Special Quartz Varieties
The pretty crystals and vivid colors you'll see in jewelry and in rock shops are scarce. Here are some of those precious varieties:
- Clear, colorless quartz is called rock crystal.
- Translucent white quartz is called .
- Milky pink quartz is called rose quartz. Its color is thought to be due to various impurities (titanium, iron, manganese) or microscopic inclusions of other minerals.
- Purple quartz is called . Its color is due to "holes" of missing electrons in the crystal in combination with iron impurities.
- Yellow quartz is called citrine. Its color is due to iron impurities.
- Green quartz is called prasiolite. Iron impurities account for its color, too.
- Gray quartz is called smoky quartz. Its color is due to "holes" of missing electrons in combination with aluminum impurities.
- Brown smoky quartz is called cairngorm and black smoky quartz is called morion.
- The is a form of natural quartz crystal with two pointed ends.
Quartz also occurs in a microcrystalline form called . Together, both minerals are also referred to as silica.
See more examples of quartz in the .
Where Quartz Is Found
Quartz is perhaps the most typical mineral of the planet Earth. In fact, one test of a meteorite, if you think you've found one, is to be sure it doesn't have any quartz. But more than that, quartz is typical of the continents. Geologic processes have concentrated it there.
Quartz is found in most geologic settings, but it most typically forms sedimentary rocks like . This is no surprise when you consider that nearly all the sand on Earth is almost exclusively grains of quartz. Under mild heat and pressure conditions, can form in sedimentary rocks that are lined with crusts of quartz crystals deposited from underground fluids.
In igneous rocks, quartz is the defining mineral of . When granitic rocks crystallize deep underground, quartz is generally the last mineral to form and it usually has no room to form crystals. But in quartz can sometimes form very large crystals, as long as a meter. Crystals also occur in veins associated with hydrothermal activity in the shallow crust.
In metamorphic rocks such as , quartz becomes concentrated in bands and veins. In this setting its grains do not take their typical crystal form. Sandstone, too, turns into a massive quartz rock called .
What Quartz Means
Among the common minerals, quartz is the toughest and most inert. It makes up the backbone of good soil, providing mechanical strength and holding open pore space between its grains. Its superior hardness and resistance to dissolution are what make sandstone and granite endure. Thus you could say that quartz holds up the mountains.
Prospectors are always alert to veins of quartz because these are signs of hydrothermal activity and the possibility of ore deposits.
To the geologist, the amount of silica in a rock is a basic and important bit of geochemical knowledge. Quartz is a ready sign of high silica, for example in a lava.
When found in abundance, quartz always points to a continental rock because the tectonic processes that have built the Earth's continents favor quartz. (For more, see .) But quartz helps itself by being hard, stable and low in density. As it moves through the tectonic cycle of erosion, deposition, subduction and magmatism, quartz lingers in the uppermost crust and always comes out on top.