Marcasite Jewelry: Vintage Styles & Cleaning Tips

Cameo with Marcasite

Its glittering beauty and vintage feel has made marcasite jewelry a favorite for generations.

What is Marcasite?

Marcasite is the name given the mineral iron sulfide, which is mined all over the world. However, most of the gem called marcasite used in jewelry is actually iron pyrite, since genuine marcasite often crumbles into dust and is thus too delicate to be used in jewelry. The composition of iron sulfide and iron pyrite are the same, however they crystallize differently. Iron pyrite is commonly referred to as fool's gold, because throughout history many gold miners believed they had struck it rich when encountering iron pyrite with bright, brassy streaks.


Marcasite jewelry has a history that stretches back hundreds and hundreds of years. Archaeologists have discovered examples of iron pyrite jewelry in Incan burial places in Peru, and ancient Greeks were also known to use it to adorn themselves. Marcasite was popular during the 18th century and was frequently seen in lockets, brooches, and cameos.

This gem was also favored during the Victorian era and was widely used in that time period. After the death of her husband, Britain's Queen Victoria chose to wear the black clothing and jewelry symbolic of widowhood and continued to do so until her death decades later. Her subjects followed her lead, and somber clothing and accessories in dark and muted shades were the fashion for many years. Iron pyrite's darker hues made it ideal for this type of jewelry, and its low price tag made it a favorite.


The extra sparkle it lends to jewelry continues to make marcasite a top choice today. Even when it is brand new, this type of jewelry often has an appealing antique appearance, and many buy it for its estate jewelry look. Because marcasite and sterling silver are such a stunning combination, this gem is most often set in silver jewelry or another white metal. It is rarely used with yellow gold, as they do not tend to blend well.

The gem is usually cut into the shape of a pyramid when used in jewelry. Onyx is frequently teamed with marcasite for an attractive design, and pearl, mother of pearl, opal, and crystal are often paired with it as well. Sometimes glass, steel, or another metal are used in jewelry settings in place of iron pyrite.

Marcasite is typically found in the following types of jewelry:

Caring and Cleaning

To keep marcasite jewelry looking its best, it is necessary to clean and care for it properly. While many types of stones are set in jewelry with prongs, jeweler's cement is commonly used to secure iron pyrite in its setting. It is important to avoid getting the jewelry wet, since this can result in the stones becoming loose and falling from the setting. Always remove iron pyrite jewelry before swimming, showering or taking a bath. Also, remember to remove rings and bracelets when washing hands, washing dishes or using harsh cleaning detergents. When cleaning the jewelry, stay away from steamers, water, chemical cleaners, and ultrasonic cleaners. Gently wiping the jewelry with a soft, dry or slightly damp cloth will remove tarnish from the silver and keep the stones clean without ruining the piece. If using a slightly damp cloth, make sure to dry the jewelry completely after cleaning it. Silver jewelry can often be kept free of tarnish by simply wearing it regularly.

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Marcasite Jewelry: Vintage Styles & Cleaning Tips