Calcium Carbonate forms as Calcite, as well as Aragonite. These two minerals differ only in their crystallization. Calcite is the more common mineral and forms in trigonal crystals, whereas Aragonite forms orthorhombic crystals. Occasionally, crystals of Calcite and Aragonite are too small to be individually determined, and it’s only possible to distinguish these two minerals with X-ray or optical testing. The true identity of microcrystalline forms of Calcite or Aragonite might remain unknown without complex testing, which can cause confusion between the species.
Most large Aragonite crystals are twinned growths, including three individual crystals forming pseudohexagonal trillings. While Aragonite crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, the twinning hexagonally shapes many prismatic crystals.
How to Identify Aragonite 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 Aragonite like a pro.
The visual inspection starts with what form of Aragonite you have. The questions below are relatively easy to answer, but each type will have its own process for identifying them.
Is it a cabochon? A cabochon should have a medium to high polish with some pitting due to the material. It is not uncommon to have holes or pockets pushing through the polished surface. The stones can be found in some solid colors, but many cabochon samples display wavy patterns combining two to three colors.
Is it faceted? If you have a faceted piece of Aragonite, it should be translucent but these will be very rare and you won’t see them being worn by the average person. It really makes no sense to facet Aragonite unless you are a lapidary artist and want a challenge.
Is it a specimen? Aragonite 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 Aragonite displays when it’s a specimen.
- It can appear bubbled or column clusters.
- Grows in clusters.
- Some specimens grow in or with Azurite.
Is it tumbled? Very common to find tumbled Aragonite. It will have a medium to high polish. Tumbled Aragonite offers beautiful patterned displays.
Physical Properties of Aragonite
Let’s take a look at the physical properties of Aragonite. Knowing what to look for will help you more easily identify what you’re looking at.
Color: White, Colorless, Green, Gray, Brown, Pink, Red, Orange, Blue, Purple, Yellow
Clarity / Transparency: Transparent to Opaque
Luster: Vitreous, Dull
Cleavage: 3,1 Prismatic; Indiscernible, 2
The Streak Test
This is a destructive test, so you must ensure that you can damage the specimen or stone if you choose to use this method. You won’t use destructive tests once you’ve developed robust knowledge in identifying rocks and minerals.
A mineral streak test is when you scrape the stone against a harder surface to see what color remains. Aragonite produces a white streak.
Tumbled specimens are tested by scraping samples across a piece of ungalvanized porcelain, typically known as a streak plate.
Aragonite is neither ferromagnetic nor magnetic. That said, this test will not be beneficial for identifying Aragonite.
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. Aragonite has a hardness of 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs hardness scale.
Refractive Index Test
Determining the refractive index, or RI, as it’s referred to by gemologists for Aragonite, is relatively straightforward. Still, 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.
Aragonite’s Refractive Index: 1.530 – 1.686
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 can pull a reading off of the gauge.
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.
Single or Double Refraction
Aragonite displays a strong double refraction.
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.
Aragonite 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.
Aragonite’s Specific Gravity: 2.9 – 3.0
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 Aragonite 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.