Lustre (mineralogy)

Last updated

Lustre (British English) or luster (American English; see spelling differences) is the way light interacts with the surface of a crystal, rock, or mineral. The word traces its origins back to the Latin lux, meaning "light", and generally implies radiance, gloss, or brilliance.


A range of terms are used to describe lustre, such as earthy, metallic, greasy, and silky. Similarly, the term vitreous (derived from the Latin for glass, vitrum) refers to a glassy lustre. A list of these terms is given below.

Lustre varies over a wide continuum, and so there are no rigid boundaries between the different types of lustre. (For this reason, different sources can often describe the same mineral differently. This ambiguity is further complicated by lustre's ability to vary widely within a particular mineral species.) The terms are frequently combined to describe intermediate types of lustre (for example, a "vitreous greasy" lustre).

Some minerals exhibit unusual optical phenomena, such as asterism (the display of a star-shaped luminous area) or chatoyancy (the display of luminous bands, which appear to move as the specimen is rotated). A list of such phenomena is given below.

Common terms

Adamantine lustre

Cut diamonds. Brillanten.jpg
Cut diamonds.

Adamantine minerals possess a superlative lustre, which is most notably seen in diamond. [1] Such minerals are transparent or translucent, and have a high refractive index (of 1.9 or more). [2] Minerals with a true adamantine lustre are uncommon, with examples being cerussite and cubic zirconia. [2]

Minerals with a lesser (but still relatively high) degree of lustre are referred to as subadamantine, with some examples being garnet and corundum. [1]

Dull lustre

Kaolinite KaolinUSGOV.jpg

Dull (or earthy) minerals exhibit little to no lustre, due to coarse granulations which scatter light in all directions, approximating a Lambertian reflector. An example is kaolinite. [3] A distinction is sometimes drawn between dull minerals and earthy minerals, [4] with the latter being coarser, and having even less lustre.

Greasy lustre

Moss opal Moos-Opal1.jpg
Moss opal

Greasy minerals resemble fat or grease. A greasy lustre often occurs in minerals containing a great abundance of microscopic inclusions, with examples including opal and cordierite, jadeite. [2] Many minerals with a greasy lustre also feel greasy to the touch. [5]

Metallic lustre

Pyrite Pyrite 3.jpg

Metallic (or splendent) minerals have the lustre of polished metal, and with ideal surfaces will work as a reflective surface. Examples include galena, [6] pyrite [7] and magnetite. [8]

Pearly lustre

Muscovite Mineral Mica GDFL006.JPG

Pearly minerals consist of thin transparent co-planar sheets. Light reflecting from these layers give them a lustre reminiscent of pearls. [9] Such minerals possess perfect cleavage, with examples including muscovite and stilbite. [2]

Resinous lustre

Amber Amber hg.jpg

Resinous minerals have the appearance of resin, chewing gum or (smooth-surfaced) plastic. A principal example is amber, which is a form of fossilized resin. [10]

Silky lustre

Satin spar variety of gypsum Selenite Gips Marienglas.jpg
Satin spar variety of gypsum

Silky minerals have a parallel arrangement of extremely fine fibres, [2] giving them a lustre reminiscent of silk. Examples include asbestos, ulexite and the satin spar variety of gypsum. A fibrous lustre is similar, but has a coarser texture.

Submetallic lustre

Sphalerite Sphalerite4.jpg

Submetallic minerals have similar lustre to metal, but are duller and less reflective. A submetallic lustre often occurs in near-opaque minerals with very high refractive indices, [2] such as sphalerite, cinnabar, anthracite, and cuprite.

Vitreous lustre

Quartz Quartz Bresil.jpg

Vitreous minerals have the lustre of glass. (The term is derived from the Latin for glass, vitrum.) This type of lustre is one of the most commonly seen, [9] and occurs in transparent or translucent minerals with relatively low refractive indices. [2] Common examples include calcite, quartz, topaz, beryl, tourmaline and fluorite, among others.

Waxy lustre

Jade Jadestein.jpg

Waxy minerals have a lustre resembling wax. Examples include jade [11] and chalcedony. [12]

Optical phenomena


Sapphire cabochon Star-Saphire.jpg
Sapphire cabochon

Asterism is the display of a star-shaped luminous area. It is seen in some sapphires and rubies, where it is caused by impurities of rutile. [12] [13] It can also occur in garnet, diopside and spinel.


Aventurine Aventurine.jpg

Aventurescence (or aventurization) is a reflectance effect like that of glitter. It arises from minute, preferentially oriented mineral platelets within the material. These platelets are so numerous that they also influence the material's body colour. In aventurine quartz, chrome-bearing fuchsite makes for a green stone and various iron oxides make for a red stone. [12]


Tiger's eye Tigers-Eye.jpg
Tiger's eye

Chatoyant minerals display luminous bands, which appear to move as the specimen is rotated. Such minerals are composed of parallel fibers (or contain fibrous voids or inclusions), which reflect light into a direction perpendicular to their orientation, thus forming narrow bands of light. The most famous examples are tiger's eye and cymophane, but the effect may also occur in other minerals such as aquamarine, moonstone and tourmaline.

Colour change

Alexandrite Alexandrite 26.75cts.jpg

Colour change is most commonly found in alexandrite, a variety of chrysoberyl gemstones. Other gems also occur in colour-change varieties, including (but not limited to) sapphire, garnet, spinel. Alexandrite displays a colour change dependent upon light, along with strong pleochroism. The gem results from small-scale replacement of aluminium by chromium oxide, which is responsible for alexandrite's characteristic green to red colour change. Alexandrite from the Ural Mountains in Russia is green by daylight and red by incandescent light. Other varieties of alexandrite may be yellowish or pink in daylight and a columbine or raspberry red by incandescent light. The optimum or "ideal" colour change would be fine emerald green to fine purplish red, but this is rare.


Iridescence is the 'play' or 'fire' of rainbow-coloured light caused by very thin regular structures or layers beneath the surface of a gemstone. Similar to a thin film of oil on water, these layers interfere with the rays of reflected light, reinforcing some colours and cancelling others. Iridescence is seen at its best in precious opal. [14]


Labradorite Labradoryt, Madagaskar.JPG

Schiller, from German for "colour play", [15] is the metallic iridescence originating from below the surface of a stone that occurs when light is reflected between layers of minerals. It is seen in moonstone and labradorite and is very similar to adularescence and aventurescence. [16]

Related Research Articles

Gemstone Piece of mineral crystal used to make jewelry

A gemstone is a piece of mineral crystal which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments. However, certain rocks and occasionally organic materials that are not minerals are also used for jewelry and are therefore often considered to be gemstones as well. Most gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewelry because of their luster or other physical properties that have aesthetic value. Rarity is another characteristic that lends value to a gemstone.

Kyanite aluminosilicate mineral

Kyanite is typically a blue aluminosilicate mineral, usually found in aluminium-rich metamorphic pegmatites and/or sedimentary rock. Kyanite in metamorphic rocks generally indicates pressures higher than four kilobars. It is commonly found in quartz. Although potentially stable at lower pressure and low temperature, the activity of water is usually high enough under such conditions that it is replaced by hydrous aluminosilicates such as muscovite, pyrophyllite, or kaolinite. Kyanite is also known as disthene, rhaeticite and cyanite.

Garnet mineral, semi-precious stone

Garnets are a group of silicate minerals that have been used since the Bronze Age as gemstones and abrasives.

Chrysoberyl Mineral or gemstone of beryllium aluminate

The mineral or gemstone chrysoberyl is an aluminate of beryllium with the formula BeAl2O4. The name chrysoberyl is derived from the Greek words χρυσός chrysos and βήρυλλος beryllos, meaning "a gold-white spar". Despite the similarity of their names, chrysoberyl and beryl are two completely different gemstones, although they both contain beryllium. Chrysoberyl is the third-hardest frequently encountered natural gemstone and lies at 8.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, between corundum (9) and topaz (8).

Gemology Science dealing with natural and artificial gemstone materials

Gemology or gemmology is the science dealing with natural and artificial gemstone materials. It is a geoscience and a branch of mineralogy. Some jewelers are academically trained gemologists and are qualified to identify and evaluate gems.

Pleochroism optical phenomenon in which a substance appears to be different colors when observed at different angles, especially with polarized light

Pleochroism is an optical phenomenon in which a substance has different colors when observed at different angles, especially with polarized light.

Sphalerite sulfide mineral

Sphalerite ( S) is a mineral that is the chief ore of zinc. It consists largely of zinc sulfide in crystalline form but almost always contains variable iron. When iron content is high it is an opaque black variety, marmatite. It is usually found in association with galena, pyrite, and other sulfides along with calcite, dolomite, and fluorite. Miners have also been known to refer to sphalerite as zinc blende, black-jack and ruby jack.

Chatoyancy Optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones

In gemology, chatoyancy, or chatoyance or cat's eye effect, is an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones. Coined from the French "œil de chat", meaning "cat's eye", chatoyancy arises either from the fibrous structure of a material, as in tiger's eye quartz, or from fibrous inclusions or cavities within the stone, as in cat's eye chrysoberyl. The precipitates that cause chatoyance in chrysoberyl are the mineral rutile, composed mostly of titanium dioxide. Examined samples have yielded no evidence of tubes or fibres. The rutile precipitates all align perpendicularly with respect to cat's eye effect. It is reasoned that the lattice parameter of the rutile matches only one of the three orthorhombic crystal axes of the chrysoberyl, resulting in preferred alignment along that direction.

Nepheline A silica-undersaturated aluminosilicate mineral

Nepheline, also called nephelite (from Greek: νεφέλη, "cloud"), is a rock forming mineral in the feldspathoid group: a silica-undersaturated aluminosilicate, Na3KAl4Si4O16, that occurs in intrusive and volcanic rocks with low silica, and in their associated pegmatites.

Anglesite sulfate mineral

Anglesite is a lead sulfate mineral with the chemical formula PbSO4. It occurs as an oxidation product of primary lead sulfide ore, galena. Anglesite occurs as prismatic orthorhombic crystals and earthy masses, and is isomorphous with barite and celestine. It contains 74% of lead by mass and therefore has a high specific gravity of 6.3. Anglesite's color is white or gray with pale yellow streaks. It may be dark gray if impure.

Cordierite cyclosilicate, mineral

Cordierite (mineralogy) or iolite (gemology) is a magnesium iron aluminium cyclosilicate. Iron is almost always present and a solid solution exists between Mg-rich cordierite and Fe-rich sekaninaite with a series formula: (Mg,Fe)2Al3(Si5AlO18) to (Fe,Mg)2Al3(Si5AlO18). A high-temperature polymorph exists, indialite, which is isostructural with beryl and has a random distribution of Al in the (Si,Al)6O18 rings.

Sapphirine a rare mineral of the sapphirine supergroup, single chain inosilicate mineral with polytopes 1A, 2M, 3A, 4M, 5A; a silicate of magnesium and aluminium, (Mg,Al)₈(Al,Si)₆O₂₀ (with Fe as a major impurity); named after its sapphire-like colour

Sapphirine is a rare mineral, a silicate of magnesium and aluminium with the chemical formula (Mg,Al)8(Al,Si)6O20 (with iron as a major impurity). Named for its sapphire-like colour, sapphirine is primarily of interest to researchers and collectors: well-formed crystals are treasured and occasionally cut into gemstones. Sapphirine has also been synthesized for experimental purposes via a hydrothermal process.

Demantoid green andradite variety

Demantoid is the green gemstone variety of the mineral andradite, a member of the garnet group of minerals. Andradite is a calcium- and iron-rich garnet. The chemical formula is Ca3Fe2(SiO4)3 with chromium substitution as the cause of the demantoid green color. Ferric iron is the cause of the yellow in the stone.

Pyrope mineral, nesosilicate garnet

The mineral pyrope is a member of the garnet group. Pyrope is the only member of the garnet family to always display red colouration in natural samples, and it is from this characteristic that it gets its name: from the Greek for fire and eye. Despite being less common than most garnets, it is a widely used gemstone with numerous alternative names, some of which are misnomers. Chrome pyrope, and Bohemian garnet are two alternative names, the usage of the latter being discouraged by the Gemological Institute of America. Misnomers include Colorado ruby, Arizona ruby, California ruby, Rocky Mountain ruby, Elie Ruby, Bohemian carbuncle, and Cape ruby.

Spessartine garnet, nesosilicate mineral

Spessartine, sometimes mistakenly referred to as spessartite, is a nesosilicate, manganese aluminium garnet species, Mn2+3Al2(SiO4)3. The mineral spessartine should not be confused with a type of igneous rock (a lamprophyre) called spessartite.

Grossular garnet, nesosilicate mineral

Grossular is a calcium-aluminium species of the garnet group of minerals. It has the chemical formula of Ca3Al2(SiO4)3 but the calcium may, in part, be replaced by ferrous iron and the aluminium by ferric iron. The name grossular is derived from the botanical name for the gooseberry, grossularia, in reference to the green garnet of this composition that is found in Siberia. Other shades include cinnamon brown (cinnamon stone variety), red, and yellow. Grossular is a gemstone.

Andradite garnet, nesosilicate mineral

Andradite is a species of the garnet group. It is a nesosilicate, with formula Ca3Fe2Si3O12.

Opalescence Optical iridescence phenomena characteristic of the opal gemstone

Opalescence refers to the optical phenomena displayed by the mineraloid gemstone opal. However, there are three notable types of opal, each with different optical effects, so the intended meaning varies depending on context. The optical effects seen in various types of opal are a result of refraction or reflection (common) due to the layering, spacing, and size of the myriad microscopic silicon dioxide spheres and included water in its physical structure. When the size and spacing of the silica spheres are relatively small, refracted blue-green colors are prevalent; when relatively larger, refracted yellow-orange-red colors are seen; and when larger yet, reflection yields a milky-hazy sheen.

Grandidierite nesosilicate mineral

Grandidierite is a rare mineral that was first discovered in 1902 in southern Madagascar. The mineral was named in honor of French explorer Alfred Grandidier (1836–1912) who studied the natural history of Madagascar.

Optical phenomena observable events that result from the interaction of light and matter

Optical phenomena are any observable events that result from the interaction of light and matter. See also list of optical topics and optics. A mirage is an example of an optical phenomenon.


  1. 1 2 GIA Gem Reference Guide. Gemological Institute of America. 1995. ISBN   0-87311-019-6.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Duda, Rudolf & Rejl, Lubos (1990). Minerals of the World. Arch Cape Press. ISBN   0-517-68030-0.
  3. "Webmineral: Kaolinite Mineral Data" . Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  4. Hankin, Rosie (1998). Rocks, Crystals & Minerals. Quintet Publishing. ISBN   1-86155-480-X.
  5. "Emporia State University: GO 340 Gemstones & Gemology: Visual Properties". Archived from the original on 2011-06-12. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  6. "Webmineral: Galena Mineral Data" . Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  7. "Webmineral: Pyrite Mineral Data" . Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  8. "Webmineral: Magnetite Mineral Data" . Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  9. 1 2 "Optical properties of Rocks and Minerals" . Retrieved 2008-06-01.
  10. "Webmineral: Amber Mineral Data" . Retrieved 2008-06-21.
  11. "Emporia State University: GO 340 Gemstones & Gemology: Jade". Archived from the original on 2011-06-12. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
  12. 1 2 3 Bonewitz, Ronald Louis (2005). Rock and Gem. Dorling Kindersley. pp. 152–153. ISBN   0-7513-4400-1.
  13. Emsley, John (2001). Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford University Press. pp. 451–53. ISBN   0-19-850341-5.
  14. G., Read, Peter (2008). Gemmology (3rd ed.). London: N.A.G. ISBN   9780719803611. OCLC   226280870.
  15. "Schiller". wiktionary.
  16. Shipley, Robert M. (2007). Dictionary of gems and gemology. Read Books. p. 93. ISBN   978-0-87311-007-5.