Malachite is an opaque, soft green mineral. It only has a rating of 3.5-4 on the Mohs hardness scale which makes it easy to carve but brittle. Despite its brittleness, Malachite is commonly set in jewellery due to its vibrant green colour and distinct veining patterns.
In ancient Egypt Malachite was used in art and talismanic jewellery to symbolise the afterlife. In the middle ages, Malachite was believed to repel depression, with malachite pendants engraved with images of the sun a common form of amulet. Children also were often given lozenge shaped pendants of Malachite to wear, as it was believed to help them sleep soundly.
Large quantities of Malachite were discovered in the Ural mountains of Russia. Russian aristocracy embraced Malachite in their lavish interior decoration. The now famous Malachite room in the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, is a testament to Russia’s pride in their native resources. The room was once used as the state drawing room of the Empress Alexandra Fiodorvna. The walls are lined with tall columns of malachite and within the room stand elaborate vases and candle sticks designed by Auguste Montferrand. The long shafts provide an impressive canvas for the distinct patterns and intense colour of Malachite.
Today the main supply of Malachite is in Africa, from Zambia, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other supplies are found in Mexico, Arizona and even a small amount in Lyon in France.
Van Cleef and Arpels embraced Malachite in their now iconic Alhambra collection. Malachite has also been used as the centerpiece of Piaget cuff watches since the 1960s-70s.