1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dioptase
DIOPTASE, a rare mineral species consisting of acid copper orthosilicate, H2CuSiO4, crystallizing in the parallel-faced hemihedral class of the rhombohedral system. The degree of symmetry is the same as in the mineral phenacite, there being only an axis of triad symmetry and a centre of symmetry. The crystals have the form of a hexagonal prism m terminated by a rhombohedron r, the alternate edges between these being sometimes replaced by the faces of a rhombohedron s. The faces are striated parallel to the edges between r, s and m. There are perfect cleavages parallel to the faces of a rhombohedron which truncate the polar edges of r: from the cleavage cracks internal reflections are often to be seen in the crystal, and it was on account of this that the mineral was named dioptase, by R. J. Haüy in 1797, from διοπτεύειν, “to see into.” The crystals vary from transparent to translucent with a vitreous lustre, and are bright emerald-green in colour; they thus have a certain resemblance to emerald, hence the early name emerald-copper (German, Kupfer-Smaragd). Hardness 5; sp. gr. 3.3. The mineral is decomposed by hydrochloric acid with separation of gelatinous silica. At a red heat it blackens and gives off water. The fine crystals from Mount Altyn-Tübe on the western slopes of the Altai Mountains in the Kirghiz Steppes, Asiatic Russia, line cavities in a compact limestone; they were first sent to Europe in 1785 by Achir Mahmed, a Bucharian merchant, after whom the mineral has been named archirite. More recently, in 1890, good crystals of similar habit, but rather darker in colour, have been found with quartz and malachite near Komba in the French Congo. As drusy crystalline crusts it has been found at Copiapo in Chile and in Arizona.
Dioptase has occasionally been used as a gem-stone, especially in Russia and Persia; it has a fine colour, but a low degree of hardness and the transparency is imperfect.
- (L. J. S.)