One of the most striking ornamental gemstones is malachite, a beautiful green opaque gem. It is made of copper carbonate and usually forms in globular groups, looking like a bunch of grapes or bubbles. It can be cut across the ‘bubbles’, resulting in a beautiful pattern of bull’s eyes and curves, or as a cross section, which results in bands of different greens. It can sometimes form as thin stalactites.

Silver malachite earring showing the bull’s eye effect when the stone is cut across the bubbles

Malachite has been used for centuries. In the Neolithic Age and onwards, it was mined for copper. It was also used in amulets by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and was ground and used as eye shadow and as a pigment in paint and glass. The Urals in Russia was once a source for malachite and slabs of malachite were mined and cut for use in furniture, walls and for vases. The Malachite Room in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg has columns and a fireplace made of malachite and there is a malachite room in the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City which has a beautiful door and some large pedestals made of malachite.

Victorian malachite brooch

Malachite became particularly popular in the 1820s and 1830s. One of the most spectacular pieces of jewellery using malachite was a parure made in the 1830s for Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway ( Empress Josephine also had a malachite and gold parure (

Mexican silver and malachite necklace (in Navettejewellery on Etsy)

Malachite is still popular today. Some high status jewellers, like Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari, have designed signature pieces using malachite. The Alhambra necklace by Cleef & Arpels is a beautiful example of this (