Have you ever seen a dealer selling Dragon Vein agate? It appears, at first glance, to be rather unbelievable. It’s a cracked stone, often filled with pastel or vivid colors that are rare in nature, but the stone remains affordable. I’d venture to say that most newbies end up with a piece in their collection.
But is it man-made? Is it dyed, treated, or even wholly synthetic? Let’s dig in and spend some time learning about these crystals.
So, Is it Man-Made?
Dragon Vein Agate is either 100% man-made, consisting of glass and colorants, or it’s dyed chalcedony. The latter is a “real” stone, but it’s about as far from natural as you can get without it being entirely lab-created.
Look, there’s a whole industry that operates selling fake stones. Well, there are actually two industries that specialize in fake stones if you get down to it, and they have little connection to each other.
The first is those who do their best to replicate gem material. Selling synthetic green beryl as emerald is a good example. These high-dollar scams are getting harder to pull off and they’re in a different tier of fraud. Like actual, actionable, felony-level fraud due to the numbers involved.
Your casual rockhound rarely runs across these kinds of scams. The targets are mostly people investing in gemstones, where the stone will be tucked away and not looked at for a long time. It’s unethical, illegal, and anyone caught doing so faces stiff penalties.
Then you’ve got stuff like dyed agates, composite materials with crushed rocks, and the like. I’d even consider mystic topaz and quartz to fall under this umbrella.
These stones are obviously faked to the first glance from an experienced rockhound, but they’re pretty and cheap so they end up in a lot of collections. It’s not even a mark against the seller if they offer them unless they’ll argue that the stones are real.
Dragon’s Vein Agate falls squarely into this latter category: it’s an obvious fake to experienced rockhounds, but… it’s pretty. That’s really all the justification people need.
How is Dragon’s Vein Agate Made?
Dragon’s Vein Agate that isn’t just glass is produced by bleaching, quench-cracking, and then dyeing light-colored chalcedony. You can tell the two methods apart easily: Dragon Vein Agate with bold black lines at regular spacing is usually glass, less regular spacing usually indicates dyed chalcedony.
The glass ones are pretty boring to make unless you’re into glassmaking. It’s just a matter of getting the right pattern into the glass before it’s molded into a final shape or set as a slab to be cut.
You can identify dyed chalcedony Dragon’s Vein agate by its internal banding and irregular cracks.
White chalcedony is a common base, but often the stone has some light coloration to begin with. Removing that color is the first step in creating one of these from a natural stone.
The standard way to do this?
Boiling muriatic acid. The concentrated hydrochloric acid is strong enough that it will remove the coloration from natural agates and leave behind a bleached, banded stone. Don’t attempt that one at home, muriatic acid is nasty and unless you’ve got the knowledge to handle it you’re begging for serious injuries.
This doesn’t always remove all of the natural coloration. The example below, for instance, was clearly a brownish agate before treatment and the central bands still have some coloration that can be seen.
The stone is quench cracked after the initial bleaching. The process is simple and takes advantage of some natural properties of silica.
In order to do this, the stone is heated up to a relatively high temperature then dipped in water. For smaller stones this is easy to do with a torch, larger stones are usually heated in a kiln or oven before dipping.
The process takes advantage of thermal shock. If you’ve ever messed up and rapidly cooled a hot glass or baking dish and seen it go to pieces, you’ve seen this in action. With a natural bit of chalcedony, you end up with a bunch of internal fractures.
Thermal shock can be cycled, or done more than once, until the stone has as many or few cracks as the manufacturer would like.
The dyes used for creating these agates can be hard to figure out. While the process is done in bulk, there’s little documentation provided with them for obvious reasons.
The chalcedony is soaked in the dye, and can be partially covered to allow different colors for the “cells.”
Oh, and just to obscure things further? Sometimes Dragon Vein Agate is created using this process but skips bleaching chalcedony and uses glass instead.
This technique is relatively common. I’ve seen slightly different dyes and techniques used to describe a number of stones. Crab fire agate is a good example: it’s often glass, but sometimes it’s synthetic quartz, and occasionally it’s even heat-treated carnelian.
So, Is Dragon Vein Agate Worthless?
Dragon Vein Agate is worth what it costs for the most part. You’ll almost never run into expensive samples of the stuff, it’s usually just made as cheap beads or cabochons and set into hobby jewelry.
A quick Etsy search will show you how cheap it is. Very large cabochons in the material top out around $10 and strands of beads can be found for $5-6. This isn’t expensive stuff meant as a complete con. It’s just treated and colored stone.
While it’s not worth much, you can use known fake stones like Dragon Vein Agate to help gauge a seller.
If, for instance, someone insists that their Dragon Vein Agate is real… well, you have a problem. The seller may just be ignorant, which is common enough. Entry into being a “crystal seller” only costs a few hundred dollars after all.
Or they’re outright dishonest.
Neither of those is a great thing in a supplier, and it could lead to a bigger dupe somewhere farther down the line.
On the other hand, if it’s sold as dyed agate then it’s not a mark against the seller. This stuff is everywhere and people like it, that alone is enough reason to keep it in stock.
But overall, cheap Dragon Vein Agate is cool stuff but it’s not rare, natural, or worth a lot of money.