, however, essential that these particulars should be clearly stated in order thoroughly to understand how stones, especially uncut stones, are classified.
These various groups must also be referred to when dealing with the action of light and other matters, for in one or other of them most stones are placed, notwithstanding great differences in hue and character; thus all stones exhibiting the same crystalline structure as the diamond are placed in the same group. Further, when the methods of testing come to be dealt with, it will be seen that these particulars of grouping form a certain means of testing stones and of distinguishing spurious from real.
For if a stone is offered as a real gem (the true stone being known to lie in the highest or cubic system), it follows that should examination prove the stone to be in the sixth system, then, no matter how coloured or cut, no matter how perfect the imitation, the test of its crystalline structure stamps it readily as false beyond all shadow of doubt—for as we have seen, no human means have as yet been forthcoming by which the crystals can be changed in form, only in arrangement, for a diamond crystal is a diamond crystal, be it in a large mass, like the brightest and largest gem so far discovered—the great Cullinan diamond—or the tiniest grain of microscopic diamond-dust, and so on with all precious stones.
So that in future references, to avoid repetition, these groups will be referred to as group 1, 2, and so on, as detailed here.
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