1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Corundum

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CORUNDUM, a mineral composed of native alumina (Al2O3). remarkable for its hardness, and forming in its finer varieties a valuable gem-stone. Specimens were sent from India to England in the 18th century, and were described in 1798 by the Hon. C. Greville under the name of corundum—a word which he believed to be the native name of the stone (Hindi, kurund; Tamil, kurundam; Sanskrit, kuruvinda, “ruby”). The finely coloured, transparent varieties include such gem-stones as the ruby and sapphire, whilst the impure granular and massive forms are known as emery. The term corundum is often restricted to the remaining kinds, i.e. those crystallized and crystalline varieties which are not sufficiently transparent and brilliant for ornamental purposes, and which were known to the older mineralogists as “imperfect corundum.” Such varieties were termed by J. Black, in consequence of their hardness, adamantine spar, but this name is now usually restricted to a hair-brown corundum, remarkable for a pearly sheen on the basal plane.

EB1911 Corundum.jpg
Fig. 1. Fig. 2.

Corundum crystallizes in the hexagonal system. In fig. 1, which is a form of ruby, the prism a is combined with a hexagonal pyramid n, a rhombohedron R, and the basal pinacoid C. In fig. 2, which represents a typical crystal of sapphire, the prism s is associated with the acute pyramids b, r, and a rhombohedron a. Other crystals show a tabular habit, consisting usually of the basal pinacoid with a rhombohedron, and it is notable that this habit is said to be characteristic of corundum which has consolidated from a fused magma. Corundum has no true cleavage, but presents parting planes due to the structure of the crystal, which have been studied by Prof. J. W. Judd.

Next to diamond, corundum is the hardest known mineral. Its hardness is generally given as 9, but there are slight variations in different stones, sapphire being rather harder than ruby, and ruby than common corundum. The colours are very varied, and it is probable that iron is responsible for many of the tints, though chromium is a possible agent in certain cases. The transparent varieties are often distinguished as “Oriental” stones. (See Ruby and Sapphire.) Corundum is used largely for watch-jewels, and for bearings in electrical apparatus.

The coloured corundums fit for gem-stones come chiefly from Ceylon, Burma, Siam and Montana. Coarse dull corundum is found in many localities, and usually has higher commercial value as an abrasive agent than emery, which is less pure. The coarse corundum, however, is often partially hydrated or otherwise altered, whereby its hardness is diminished. In India, where the native lapidaries use corundum-sticks and rubbers formed of the powdered mineral cemented with lac, it occurs in the Salem district, Madras, in Mysore and in Rewa. Large deposits of corundum exist in the United States, especially in N. Carolina and Georgia, where they are associated with peridotites, often near contact with gneiss. The mineral has been extensively worked, as at Corundum Hill, Macon county, N.C., near which, in 1871, were discovered numerous rubies, sapphires and pebbles of coarse corundum in the bed of a river. Corundum occurs also at many localities in Montana, where the crystals are often of gem quality. They are found mostly as loose crystals in gravel, but are known also in igenous rocks like andesite and lamprophyre. Prof. J. H. Pratt, who has studied the occurrence both in Montana and in N. Carolina, considers that the alumina was dissolved in a molten magma, from which it separated at an early period of consolidation, as illustrated by the experiments of J. Morozewicz. Corundum occurs also in Canada in an igneous rock, a nepheline-syenite, associated with Laurentian gneiss. Important deposits were discovered by the Geological Survey in 1896, in Hastings county, Ontario; and corundum is now worked there and in Renfrew county. New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are other localities for corundum. The mineral is found also in the Urals and the Ilmen Mountains, in the Alps (in dolomite), in the basalts of the Rhine, and indeed as a subordinate rock-constituent corundum seems to enjoy a wide distribution, being found even in the British Isles.

See Joseph Hyde Pratt, “Corundum and its Occurrence and Distribution in the United States,” Bulletin U.S. Geol. Surv., No. 269 (1906); T. H. Holland, Economic Geology of India (2nd ed.), Part i. (1898). (F. W. R.*)