Gemologist Guide to Identifying Apatite

Apatite is popular amongst collectors and crystal enthusiasts but the general public rarely asks for it at a jewelry store. The limiting factor with apatite is its hardness which is 5. This leaves it susceptible to scratches at chips from general wear and tear. If you fall in love with the blue-green apatite then your best way to display it would be a pendant or earrings.

Higher-quality apatite crystals displaying vivid blue, green, pink, and yellow colors are often cut into faceted gems. The lower-quality stones which tend to be more translucent in nature can be found in cabochons and beads.

On rare occurrences, translucent apatite contains fine silk of parallel rutile crystals. When these gems are cabbed with the silk parallel to the bottom of the gem, the specimen will exhibit a chatoyance, also known as “cat’s eye.”


How to Identify Apatite Through Testing

There are various ways to identify rocks, minerals, crystals, and gemstones, but we will use a method I learned while attending the Gemological Institute of America.  If you’ve learned a unique way to identify gems, please share it with us.

Let’s look deeper into how to identify apatite like a pro.


gemstone testing lab


Visual Inspection

The visual inspection starts with what form of apatite you have.  The questions below are relatively easy to answer, but each type will have its own process for identifying them.


apatite cabochons


Is it a cabochon? A cabochon should have a low to medium polish with some pitting or streaking. Stones will often contain inclusions, color blotches, and some streaking. Most cabochons commercially available are typically blue and display several different shades of blue while the streaking displays black, gray, white, and copper. Cabbed apatite comes in standard shapes and sizes but it’s not unusual to find free-form cabs in this material.


faceted blue apatite


Is it faceted? Faceted apatite is not well known or sought-after by the general public but you will find it at gem and mineral shows. Most of the stones will be a blue to blue-green color and will be faceted in standard shapes and sizes. You’ll want to use a 10X powered loop to look for natural inclusions to help identify the stone as well. Most of the deep blue colored apatite and been enhanced through heating.

If you need help valuing and pricing apatite then use my free guide.


apatite specimen


Is it a specimen? Apatite is found in different forms. You’ll better identify these forms by looking at and inspecting this mineral over time. Here’s a list of characteristics apatite displays when it’s a specimen.

  • Larger specimens are usually limited to metamorphic rocks.
  • Specimens found are usually small.
  • Green and blue are the most common specimen found.
  • Yellow crystals are common


tumbled blue apatite


Is it tumbled? Very common to find tumbled apatite.  Again, there will be a low to medium polish on the stone’s surface. When observing color you will notice the same patterns you see in cabochons, blotches of blue with streaking.


Physical Properties of Apatite

Let’s take a look at the physical properties of apatite. Knowing what to look for will help you more easily identify what you’re looking at.


Color: Colorless, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, Pink, Brown, Purple

Clarity / Transparency: Transparent – Translucent

Luster: Vitreous to Subresinous

Cleavage: Poor, In two directions

Fracture: Conchoidal, Uneven


The Streak Test

This is a destructive test, so you need to ensure that you’re allowed to damage the specimen or stone if you choose to use this method.  Once you’ve developed robust knowledge in identifying rocks and minerals, you won’t use destructive tests.

A mineral streak test is when you scrape the stone against a harder surface to see what color remains. Apatite produces a white streak.

Tumbled specimens are tested by scraping samples across a piece of ungalvanized porcelain, typically known as a streak plate.


Magnet Test

Apatite is diamagnetic, so a magnet test will not help identify this stone.


Hardness Test

I don’t recommend actively testing the hardness of a stone because it’s destructive in nature and doesn’t really provide a definite answer to what type of stone it is.  That said, apatite has a hardness of 5 on the Mohs hardness scale.


Refractive Index Test

Determining the refractive index, or RI as it’s referred to by gemologists, for apatite is relatively straightforward, but you’ll need a specific piece of test equipment and the RI fluid to go with it.  Before you place the stone on the refractometer, you want to make sure you have a flat, somewhat polished surface to take a reading.


Apatite’s Refractive Index: 1.634 – 1.638


Each gemstone has its own RI, so discovering a sample’s RI can help you figure out what sort of stone it actually is.


Step 1 – Place a small bead of RI fluid on the metal surface of the refractometer near the back of the crystal hemicylinder (the window on which the stone will sit).

Step 2 – Place the stone facet face down on the fluid dot and slide it toward the middle of the hemicylinder crystal using your fingers.

Step 3 – Look through the viewer lens without magnification. Continue looking until you see the outline of a bubble, then look at the bottom of this bubble. Take the reading from there, rounding the decimal to the nearest hundredth.


Occasionally, you’ll run into the issue of not having a flat surface to work with.  In this instance, you’ll need to leave the top of the refractometer open and hold the rounded stone with your hand.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to pull a reading off of the gauge.


Birefringence Test

Consider testing the birefringence, as well. Birefringence is related to RI. While doing the birefringence test, you will turn the gemstone on the refractometer six times throughout the observation period and note the changes.

Perform a standard RI test. Instead of keeping the stone still, gradually turn it 180 degrees, making each separate turn about 30 degrees. At each 30-degree mark, take a new RI reading.

Subtract the lowest reading from the highest to find the stone’s birefringence. Round it to the nearest thousandth.


Birefringence: 0.002 – 0.008


Single or Double Refraction

Apatite is doubly refractive.

The stone must be transparent for this test to be accurate and beneficial.  If the light won’t pass through the stone, there is no way to test for single or double refraction.

Check for single or double refraction. Use this test on translucent and transparent stones. You can determine whether the stone is only singly refractive (SR) or doubly refractive (DR) to help identify it. Some stones can also be classified as aggregate (AGG).

Turn on the light of a polariscope and place the stone face down on the lower glass lens (polarizer). Look through the top lens (analyzer), turning the top lens until the area around the stone looks darkest. This is your starting point.

Turn the analyzer 360 degrees and watch how the light around the stone changes.

If the stone appears dark and stays dark, it is likely an SR. If the stone starts out light and remains light, it is likely AGG. If the lightness or darkness of the stone changes, it is likely DR.


Checking The Diaphaneity

Diaphaneity refers to the mineral’s ability to transmit light. For instance, some minerals are transparent or translucent. A small amount of distortion might occur when they’re thick, but light will pass through them relatively freely.

Apatite is transparent to translucent.


Finding The Specific Gravity

Every stone has its unique specific gravity, which helps us identify them. Specific gravity is one of the best properties to measure when identifying mineral specimens. Most minerals have a narrow range of specific gravity, so getting an accurate measurement can go a long way toward identification.

Specific gravity is a unitless number describing how heavy a mineral is compared to equal volumes of water. For example, if a mineral is three times as dense as water, it’ll have a specific gravity of three. This is useful because while two minerals might be the same size, they’ll each have a different specific gravity.

The larger the sample, the more precise the readings tend to be. Remember that this technique can only be used for single mineral or crystal masses. It will not work for minerals embedded in host rocks.


Apatite’s Specific Gravity: 3.1 – 3.3


As helpful as specific gravity is for identifying minerals, amateurs are usually constrained by the need for more necessary tools for the job. However, one way to work around this is to hold the specimen and note how heavy or heft it feels compared to what you might expect a specimen of that size to weigh.

If you want to determine the specific gravity of your stone like a pro, you’ll need to invest in a higher-end scale.  The OHAUS Density Determination Kit is the one gemologists use.


Identifying Rocks and Minerals Like a Pro

Hopefully, you feel confident in your practice of identifying a piece of apatite after reading and applying this guide.  You’ll be using the visual part of this guide the most, and you’ll get better as you interact with more gemstones.  Before you know it, you’ll be identifying stones like a gemologist.

Feel free to reach out if you encounter any issues or need clarification. I’ll do my best to assist you in the identification process.

Jerred Morris
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