About ten years ago, we visited Canada for the first time. Driving with a small camper on the Ice Field Parkway was the trip of my life. Two days living amidst stunning nature with glaciers snow and deer running around was an Eldorado for a Dutch girl. And the best thing still had to come… visiting the city of Jasper and searching for the best Jasper stone beads I could find.
Before we could enter the city we had at least to wait about 45 minutes near a train crossing since a very long freight train had to pass first. In the meanwhile, I was looking on the map for places where I could buy Jasper beads.
Finally, we could move on and park the camper. But where ever I looked, whoever I asked, there was no bead shop in the neighborhood. How is that possible? A city called after a beautiful gemstone, that is mined in the vicinity, does not have a store selling this precious goody? To be honest, I was a little bit, not a lot angry about this!
Yes, you are right, jasper is ‘only’ a semi-precious stone, but all the same, very beautiful. And there are so many varieties, that it is really time I write a blog about this gemstone. Just to let you, and the city of Jasper, know what this gem is all about!
You have several systems of presenting a birthstone per month. In the temporary systems, jasper is not mentioned nor appointed as a birthstone.
But in the traditional birthstone system, it is (together with Heliotrope or bloodstone) the birthstone for March.
There is no excuse for Jasper city to say that this gemstone is only known for a few years or so, and therefore there was no time to make the city more known as a ‘gemstone place’. Not at all, no excuse, because already in the Ancient World people knew about this gemstone.
In ancient Mesopotamia (the country between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris) the Red and Green varieties were very popular. About 7000 years ago people used green jasper bow drills to cut and carve other minerals or gemstones, like lapis lazuli and carnelian.
The Red Jasper was regarded as a sacred stone for physical and mental protection in Ancient Times. If you lacked the courage or you needed wisdom, this was the gem to carry around. Like warriors did as a source of protection.
Although in ancient Egypt the red variety was regarded as a great medicine when you were infertile. They thought that red jasper was the blood of the goddess Isis, which fertilized the land. The Babylonians (who lived in southern Mesopotamia, now about 50 miles south of Bagdad/Iraq) considered this variety a symbol of childhood and therefore a female stone.
According to Exodus 28 (Bible), this gem was set in the breastplate of a Jewish High Priest. But to be honest… there are so many descriptions of stones that were set in the breastplate of Aaron, the High Priest, and they mention all different stones. So, I doubt whether this beautiful gem had a place on that breastplate.
In around 1800 BC jasper was used as the basis for seals which they figured out at the archaeological excavations in the Palace of Knossos at Krete.
First Nation people in the United States also knew about this gemstone, which they used in their rituals for rainmaking. But it could also be used as mourning jewelry.
They made a pendant of this gem, with an inscription of the 156th chapter of the Book of the Dead, and placed it around the neck of the deceased. Red Jasper was for them the symbol of the blood of mother earth, which brought them health and rebirth.
The name ‘jasper’ can be traced back in different languages, in very old languages, like Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Assyrian, Latin, and Greek. The origin of this name has a long and complicated history.
To start with the ‘present’ time. The name means ‘spotted or speckled stone’ and comes from Old French (in this language called ‘jaspre’). ‘Jaspre’ comes from Latin (‘jaspis’) and Greek (iaspis). Those variations on the name come from Hebrew (‘yashpeh’).
And to make it easier. In English, this gemstone is called ‘jasper’, which originates from Persian and not from Greek, Latin, or another ancient language.
And in the Netherlands, we just called this stone ‘jaspis’, the Latin version.
What is jasper exactly?
If you think that this is an easy question with an easy answer, you are wrong, totally wrong. It is a rather complicated gemstone with a lot (I mean, really a lot) of varieties. And this makes this stone so intriguing.
Let us stick to the easy description.
Jasper stone is a variety of chalcedony, which is a variety of silica. It is a smooth and opaque gem, with a shiny surface and a speckled underneath pattern. There are a lot of impurities in the stone, caused by the minerals that were pressed into the original stone during its formation.
Due to those impurities, the gem occurs in spectacular colors and designs. This makes jasper so popular.
What was jasper in ancient times?
Remember that in those days people liked gemstones, and gave them a name, but it was possible that all green gems were called emeralds. Nowadays we have better and more sophisticated methods of recognizing gems, and we have now a lot of different names for ‘green’ gems, which are also really different gems.
The ancient jasper was green and more or less translucent (not opaque, like today). All kinds of green stones were called by the name ‘jasper’, like emerald, nephrite, jade, etc. The gems that were called ‘jasper’ then, would be called ‘chalcedony’ now or ‘chrysoprase’ to point out an emerald-like jasper.
Color and patterns
The color of this gemstone can be red, yellow, brown, green, and very rarely blue. The colors are so different because of the minerals that were forced into the gem during the formation. For example, red jasper has a lot of iron in it.
The patterns arise during the process of consolidation of the stone. When after the formation the volcanic sediment cools down it starts dripping down and forms bands and depositional patterns in the original sediment.
Water, vegetation, other minerals, fractures in the stone, and distortions cause all kinds of colors and patterns, which make this stone so unique and stunning.
Naming the stone
It is a real challenge to name and classify jasper. Sometimes a variety is called after the place where it first is discovered or mined, sometimes it is called after a natural phenomenon, like a lake, mountain, or canyon. Or the variety gets a descriptive name, like a season or material (porcelain).
But you can find also a combination of the color with the place of origin, like brown Egyptian, or red African jasper.
Where to find this gemstone?
Jasper is not a rare gemstone and you will find it in different parts of the world (except in Jasper city, that is, grrrr).
But you have a good chance to get it in India, Egypt, Russia, Australia, Madagascar, the United States, Canada, or South America.
Types of jasper
As mentioned before, there are so many types that it is nearly impossible to get a full list of varieties that can be bought on the market. But let us give it a try to mention at least a few of the most beautiful ones.
This gemstone falls apart in many nodules (on the inside of the stone) and those nodules are glued together with chalcedony, like veins. Most of the time the chalcedony ‘glue’ is grey and the jasper nodules are between red and brown-yellow. Although other color combinations occur too.
Dalmation and Bumble Bee
Both varieties consist of more minerals than only jasper. Dalmatian jasper is a great variety with little white dots on a black surface. The dominant mineral is silica, while bumble bee jasper is made of calcite with pyrite, sulfur, and arsenic.
This variety is one of the rarest of this gem family, together with the blue one, and its color is green. Take care since there are a lot of ‘half-fakes’ on the market. That is that the upper part is imperial jasper and the lower part of the cabochon is another gem or stone. This system is called ‘composite’.
This type has earth-toned colors and when you cut the stone it looks like a little landscape comes out of it. It gives you the illusion to look at rolling hills, small mountains, deserts, or other landscapes.
This variety has distinct spots in amazing color and therefore is also called jaguar stone. Every piece has a different unique pattern.
It is said that this gem has detoxifying properties and it should be a great gem to start new things.
This one occurs in Madagascar and is colored from blue to green to red. It is called ocean jasper because the deposits are most of the time marine and only to be reached at low tide.
This gem is called jasper but it is not. It is limestone with lined patterns formed by iron oxide. Don’t ask me why and how it got this name when it is not.
This one looks a bit like the landscape type, but with this variety, you see more scenes and images when you cut the stone. This variety is to be found all over the world, but every region has distinctive patterns or colors.
A fine example is the Bruneau variety that occurs in the Bruneau Canyon Region. Or the variety that you will find in the Ural Mountains, close to Kazakhstan which is pale, blue to green with patterns that look like malachite (bands and circles).
It will not be a surprise to you that this gemstone has white and black stripes and is to be said that it gives you the balance between feminine and masculine.
Price of jasper
For the ‘normal’ jaspers you don’t pay a fortune, and if they ask you a lot, they cheat on you. Having said that, this does not apply to imperial and blue jasper.
You don’t have to expect people to try to sell you a fake copy, since the price is not high enough to get a profit, but as said that is different for the imperial and blue varieties.
There is a test you can do to find out whether the stone is real or a fake copy. Put a hot needle or nail into the stone (there where you cannot see the mark afterward) and when it burns into the stone, it is NOT a jasper.
Collecting this gem yourself
There are places where you can easily find jasper stones, like in the United States (especially in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State). But there are good chances that you will find them in places you don’t expect them.
The best chance of finding them is walking along riverbeds since riverbeds gather stones over time and because of the color they are easy to recognize. That is if you have any information that jasper occurs in your search area.
And for the more adventurous people you can have a look into running streams, where the stones are pre-washed. Look for bright colors and shiny or waxy stones. And when you find one try to scratch them with a knife. Look-a-likes are softer and will be damaged easily.
If you read until the end of this blog you must be interested in gemstones. FlorenceJewelshop published a PDF with a lot of information about birthstones and the most popular gems. Interested? It’s free of charge and you just have to let me to whom I can send it.
Florence from FlorenceJewelshop