How Are Meteorites Used In Jewelry and Watches?


An explanation of what meteorites are and where they come from and a discussion of meteorite jewelry and watches

If you have even looked for a truly unique piece of jewelry, you may already know that jewelry designers and crafters incorporate a wide range of materials into their designs, including petrified prehistoric tree sap, aka amber; preserved flowers, and even small pieces of space debris, commonly referred to as meteorites. Although meteorite jewelry is not unusual, it is nonetheless beautiful and by its very nature one of a kind. Also, because there are several different types of meteorites, you can find several types of meteorites jewelry.

Before we delve into the role of meteorites in the jewelry and watch industry, we must first discuss a bit of terminology related to space. While you need not be a rocket scientist to understand the difference between a meteor and a meteorite, knowing this information can help you immensely when you are looking for meteorite jewelry or shopping for meteorite fragments with which to make your own jewelry.

A Brief Space-Debris Primer

The three main terms you should learn to differentiate among are meteor, meteoroid, and meteorite. Essentially these terms refer to the same object; however, the term changes depending on where the piece of space debris is in its journey. The term meteoroid is used to denote small chunks of space debris while it is still in space. It is important to note here that small is a relative term, as some meteoroids are actually fairly large. Though there is no specific size limitations, a meteoroid could be the size of a tiny pebble or it could be the size of a large boulder.

The term meteoroid, as well as meteor and meteorite, are used to denote any type of space debris, though scientists typically further classify the debris into subcategories to denote the object’s structure and composition. Some meteoroids are formed when comets or asteroids split apart, while others arise when stars are formed.

Once a meteoroid enters a planet’s atmosphere, the surface begins to burn up, leaving a trail of smoke across the sky. At this point, the proper term for the object is meteor. Meteors streaking through earth’s atmosphere are often referred to as “shooting stars,” even though they are not stars.

Leonid Meteor
A photograph of a Leonid meteor taken in 2009.

Meteors that make impact with the surface of a planet are called meteorites. Because meteorites are traveling at high speeds, they form a crater upon impact. Smaller meteorites create smaller craters, which may not be easily noticed, while larger meteorites are typically easier to spot.

While these three terms are the main ones you need to know to discuss jewelry and watches made from space debris, there are a couple other terms that may be of use. The first is meteor shower. During a meteor shower, meteors do, indeed, look like they are raining across the sky; however, these meteors come from the tails of comets and enter earth’s atmosphere as earth passes through the tail. The difference between these meteors and those already described is that these meteors are derived from comet debris.

There are also two ways to denote meteorites that have been found on earth. The term meteor fall is used to identify meteorites that have been recovered because their journey through the atmosphere was witnessed. Meteorite finds are meteorites that have been recovered by chance, not as a result of someone tracking the meteor’s path.

Types of Meteorites

There are three main types of meteorites, each of which has a unique composition,

Chondrite Meteorite
A chondrite specimen showing chondrules and metal flakes.

structure, and look. The first type is stony meteorites, which are rich in silica. This is the most common type of meteorite, and is further broken down into two subcategories: chondrites and achondrites. Chondrites contain chondrules while achondrites do not. Chondrules are sphere-shaped grains that often contain refractory inclusions and are comprised of two silicate minerals: olivine and pyroxene. The minerals in chondrules are not found on earth and chondrules are said to be some of the oldest particles in space (approx. 4.55 billion years old).

Iron Meteorite
A sample of a thumbprinted iron meteorite.

The second type of meteorite is the iron meteorite. Only about 6% of all recovered meteorites are iron meteorites. As the name suggests, iron meteorites contain a large portion of iron, although other metals, including nickel and cobalt, are also commonly found in these meteorites.

The final type of meteorite is a combination of stony and iron meteorites and are called stony-iron meteorites. These meteorites contain pockets of olivine and pyroxene surrounded by an iron matrix. Stony-iron meteorite fragments and items made from them are highly coveted both because they are rare and because they are beautiful.

Stony-Iron Meteorite
A large cross-section of a stony-iron meteorite showing the iron matrix and silicate crystals.
Stony-Iron Meteorite
Another example of a stony-iron meteorite; showing the matrix in greater detail.

 

Space Diamonds

Carbonado Diamond
A rough carbonado diamond, which was deposited on earth during an asteroid impact.

There are two types of diamonds that are associated with space: diamonds that were deposited on earth during an asteroid impact and diamonds that form as a result of the extreme heat and pressure of a meteorite landing. The first type of diamond is known as a carbonado diamond and contain a form of carbon that is even stronger than the carbon in earth diamonds. The second type are typically only a few micrometers or nanometers in size, so they are referred to as microdiamonds and nanodiamonds respectively.

While the meteorite diamonds are too small for use in jewelry, they do have a variety of industrial uses. Carbonado diamonds, which are black, are often used in jewelry.


 

A Brief History of Meteorite Use in the Jewelry and Watch Industry

Ancient civilizations used meteorites in decorative objects, including jewelry, since at least five thousand years ago. Yes, you read that correctly. Scientists discovered a bead found at a burial site in Egypt was crafted from an iron meteorite and dated the bead back to some time between 3350 and 3600 BC. The examination of a Buddha statue brought to Europe during the Nazi era showed that the statue was carved from a piece of the Chinga meteorite between the eighth and tenth centuries. While this is not a piece of jewelry, it shows that the Egyptian bead was not an isolated incident of ancient civilizations using meteorites for decoration.

For thousands of years, people have been making and wearing jewelry crafted from meteorites because the pieces are fashionable and unique, and also because they believed that meteorites possessed healing properties. Iron meteorites were also commonly associated with balance and strength and the nickel in these meteorites was believed to purify the wearer’s blood. Though these claims have never been substantiated, people today continue to wear watches and jewelry made from meteorites.

How Meteorites are Used in Jewelry and Watches

Widmanstatten Pattern
A cross-sectional fragment of an iron meteorite. The crystal pattern is called a Widmanstatten pattern.

There are two main ways meteorite fragments are used in jewelry and watch design. Cross-sectional slices of iron meteorites are frequently bezel-set to make pendants, used as watch faces, or fashioned into band style rings because of the beautiful patterning that appears on the cross section. Known as Widmanstӓtten patterns, these markings are formed from long nikel-iron crystals inside the meteorite. To highlight these intriguing patterns, the cross-sectional slices are cleaned, polished, and then placed in an acid bath. The acid bath etches the pattern, making it more prominent.

Widmanstatten Pattern
A close-up photograph of the Widmanstatten pattern from an iron meteorite.

Small whole meteorites or rough meteorite fragments are also sometimes used for jewelry. These meteorites and fragments typically resemble a silver rock and may be mounted in a bezel setting and used in a necklace, bracelet, or ring. Another popular use for these meteorites is as pendants for necklaces. For this purpose, bails are affixed to one end of the meteorite so the piece can be threaded onto a necklace or cord.

Some jewelry designers incorporate cross-sectional pieces and chunks of meteorites into their pieces, so if you like the idea of having both types of meteorite fragments in one piece, you may prefer these designs. Gemstones and fossils are also frequently worked into meteorite jewelry designs for added flair.

Another option for a piece that would definitely be the talk of the town is to incorporate a cross-sectional piece of a stony-iron meteorite into a piece of jewelry. The unique iron matrix filled with yellow or green silicate would definitely catch the eye of passersby. For maximum effect, these pieces should be bezel set so light can enter the piece from the back.

Tips for Making Your Own Meteorite Jewelry

If you are an amateur or professional jewelry designer and want to create your own beautiful, one-of-a-kind meteorite pieces, you can purchase meteorite fragments from a wide range of meteorites and use them as the centerpieces for your designs. Because each meteorite fragment is one of a kind, some sellers show a sample of what the fragment may look like, but make no guarantees, while other sellers list each piece separately so you can see the size, shape, and pattern of each fragment. Shopping with these sellers allows you to get the perfect meteorite fragment every time.

Whether you are looking for completed meteorite jewelry or watches, or meteorite fragments to design your own pieces, you may be interested to know where the meteorite fragment was found. Sellers typically list the meteorite site with loose fragments and finished pieces, so if you want to find pieces associated with a specific meteorite you can do so. Most people shop for meteorite jewelry and loose fragments based on their visual appeal, but knowing where your meteorite touched down is definitely a conversation starter.

While meteorite fragments may not have healing powers, they do contain large amounts of iron, which is highly magnetic. This means that meteorite fragments may erase hard drives and other magnetic media, or that your meteorite jewelry could be drawn to a strong magnetic field, such as that generated by an MRI machine. For your safety and the security of your digital data, keep this fact in mind when wearing your meteorite jewelry and watches.