Understanding Gold Crystals

Every so often I get the question “what is a gold crystal?” The short answer, it’s the cubes and triangles that form on a gold specimen. But I don’t like that answer and it doesn’t do gold crystals their due justice; there is so much more to the world of gold crystals and gold specimens. I’ll make this post brief and will break down in simple terms what a gold crystal is and make you an expert at understanding and identifying gold crystals and gold specimens.

Gold, in it’s many forms, is a very rare metal. Only about two percent of all gold in the world takes the form of a gold nugget. The other 98% is small and microscopic flakes that are extracted by crushing tons and tons of gold ore. Now consider that out of the two percent that is classified as “nugget gold”, only about two percent of that has crystal formations. So about 0.04% of gold is in the form of gold crystals. They are extremely rare and are precious specimens; in a category all their own.

In the book by Viktor M. Goldschmidt’s “Atlas der Kristallformen” (1918) has documentation of 116 different and well formed gold crystals structures and crystal groups. Goldschmidt’s descriptions are accurate and correct and have been observed in gold specimens either singly, or in combination. But despite the detailed work and numerous drawings he accomplished, there are really only a few distinct groups that are most commonly found in gold crystal specimens (keeping in mind I use the word “commonly” fairly loosely and as we’ve just discussed, gold crystals are very rare).

Cube Category

The most common gold crystals in the cube family are; the cube with six faces, octahedrons with eight faces, and rhombic dodecahedrons which will have 12 faces. Much Less common among gold crystal specimens are the tetrahexahedron, trisoctahedron, hexterahedron each with 24 faces, and finally the hexoactahedron with 48 faces. A lot of big words and I can’t even pronounce them without stumbling. I promised you this article would break it down in simple terms, so just remember the first two; octahedrons and cubes. Most gold crystals in the cube family are, or a variation of, these two shapes.

Pyramid Category

Similar to the cube family, the most common gold crystals in the Pyramid category are the first three examples. The trigon or trigonal with four faces, the ditrigone or ditrigonal with seven faces, and the tetragon or tetragonal with five faces. Again, for use simple minded folks, the majority of gold crystals in the pyramid family are trigons or a slight variation, so just remember the word “trigon” when looking at a triangular gold crystal.

Spinel-Law Twin

An interesting formation that occurs with gold crystals is called the Spinel-Law Twins, also referred to as just Spinel Twins. Its a form of twinning among two or more gold crystals, in which the crystals twin at the base. the term was named after the mineral Spinel, which often exhibits this type of forming and twinning. This happens more frequently with octahedral crystals but not exclusively and is also be seen in other gold crystal formations. Simply put, think about spinel twins as a single crystal that has a mirror or duplicate crystal attached to it; two crystals that form out of the same base.

1. Starts with an octahedron.

2. One face is distorted resulting in a flattened form with triangular shape.

3. The gold crystal is twinned on the octahedral space.

Examples of defined gold crystals

Example A) exhibits very well defined cube gold crystals.
Example B) has octahedron crystals covering the middle of the specimen and an impressive pointed chevron gold crystal on the left side.
Example C) is a specimen that has octahedron and trigon gold crystals over the entire surface.
Example D) is the very basic form of the Spinel Twin; two crystals that form from the same base.

Other interesting formations

What I love about gold crystals and what keeps it interesting for me is that it seldom follows the rules as we’ve just described. Here we saw some wonderful examples of faceted and defined gold crystals, but that’s just the very basic crystal forms. Gold crystals are often so much more dynamic than just the basic forms. Be it feathers, wires, ribbons, or cubes octahedrons; gold crystallization can take on many forms. Every piece is a one of a kind, unique specimen. The following are some examples of this “rule breaking” in gold crystal formations.

Pictured above are two examples of a gold crystal formations that are referred to as dendritic or having a dendritic form. They are composed of a branching tree-like formation and often resemble a fern or leaf, having a pattern that repeats itself. Both examples pictured above have a dendritic form but are very different from one another. The gold specimen on the top picture is very thin and fragile and the gold is fanned out or “pressed”. The gold specimen below it is quite different and has a thick typical gold nugget quality but is still a proud member of the gold crystal family with it’s detailed and dramatic dendritic form.

Hoppering gold or hoppered gold refers to an interesting and unique formation in which the gold crystals exhibit a terraced and often times indented structure penetrating towards the center as shown on the top photo. This is an interesting specimen. Take a closer look at this gold specimen. The body is covered with very well defined trigons, cubes, and octahedrons while the top of the specimen has taken a completely different path and crystal formation with two large and hoppered chevron crystal. The lower photo is a good example of wire gold formations, although very rare, these gold crystals are composed of long, curvy, and slender wires of gold that are interwoven.

Striated gold formation is gold crystals that exhibit parallel line growth or grooves on crystal faces. The example in the top photograph is a wonderful example of a gold crystal comprised entirely of striated gold. Ribbon gold, shown in the lower photograph, is often attached to a gold crystal specimen in one form or another and is are very thin bands of gold that have been pressed naturally by the elements.

Can a Gold Crystal Specimen have it All?

So, that’s the basics of gold crystal. Are you ready to test your knowledge? Take a look at the photo below. It’s a truly amazing gold crystal specimen from the Round Mountain Mine in Nye County, Nevada. We call him the dinosaur and he is covered with a myriad of different gold crystals. Take a good look at him and see if you can identify the different formations.

How’d you do? Here’s what we picked out from this beautiful specimen, although we didn’t highlight all of them and you may have found some we didn’t list.

The opposite side is equally impressive. This side has way more long ribbon gold in striated variations. A closer look shows some of these ribbons are “pressed” trigon and chevron crystals. It has far less of the larger well defined gold crystals, but it’s certainly no less interesting with the layered bands of pressed crystal gold.

Pretty spectacular piece of gold…right. Almost unreal, although I can tell you he is real and I just photographed him for this article. The dinosaur and so many other unique gold specimens are the reason we stay so interested and surprised every day. Gold and natural gold specimens are unique, intricate, and full of wonder. Now that you are a savvy and educated gold crystals expert, we encourage you to keep checking back at our websites; TheGoldMuseum.com, GoldNuggetsForSale.com and GoldNuggetsales.com. as we periodically seek out the worlds best gold. We promise to keep amazing you with sourcing the worlds finest gold specimens, whether you’re a investor, collector, or just an admirer.

– Mike and Garry


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