Malachite Is the Gorgeous Green Gemstone Cleopatra Wore

Malachite is favored by many for its vibrant green color and its swirling patterns. Seen here is (left) rough malachite from Chunchang, Guangdong, China; and (right) malachite chrysocolla from Mashamba West Mine in the Kolwezi mining district, Lualaba, Democratic Republic of Congo. Courtesy of The Mineral Cabinet, New Providence, New Jersey. Photo by Robert Weldon/GIA

For humans, the color green boasts many positive representations. It's one way we note when something is good for the planet — green living, green building and even the Green Party.

Psychological studies have found green has a calming effect, provide inspiration and increase optimism. The Egyptian god Osiris was often depicted with green skin, symbolizing not just his role as the god of fertility but also of the underworld, linking green to resurrection.


Thus, it's no surprise that the brilliant green mineral malachite has been linked with many of these concepts. In fact, ancient Egyptians sometimes referred to the underworld as the Field of Malachite. A copper carbonate hydroxide, malachite is essentially a form of copper rust, according to Terri Ottaway, Gemological Institute of America's (GIA) Museum curator of collections. But this is one rust that has been cherished for millennia.

"You want to talk spectacular?" Ottaway says. "As human beings we love green. It's naturally going to jump out at you."

This stunning "Pond Scum" necklace is made from malachite stalactite slices, citrine gems (approximately 50 total carat weight), peridot beads and emerald beads. It was designed by Tony Duquette and was on loan for the "More is More" GIA museum exhibit in September 2013. Courtesy of a Private Collector and Mona Lee Nesseth.
Photo by Orasa Weldon/GIA


What Is Malachite?

Malachite forms above copper deposits, and its presence has often been used to prospect for copper. As a gem, it is among the softer species, ranging from just 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. By comparison, diamonds are the hardest at 10, and window glass comes in at about a 5.5. Malachite is also porous and sensitive to heat. Because of these characteristics, it is less durable than many gemstones, which affects its uses.

"We consider malachite to be an ornamental, decorative gem mineral," Ottaway says. "What it lacks in the flashy, twinkle factor, it more than makes up for in the vivid, bold green patterns."


A piece of malachite's value is partially determined by its intricacy of patterning and its purity. Often, it forms with other copper minerals, like azurite. There's no specific graded rank for malachite because it depends more on what the buyer is looking for and how they plan to use it, explains Ottaway.

"You do get a wide variety of green colors," she says. "Because we see so many shades of green with our eyes, the patterns can be incredibly intricate."


Where Is Malachite Mined?

Malachite forms in botryoidal — grapelike — shapes, as well as in stalactites in caves. It's usually found in limestone. Early deposits came from Israel and Egypt, but today it is found in many places throughout the world.

The Copper Crescent in the Democratic Republic of Congo has massive deposits, as in 3-foot-long (0.9-meter) stalactites. Gabon, Namibia, and other countries in Africa are also known for their malachite, as are Arizona and Australia. Impressive malachite deposits in the Ural Mountains in Russia have been mined for more than 100 years.


How Has Malachite Been Used Throughout History?

Like other green minerals, malachite is associated with spring, new life and fertility, says Ottaway. The earliest recorded reference to the gem comes from 4,000 years ago in the deserts of ancient Egypt. Ancients were strong in their belief about evil eye amulets worn or sewn into clothing, and malachite was a stone that provided that protection. It was also supposed to help with childbirth.

Ancient civilizations used malachite for decorative purposes, too. Like lapis lazuli, malachite can be ground and used as a pigment.


Because it is copper-based, malachite offers antimicrobial, antifungal properties, Ottaway says. Cleopatra used it as eyeshadow, which helped prevent eye infections. There are references to Hippocrates making a paste out of it to put in the wounds of soldiers.

Cleopatra used malachite to create some of her famous extravagant eye makeup. This image shows (bottom from left to right) the three stages of how the makeup was made, including the shell used to create it (top). The ore has been found in burial housing places of ancient Egyptians, as well as near the deceased bodies.
Patrick AVENTURIER/Getty Images


Modern Malachite

In more recent history, malachite has been used as a decorative surface, reaching what may be considered its apex in the 19th-century Malachite Room of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. At that time, the gem appeared in more than one famed Fabergé Imperial Easter egg.

Today, the green mineral is still used for carving and inlay work. Remember, it's soft, so it's not an ideal fit for heavy-use objects that might get bumped a lot. In jewelry, malachite is most likely to be used for beads or carved pendants. Or you might find malachite on a watch face that is protected by a glass cover.


"It's such a character mineral," says Ottaway. "There are no two that are going to be alike."

Despite the uniqueness of each piece, as far as gem minerals, malachite is abundant and not one of the more expensive. A 4-carat piece could cost less than $10. However, pieces with unusual or distinct patterns earn a higher value, according to the International Gem Society.

malachite room at the Winter Palace
The malachite room at the Winter Palace of Russia's State Hermitage Museum is perhaps the most famous use of malachite as a decorative surface.
Good Luck Express/Shutterstock


Does Malachite Have Sacred Properties?

Associated with the heart and throat chakras or the heart and solar plexus chakras, malachite has held an important place in crystal and stone healing beliefs ever since the ancients used it to ward off the evil eye. It is a stone of transformation, one of the most important used in healing according to Healing Crystals.

Malachite is a "powerful cleanser for the emotional body," according to MYKU, a maker of timepieces that incorporate stones. Because it is thought to release trauma, it is recommended that this "powerful energy conduit" be used by a qualified healer.


Is Malachite Toxic?

When cutting malachite, sculptors and polishers alike should wear masks, Ottaway says, as airborne particles of the stone are toxic in the lungs. Furthermore, ingesting gems, for example, in potions, or placing them in the mouth can also be toxic, especially those that react negatively with stomach acid. The International Gem Society lists malachite's ingestion toxicity potential as "high" based on its copper content and solubility in acids.