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Gems, Minerals, Crystals, and Rocks: What’s the Difference?

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“How can you distinguish rock from a mineral? Is that a gem, or is it a crystal?” Fluorite, gold, calcite, quartz, diamonds, graphite, granite, limestone, pyrite? How can you know what you’re looking at?

This animated video from the American Museum of Natural History summarizes the difference between Gems, Minerals, Crystals, and Rocks with photo examples, a few chemical formulas, and lots of clarifying annotations.

observing granite
naturally forming shapes
The summarizing example to help connect these ideas:

“Think about pyrite, or fool’s gold. Pyrite is a mineral made of iron and sulfur. Those elements come together in the shape of a cube, and repeat to form a pyrite crystal. These crystals can get so big you can see them with your naked eye. Other times, the pyrite crystals are just flecks in a rock like slate. And if it was cut and polished with flat faces, it would be considered a pyrite gem.”


Related videos on TKSST include:
• What are rocks and how do they form?
• Crystal Habit, an up-close look at seven stunning minerals
• Graphite: Pencils, shiny rocks, and dead animals
The Art of Gem Carving
• Space Rocks: Comets, asteroids, meteors, and meteorites
• Egg Geodes: How to make these crystallized wonders
• Giant amethyst geodes, the Singing Stone, and a fluorescent rock slab

Bonus: Il Capo (The Chief), a clip from Yuri Ancarani’s 2010 documentary.

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