Rhodochrosite is a mineral that appeals to rock enthusiasts due to its attractive forms. The mineral can take different forms, and each of them is captivating. Whether it’s the white and red form or the rare, valuable crystals, rhodochrosite is always a beautiful material. In this guide, we will delve into the different aspects of rhodochrosite and what makes it unique.
What is Rhodochrosite?
Rhodochrosite is a manganese carbonate mineral that is favored by lapidaries. It is commonly found as a pink and white streaked stone, sometimes with a black lining. In some cases, it can also be found as single crystals with a deep red hue.
Rhodochrosite is often confused with rhodonite, which is a manganese silicate mineral. However, it is easy to distinguish between the two minerals. Rhodochrosite is mainly white and pink, while rhodonite is pink and black. Additionally, rhodonite is much harder due to its silica content, making it easier to distinguish the two minerals if you have a sample on hand.
Rhodochrosite is a relatively soft mineral, with a hardness of 3.5-4.0 on the Mohs scale. This makes it unsuitable for jewelry compared to other stones, although it can be used as a cabochon. Crystalline rhodochrosite can be cut into faceted gemstones, but they are only suitable for low-impact jewelry like earrings. These gems are primarily bought by gem collectors and are meant to be displayed rather than worn.
The main use of rhodochrosite is as an ore of the metal manganese. The metal is used in the production of some aluminum alloys, but it is primarily used in the manufacture of cheaper stainless steel variations.
Forms of Rhodochrosite
Crystalline Vs. Massive Rhodochrosite
There are two primary forms of rhodochrosite that rock collectors encounter: massive pink and white formations and crystalline specimens.
Massive Banded Rhodochrosite
Massive rhodochrosite is comprised of interlocking crystals and appears as pink and white with white banding comprised of calcite. This form is sometimes found as stalactites, particularly in the Argentinian Capillitas Mining District, and is often sliced and polished for the collector and lapidary markets due to its concentric banding.
Crystalline rhodochrosite is found as small, single crystals and ranges in color from light pink to deep red. This form is generally seen as mineral specimens as it is too soft for most jewelry uses. Crystalline rhodochrosite is rare and often sought after by collectors and those doing micro-mounting. The largest rhodochrosite crystal, the Alma King, is only 10cm in size. Crystalline rhodochrosite is expensive, especially if it is well-formed and transparent.
Differences and Uses
The two forms of rhodochrosite differ greatly in appearance and usage. Crystalline rhodochrosite is favored for its rarity and is usually expensive. On the other hand, massive rhodochrosite is soft, easy to polish, and is often used in cabochons sold for a few dollars each. The massive form is opaque and less prone to chipping and scratches, making it suitable for jewelry.
Where to Find Rhodochrosite
Rhodochrosite, in its massive formation with calcite, is a fairly common mineral in the United States. The crystalline form of the mineral can also be found, for instance, Alma King from Colorado.
Sweet Home Mine in Park County, Colorado
The Sweet Home Mine in Park County, Colorado is one of the most notable sources of Rhodochrosite. This mine produces some of the finest samples of the mineral and is known for producing two of the largest crystals in the world. The Rhodochrosite from this mine is found in a cubic, crystalline form with high transparency and a deep red color. Although there is no public access to the mine, rockhounds can find gem-quality deposits of Rhodochrosite near the Sweet Home Mine in Alma County, Colorado and in Montana.
Pacific Coast and American Southwest
If you are looking for more common specimens of Rhodochrosite, the Pacific Coast and American Southwest have a lot of this mineral. The states that have a considerable amount of Rhodochrosite are:
- New Mexico
Rhodochrosite can also be found in smaller amounts in the Midwest and in New England.
Finding Rhodochrosite is a matter of doing research and digging. It is also frequently found in combination with other minerals, which makes for beautiful display specimens, whether it’s crystallized or massive.
Although Rhodochrosite is a common ornamental stone, true crystals of the mineral are hard to find and rare. For those who are seeking, this rarity can be a personal challenge.
Where to Start
In each of the states listed above, there are at least a dozen locations to find Rhodochrosite. You can start your search by visiting Mindat’s American Rhodochrosite page to find a location near you.