The forms of apatite are many, diverse and colourful. Apatites are bred in the bone and borne out in the teeth, but domestic apatites are pale reflexes of the wild and exotic apatites you may find. In the many apatites of the world is much deception: you may think you have and hold one thing, but it is quite another. Look closely; you may see palaces and caves, heavenly clouds and hellish nightmare realms. But one thing is true: apatites are hard. Specifically, apatite is the defining mineral for 5 on the Mohs scale.

Yes, I’m spelling that right, and what is the Mohs scale? It’s the standard scale for hardness in minerals and other things. Talc is 1 and diamond is 10. So, strictly, apatite is exactly halfway up. But consider your teeth and bones: do they seem hard to you? One kind of apatite, hydroxyapatite, is the major component in tooth enamel and bone mineral.

Yes, apatite is a mineral. It’s actually a group of phosphate minerals. Its name, which sounds exactly like appetite, comes from Greek ἀπάτη apaté ‘deceit’; Abraham Gottlob Werner gave it the name in 1786 because apatite was often mistaken for other things. (To satisfy your appetite for etymology: appetite comes from Latin appetitus ‘desire’, from appetere, from ad ‘to’ plus petere ‘seek’.)

Minerals are fascinating things. Everyone should, in their childhood, spend some time in the minerals section of a museum. Try to go to one where they light them nicely. The mineral is mainly just arrangements of molecules made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, and either hydrogen (and more oxygen), fluorine, or chlorine – Ca10(PO4)6(OH,F,Cl)2. But take a look at how that all comes out. So many colours and shapes.

From such basic elements are our apatites built and crystallized, and yet they crystallize in so many different ways. Some are lucid, some opaque. Read into them what you will; see fantasy realms and dramas, or pure forms. Seek what you desire, but be prepared for deceit. There is no need to be uptight about it. In the end, know this: ordinary as they may seem to you, you have your own apatites, and you would be an indistinct useless mass without them.

3 responses to “apatite

  1. beyondwords72

    Long ago, when I was a child in Oklahoma, my family went to the nearest musem at least once a year. It was Woolaroc (woods-lakes-rocks), 12 miles from our town, in the Osage Hills, on a wonderful nature preserve and working ranch (see http://www.woolaroc.org/ ). My family was most interested in the history of cowboys and Indians and in the stuffed animals. But I managed to escape them, and they always found me in the room with all the minerals. I didn’t know much about those minerals, but I loved their beauty and their energy. Later as an adult in Edmonton, I would sometimes go to the museum alone mainly to spend time in the room with the minerals.

    Thank you, James, for teaching me about one extremely important mineral, sending me to gorgeous photos, and encouraging the child in me to spend time with the mineralology exhibition at the Glenbow Museum, which I have not visited since I moved to Calgary.

  2. Brian Hitchcock

    If the scale runs from 1 to 10, then 5 is not “strictly…exactly halfway”. There are four items less than it, and five items greater. So “strictly”, 5.5 is “exactly halfway”. I wonder which mineral is at 5.5 on the Mohs scale?

  3. I make beaded jewelry and discovered apatite beads a few years ago. Some of them (the opaque, not the translucent, variety) are in my favo(u)rite colo(ur); alas, mostly too expensive, and a small string I bought recently seems to have been dyed-something-else, probably quartz.

    The bit that might amuse you: Often bead sites include a “traditional” belief about the stone’s magical properties. Some of these beliefs are historical (e.g., amethyst to counter poisoning); some are clearly of recent invention. Apatite is said to help with weight loss by, yes, curbing appetite. I expect someone had fun writing that description.

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