Cristiano Rolando and Gemmology?

On rare occasions, minerals and football combine in interesting ways. Such is the case of Cristiano Ronaldo and pyrite. Let’s see how!

CR7 after winning his 5th Ballon d'Or in Paris. On the right, a nice pyrite cluster from Quiruvilca District, Santiago de Chuco Province, La Libertad Department, Peru (14,0 x 11,5 x 10,0 cm) from the collection of the fabulous MIM Museum in Beirut, Lebanon. Photos © Getty Images, © MIM Museum

Cristiano Ronaldo, or CR7, born in Madeira, Portugal, in 1985 soon became a legend among football, or soccer, fans. After his first professional seasons in Sporting Lisbon (Sporting Club de Portugal) he move to Manchester United, where he won collective and individual trophies, and, after a record transfer contract in 2009 he became the main striker of Real Madrid and this year signed another historical contract with Juventus, the Torino based winning team in Italy. On his long career he broke numerous records and won world class trophies, much like fancy coloured diamonds today. After winning his 5th Ballon d’Or, the France Football famous award, in 2017, the Real Madrid’s striker and Portuguese National team captain is unquestionably among the best athletes of all times. But what does this has to do with gems or minerals? Well, a bit.
One could say that it has to do with the origin of the name pyrite, from the Greek “pyr” for “fire”, since sparks occur when hit with another mineral or metal, much like CR7 when he responds to certain provocations with outstanding fiery performances in the pitch.
It happens that each Ballon d’Or trophy has a large Peruvian pyrite cluster on the base and with that size, it is a quite hefty trophy, since it is about 5 times heavier, or denser, than water (specific gravity 4,95-5,10). Pyrite is a metallic mineral composed by iron sulphide in cubic symmetry, originating crystals with cubic, octahedral or dodecahedral shapes, sometimes with combined shapes, or habits, just to name a few. Its golden luster made it a gold imitation in the past, leading less savvy buyers to deceit, hence the name “fool’s gold”.
Pyrite is known in the jewellery trade as marcasite, a low cost material very popular in the 1930’s but that was recorded as far back as the 18th century.

A circa 1920-30 silver brooch set with small cut pyrites, known in the gem trade as marcasite © The Antique Jewellery Company

The name marcasite drives from the arabic or moorish word used to describe pyrite and other minerals. Marcasite is, however, the formal name given by the IMA - Internacional Mineralogical Association to a distinct mineral that has no use in jewellery whatsoever, causing sometimes confusion to a more scientifically educated public. Marcasite and pyrite are two distinct materials in spite of being polymorphs of iron sulphide, with marcasite crystallising in the orthorhombic system and pyrite in the cubic system. In the jewellery trade, the word marcasite is despite this formal error.
Gemmologists also know pyrite as an accessory mineral in the of lapis lazuli, a blue metamorphic rock essentially composed by sulphur rich hauyne with calcite and pyroxene for which the Sar-a-Sang region in Badakhshan (Afghanistan) is famous for. The golden specks in fine grained lapis lazuli, that are much appreciated by some collectors and users, are in fact pyrite. As a curiosiity, in antiquity lapis lazuli was known as sappheirus, meaning blue.

A rough lapis lazuli from Afghanistan where pyrite is easily visible.

Pyrite is also known in gemmology as a eye catching inclusion inside certain gemstones. Quartz, for example, is a common host of beautiful pyrite inclusions that dazzle the observer what inspected under magnification, specially when viewed on a microscope with proper lighting. The cover of the iconic 1986 first edition, or Volume I, of Edward Gübelin and John Koivula’s “Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones” is, in fact, a beautiful pyrite crystal inside a rock crystal (colourless quartz).

Cover of Gübelin and Koivula's 1986 famous book in inclusions featuring a pyrite on quartz. 

Probably the most famous gem where pyrite is encountered as an inclusion is emerald, specially those from Chivor, in Colombia. This area, formerly known in the past as Somondoco (meaning God of the Green Stones), is located 75 km NW of the capital Bogota and was the first major emerald mine discovery in the territory by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in 1538. As a curiosity, these mines were closed and then lost from 1672 until 1896. Mineral collectors also appreciate Colombian emerald specimens where lustrous golden pyrite crystals form aggregates with contrasting shapes and colours. Some Brazilian deposits also produce emeralds with pyrite inclusions, namely Santa Teresinha, Goiás, and Itabira, Minas Gerais. Other pyrite inclusion gem hosts include tourmaline, scapolite, fluorite, pyrope-spessartine and sapphire.

A remarkable museum's quality emerald and pyrite specimen from Muzo, Colombia from the collection of Joe and Anne Ondraka. Image by master photographer Jeffrey A. Scovil.

The famous Portuguese football gave the inspiration to talk about pyrite from the gemmological point of view and may this trophy serve for the purpose of gemmological and mineralogical education to a wider audience less familiar with these geological facts. As a personal note, I hope to post more Cristiano Ronaldo pyrite bearing trophies in the next few years.