You might have heard of marcasite jewelry, but did you know there are two versions? That’s because the term marcasite jewelry has a bit of a double meaning. It also has a complicated and fascinating history.
First, there is a gemstone known as marcasite. It’s distinctive for its subtle shine and has appeared in jewelry since ancient times. But today, when someone says marcasite jewelry, they could instead be referring to a style of jewelry. These pieces feature pyrite, not the gemstone marcasite.
Marcasite’s distinct look and vintage feel have made it a common sight. Many families have a marcasite heirloom. Let’s learn all there is to know about marcasite jewelry and its history.
Marcasite Gemstone and Jewelry: An Ancient & Extensive History
The gemstone marcasite has a history of use in jewelry.
The Incas used pyrite and marcasite to adorn objects and in their jewelry. They even used some items decorated with marcasite in religious rituals. Its popularity is evident in the amount of physical evidence discovered in South America.
The Georgian Period
During the Georgian period, technological advancements allowed people to start cutting and molding metals. Wealthier people occasionally added marcasite to their molded jewelry pieces to enhance more expensive stones. On the other hand, those with less money saw marcasite as a more affordable and practical alternative to diamonds.
Europe and the Middle East
The charms of marcasite jewelry readily spread throughout Europe and the Middle East. It was crafted and traded in ancient Greece, and other societies made this type of jewelry before that. Many civilizations have come and gone in these areas, and most used marcasite jewelry.
Queen Victoria of England made marcasite jewelry a topic of discussion by wearing it in place of pricier jewelry. Her look had mass appeal because many desired expensive jewelry with diamonds but couldn’t afford it. People began purchasing the much less costly marcasite jewelry in droves.
Art Deco Marcasite Jewelry
Marcasite jewelry has evolved over the years, and there were times when its designs became exceptionally popular. Its fame in the Victoria era saw many designers crafting unique jewelry pieces. As the Art Nouveau influence waned, the Art Deco style supplanted it. Marcasite paired quite well with the angular, streamlined look of Art Deco-style jewelry.
Marcasite Gemstone and Jewelry: Demystified
Why does marcasite jewelry mean two things? We explain everything here.
What is a Marcasite Gemstone?
Marcasite is a semi-precious stone found alongside sedimentary rocks in nature. It is often described as tin-ish in color, though it can be pale yellow as well. Its luster is metallic but often dull. Due to its brittleness, it isn’t a great choice to use in jewelry.
Marcasite leaves a greenish-black streak when dragged over another stone. But remember never to do a destructive streak test on a finished stone. It can damage the jewelry.
What is Marcasite Jewelry?
Most commonly, marcasite jewelry refers to any jewelry piece made from pyrite. Pyrite is a brittle and brassy metallic stone that is similar in appearance to marcasite. Due to its similar appearance to gold and its lower value, pyrite earned the name “fool’s gold.”
When used in jewelry, pyrite is typically set into silver to create accents. This style is usually what people are referring to when they discuss marcasite jewelry.
Vintage Marcasite Jewelry: Marcasite vs. Pyrite
Marcasite and pyrite have similar appearances, as well as physical and chemical properties. Pyrite crystal formations are better for jewelry and more stable. But both were called marcasite for so long that jewelry made of pyrite is still called marcasite jewelry.
It might sound complicated, but both types of marcasite jewelry are sought after for their vintage charm. They continue to be a favorite among collectors. There are also replicas available, often in the Victorian Era Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
Marcasite Jewelry in Modern Times
Marcasite jewelry is enjoying a bit of a revival as more people realize its beauty and complexity. Plus, it’s affordable and offers a unique style and look that matches many trends.
Now when someone refers to marcasite jewelry, they are probably talking about a piece with pyrite accents, not jewelry with genuine marcasite. Marcasite is rarer than pyrite and would seem like a good choice for a piece of jewelry. However, its brittle nature is not ideal, as it’s easy to damage.
Marcasite Jewelry: A Metaphysical Stone
Marcasite jewelry is also known by many to have healing properties. They believe it to be a meditative stone that can inspire creativity in art. It may also help form a connection to the spiritual world with your higher chakras and help people forget unpleasant feelings. Marcasite may also help people move on from grudges by pushing away negative energy. Naturopaths also believe it helps fight brain fatigue.
Marcasite Jewelry: Value and Price
Since every piece of jewelry varies in value and price, it’s important not to assume something’s worth. Original pieces from the Victorian Era are often worth a lot of money. Modern replicas are, of course, less valuable. Ordinary marcasite jewelry can also be inexpensive, as are the materials used in its construction.
Brand, design, size, and whether it’s combined with precious gemstones all affect the value of marcasite jewelry. Of course, a substantial piece of jewelry from a big-name jeweler featuring precious gems or stones can be extremely expensive.
Marcasite jewelry will rarely be more than a few dollars and only occasionally more than $100. Still, some pieces of marcasite jewelry are quite expensive.
Marcasite Jewelry: Care and Maintenance
Deep cleaning and maintenance should usually be left to a professional. Marcasite stones are delicate and pyrite is fragile, so it's easy to damage them accidentally.
You can help preserve your jewelry by keeping it free of moisture and well-protected from impact. Store it in a box with padding and limited humidity.
If you must clean it, use a soft damp towel to wipe away dirt. Then thoroughly dry it and always avoid any aggressive rubbing or brushing. You don’t want to damage your jewelry by marring the surface. Remember that marcasite jewelry may have other stones included that need special care.
You should also never soak it. Doing so can easily ruin marcasite jewelry. If you’re not sure what to do, take it in for a professional cleaning.
Marcasite in Jewelry Design
Marcasite is a complementary element of many designs. Many feature white-hued metals like silver, sterling silver, gold, or polished steel. The color contrast it makes is distinctive and charming. Pairing pure gold and marcasite is pretty rare. Both are fairly delicate and easy to damage.
Consider that marcasite and pyrite often serve to accent other stones. They are less expensive and provide character without adding to the cost.
Marcasite Jewelry Buying Guide
Marcasite isn’t extremely valuable as a semi-precious stone, but there are still fake pieces passed off as authentic. You can spot genuine marcasite jewelry by doing a streak test or having it appraised by a jeweler.
The bottom line is that marcasite jewelry can be perfect for those who like a vintage design. There are various necklaces, bracelets, and earrings available on the market at affordable prices.
Be sure to avoid scammers by doing your research and only purchasing from reputable sellers.