Bloodstone: The Gemstone of Legends and Lapidiaries.

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Bloodstone is a stone that has captivated human imagination for centuries. Known for its striking appearance—a deep green canvas speckled with vivid red spots—bloodstone, or heliotrope, is more than just a pretty stone.

In this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the heart of bloodstone, exploring its mysterious origins, the legends woven around it, and its enduring appeal. It’s designed to provide a clear and detailed insight into the world of bloodstone, making it accessible to everyone from experienced collectors to those newly fascinated by this gemstone.

Quick Facts About Bloodstone

  • Primary Characteristics: Bloodstone is a dark green, opaque variety of chalcedony, which is a type of quartz.
  • Distinctive Feature: It is known for its bright red spots or larger areas, which are iron oxide inclusions that give the appearance of drops of blood.
  • Alternate Names: Bloodstone is also referred to as Aggregate Heliotrope, Blood Jasper, and The Martyr’s Stone.
  • Birthstone Significance: Bloodstone is traditionally recognized as the birthstone for March.
  • Historical Association: Often known as “the martyr’s stone”, bloodstone has been used in many medieval carvings of Christ.

What is Bloodstone?

Bloodstone, often called heliotrope, is a dark cryptocrystalline silica mineral containing spots of hematite. Hematite, an oxidized iron mineral, is known for leaving a red streak. Its appearance varies, ranging from glossy black to the red and orange hues found in bloodstone.

The name “bloodstone” derives from these red spots, which were thought to resemble drops of blood by ancient observers.

The classic form of bloodstone is green jasper adorned with red spots in irregular patterns. It can also exhibit darker colorations or be mottled with other jasper colors like blue or white, depending on the stone’s initial formation.

Bloodstone is known for its striking beauty. It is frequently carved or cut into cabochons, and in some exceptional cases, lapidaries create beautifully faceted stones from it.

“Bloodstone Cameo with Saint George,” on view at The Cleveland Museum of Art in Gallery 105

Superstitions and Mythology of Bloodstone

Bloodstone’s use extends far beyond decoration, tracing back to Pliny the Elder in the Western world. This indicates over 2,000 years of documented superstitious beliefs surrounding the stone, and likely even more. Pliny the Elder, author of “Naturalis Historia,” arguably created the first prototype of an encyclopedia. Although considered somewhat quaint by today’s scientific standards, his work was extensively distributed in its time.

Various powers have been attributed to heliotrope, including:

  • Granting invisibility to its bearer.
  • Transforming weather conditions.
  • Enabling divination.
  • Serving as an amulet for longevity, wealth, and courage.
  • Acting as a charm against venomous creatures.
  • The ability to stop wounds from bleeding.

It’s important to note that classical associations of gems with specific powers often differ significantly from modern interpretations, which are more recent and largely synthesized.

Interestingly, the belief in bloodstone’s ability to stop bleeding, primarily found in India, has some basis in reality. Hematite, a component of bloodstone, can act as an astringent when immersed in cold water. However, the effectiveness of this practice compared to modern medical methods is debatable.

Most medical professionals today would undoubtedly recommend conventional methods, like using gauze, for wound care.

In terms of mythology, bloodstone is unique for one particular legend: it was believed in some traditions to be the stone upon which Christ bled when he was pierced with the Spear of Longinus on the Cross. This belief contributed to its reputation as a powerful talisman.

Physical Properties of Bloodstone

polished bloodstone
Beautifully polished bloodstone specimen

Bloodstone shares many similarities with jasper in terms of its physical properties. Much like red jasper, which gets its color from oxidized iron, bloodstone contains these iron deposits as well, albeit more concentrated in specific areas.

In terms of hardness, bloodstone rates a 7 on the Mohs scale, and it has a specific gravity of approximately 2.6. This specific gravity places it within the median range of the jasper family, though this can vary slightly based on the exact type and inclusions present in the stone.

For collectors and gem enthusiasts, an important characteristic of bloodstone is its tight-grained texture. This quality allows it to achieve a high gloss polish, making it highly desirable for decorative purposes.

When discussing the base of bloodstone, which can sometimes appear translucent, it’s more accurate to describe the matrix containing the hematite as chalcedony, rather than jasper.

How is Bloodstone Formed?

Heliotrope, commonly known as bloodstone, is formed similarly to other types of jasper.

The process begins with the formation of nodules in cracks and voids within bedrock over millions of years. Gradually, these areas are infiltrated by silica-rich waters that deposit their minerals. In bloodstone’s case, the green and blue hues are typically due to chloride impurities present in the silica. Sometimes, these colors may also result from epidote within the chalcedony matrix. Hence, ‘bloodstone’ is more a descriptive term than a strict mineral definition.

The characteristic red coloring of bloodstone comes from hematite inclusions. This hematite is usually well-integrated with silica, giving the stone a fairly uniform surface texture.

In essence, bloodstone’s formation mirrors that of other agates and jaspers. What sets it apart is the unique and uneven distribution of impurities, which gives rise to its distinctively spotted appearance.

Where to Find Bloodstone

Bloodstone, while not the rarest of stones, is still relatively uncommon due to its specific formation process, leading to sparse distribution. A significant portion of the bloodstone available in the market originates from Brazil. However, it is also found in several locations across the United States.

Besides Brazil, bloodstone deposits are known in countries like Australia and Germany.

Within the United States, California hosts the largest and most frequent bloodstone deposits. From my personal experience, the distribution of bloodstone can be surprisingly widespread. For instance, I have occasionally found it in the Santa Ynez riverbed, which is quite a distance from the more well-known deposits in Northern California and Oregon.

Lapidary Tips for Working With Bloodstone

bloodstone ring
Example of bloodstone used in jewelry

Bloodstone is an excellent material for lapidary work due to its diverse appearance. When you cut open a nodule, for instance with a slab saw, you might discover intriguing surprises like white opal or chalcedony, which add to the mineral’s visual appeal.

If you’re experienced with working jasper, you’ll find bloodstone similar to handle. The recommended approach involves using diamond tools and progressively finer grits, up to around 1200, before applying the final polish. For polishing stones with hardness ratings of 6.5 to 7.5, I prefer using cerium oxide, which works exceptionally well with bloodstone.

One challenge you might encounter is undercutting, which manifests as pitting during the stone’s progression through various grits. This is often due to sections of hematite within the stone that aren’t fully silicified, making them softer than the surrounding chalcedony or jasper.

To minimize undercutting, a lighter touch on the grinding wheels or tools is advisable. It might take some experimentation to determine the right pressure for each piece. Using resin-based “soft” wheels can also be beneficial.

Hand sanding the final few grits can be effective, albeit time-consuming. Alternatively, using Opticon or another preferred stabilizer can address any undercutting issues.

Bloodstone’s unpredictability makes it a fascinating choice for three-dimensional carvings. The underlying color pattern is often a surprise, leading to unique visual effects as the stone is worked.

When selecting rough bloodstone, pay attention to the orange spots. If they seem crumbly or powdery, they might undercut during the cutting process. Typically, high-quality rough bloodstone presents no issues and can be cut like any other homogenous material.

Bloodstone has long been a favorite among lapidaries. Once you complete your first cabochon, you’ll likely understand its enduring appeal.

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