The matrix material that some gemstones show is no always fully understood. Is it valuable? Does it affect the integrity of the stone? Today we’re taking a look at what matrix is, how it might affect a gem’s physical qualities, and examples of how gem treatments might create this look.
What is the matrix in a gemstone?
Most gemstones come from the earth. When extracting their rough form, the host rock may remain attached. In some cases, the host rock also occurs within the gemstone material. When the host rock is part of a gemstone, we call the rock matrix.
How does the matrix affect a gem’s properties?
Depending on the host rock, the most common effect it has on a gemstone is by changing its hardness, toughness, or stability. These are the factors that determine a gem’s durability.
Since the material has a different composition, the matrix may raise or lower the Mohs hardness of the gem, which is its resistance to scratching or abrasion, or its toughness, which is a stone’s ability to withstand breaks, chips, or cracks.
Stability is what we consider when discussing how well gemstones resist light, heat, and chemicals. In most cases, this is negligible and doesn’t affect our ability to wear a gem.
For some, the matrix affects the beauty of a gemstone. In gemology, we consider beauty to be the ‘it’ factor that makes us react to a gem; no matter if we love it or hate it, we have a feeling about it!
A beautiful matrix makes some gems more desirable—for instance, many varieties of turquoise feature matrix as part of their visual identity. One example is Royston Turquoise.
It is rare to find rough material coming right out of the earth with an attractive blend of matrix and color. Creating the right balance of colored gemstone and matrix is what makes shaping and polishing challenging for a lapidary. And this is what makes it such an art form!
Can matrix be a gemstone treatment?
So far, we have only considered matrix as occurring during a gemstone’s formation within the earth. However, these patterns can also occur as a result of gemstone treatment. The treatment is a variation of creating composite gemstones.
A composite gemstone combines one or more gem materials and other materials. The non-gem substances usually bind everything together or improve the appearance of the finished stone or both.
Triplet quartz gemstones are one example of a composite gem. Mojave turquoise is the first composite gemstone that Shop LC offered to feature a matrix. Since then, the list has expanded to included stones like matrix shungite, fire opal, and others.
Ready to learn more about gems? Try reading What is a Simulated vs. Synthetic Gemstone?.