Zimbabwean art is very unique to itself because of the styles and stone types used. In this article we try to describe the types of stones which are used by Zimbabwe stone sculptors. Some of the stone types are more commonly found and used such as Opal stone and Springstone. Some are still fairly new and others are considered hard to work on, unpopular and difficult to find.
1. Lepidolite Stone: Is a mineral of the mica group, has been used as a source of lithium. This stone is a by-product of the mining of lithium. It does not have a rich folklore history but it is gaining popularity today. Not commonly found in jewellery because of the nature of the stone making it hard to cut. However, jewellers today are learning how to cut the stone and it is making a place for itself in the current market. The pink to violet shades of the stone are attractive to both jewellers and buyers.
2. Butter Jade Stone: Has a creamy yellow colour with dark striations throughout and is sometimes also known as Butter stone. Although it is called ‘Jade’, it is not however a true Jade. The striations found in the attractive yellow-green sedimentary rock are actually layers containing fossilized algae. The stone is typically around 50 million years old and between 6 and 7 on Moh’s hardness scale.
3. Cobalt Stone: A beautiful stone often purple in colouration with a variation of yellow and white markings and strips throughout. Can often have brown/orange markings. Cobalt is a brittle, relatively rare hard metal, closely resembling iron and nickel in appearance. It has a hardness of between 5 and 6 on Moh’s scale.
4. Leopard Rock: A beautifully coloured stone with spock marks similar to a leopard. It is similar to serpentine; having a creamy yellow colour with black blotches. The only known deposit of Leopard Rock is in Zimbabwe. It is very difficult stone to carve only skilled sculptors will attempt this rock. Leopard Rock when polished has a beautiful glazed finish. Sometimes containing petrified wood.
5. Opal Stone: A beautiful light greenish serpentine. Opal stone is a very hard stone finely textured with an almost translucent surface sometimes specked with red, orange and bluish dots and patches. Opal stone is famous for it’s milky light coloured greens and smooth texture. It is also unique in that it has fewer colour variations than Serpentine. It is also mined at Chiweshe, two hours north of Harare. This stone is one of the favourites of sculptors, as it’s not as hard as springstone and other serpentines, but still polishes to a high finish. Opal stone also has, at times, a brown colour throughout the predominate green. The appearance can be smooth or mottled. As with most of the stones mined for the purpose of sculpting, opal is mined without the use of automotive tools. Lemon Opalstone is easily identified by contrasting yellow striations within the stone. On the Moh’s hardness scale, Opal stone rates between 5.0-5.5.
6. Lemon Opal: Usually a much deeper colouration all over the stone, more colourful and a harder stone to sculpt than the usual Opal Stone, mostly due to the particles of quartz found within the stone. Lemon Opalstone is easily identified by contrasting yellow striations within the stone. On the Moh’s hardness scale, Opalstone rates between 5.0-5.5.
7. Serpentine Stone – Found in many deposits throughout Zimbabwe its colours vary from black to brown to green, orange and variegated. Hardness level varies from very soft to vary hard. Measured on a Moh’s scale where a diamond is ten, serpentine goes from 1.2 up to 6.54. The majority of the sculptors today, however do not carve from soft serpentine, but rather select deposits of rock that are hard and therefore more durable.
8. Springstone – A very hard serpentine with high iron content and a fine texture, no cleavages, hard and firm offering a good resistance to the sculptor. Springstone has a rich outer “blanket” of reddish brown oxidized rock. They emerge from the quarry like sculptures created by nature millions of years ago and are often a source of inspiration to the artist. There are a few mines where this stone is found, but Guruve, in the north, is where springstone is mined. A beautiful dark stone, it polishes to a high shine because of it’s density. As with most other stones that are mined for the purpose of sculpting, this stone is mined by hand on communal lands.
9. Fruit Serpentine stone – Fruit Serpentine is usually a really colourful pretty stone, with deep veins of variated strata. Serpentine is the next hardest stone with a rating of 4.0-5.0 on Mohs hardness scale. Because of it’s beauty and collectability it is one of the most sought after because of it’s fine finish, durability and hardness.
11. Verdite – It is an exotic and wonderful stone of rare quality. It captures the mysterious and beautiful colours of an age-old area of Africa. Like the ever-changing sea, it is infinite in its variety of lovely shades and patterns, usually in green with inclusions of blues, gold, red and browns.
Verdite occurs amongst the oldest rock in the world dating back over 3500 million years. The only known deposits are found in areas where gold was first discovered in Africa many centuries ago. It is related to the Serpintonites and occurs in various lens-shaped pods dotted over a 25-kilometre range. The material has no cleavage and is riddled with intrusions of corundum (ruby) crystals (hence the name Ruby Verdite), quarts, calcite and mica. Chromium is the mineral, which gives Verdite its distinctive rich green colour – Ruby Verdite can be extremely hard, corundum is the second hardest stone on earth.