With thousands of crystals to choose from it can be overwhelming knowing how and where to begin. This guide will help introduce you to the basics, make you familiar with geologic lingo, and get you on your way to building a beautiful collection!
I get asked this question a lot. These terms are often used interchangeably by the public but they each mean something different. Lets start with minerals, since they are the building blocks of rocks.
A mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic solid with an organized internal structure and specific chemical composition.
Layman's terms: A mineral is not man-made and is not from plants/animals. Inside the mineral, all the atoms align into specific shapes/structures. Under the right conditions, a specific mineral should form into a specific shape. Chemically, only certain elements can create a specific mineral. Example: Quartz, a very common mineral, can only be made from Silicon and Oxygen (SiO2). Other elements like Iron or Manganese cannot make quartz. These elements can be included within the quartz, causing it to appear different colors, but they are not the base composition for producing quartz.
A crystal is a formation, or a shape of a mineral.
When most people think of a crystal, they think of a point like the quartz crystal below.
However, crystals can form in lots of different shapes, points, cubes, clusters and more. Sometimes minerals don't form into defined crystals and form as a mass or free-form. Even the same mineral can form in many different shapes depending on the growing conditions of where it was formed. An array of different crystal shapes are shown below.
Cubic Pyrite - Spain
Hexagonal Amethyst - Uruguay
Azurite and Malachite - Morocco
Stilbite and Apophyllite - India
Copper - Michigan
It is ok to use the terms mineral and crystal interchangeably when referring to a collection since most minerals you would be collecting are already in a crystal shape.
So we have covered minerals and crystals, but what is a rock?
A rock is a composite of minerals.
Think of a rock as a cake. To make a cake, you need certain ingredients such as flour, eggs, sugar, etc. Minerals are your ingredients....the rock is the cake.
Depending on what ingredients (minerals) your rock contains will determine the type of rock that it is. For example, a granite, which is a type of rock, usually contains the minerals quartz, mica, and feldspar.
So we have covered the basic difference between a mineral, a crystal and a rock. Next post we will move on to the most common minerals and what to look for when picking out the perfect piece for your collection.