Those Lovely Kofu Crystals
By Awake! correspondent in Japan
HAVE you ever been fascinated by the beauty of crystal jewelry or carvings? Likely you have. But like most of us, you probably do not know how they are made. For more information about this, let us go to Kofu, Japan, a city northwest of famous Mount Fuji. It is one of the largest gem-producing centers in the world.
First, we’ll visit the Lapidary Research Institute, where the staff informs us of archaeological finds indicating that in times past Japanese warriors used crystals to tip their arrows. Some arrow tips may date back to the time of Christ. We also learn of the part that crystals played in religion. The Shinto religion centers around natural objects such as the sun, mountains, trees, and rocks. Anything that was outside the ordinary was a candidate for worship. So when unusual crystals were found, they were preserved in local shrines.
During Japan’s feudal era, crystals were rarely bought or sold. But in 1867 Emperor Meiji began to rule and shortly thereafter the feudal system came to an end. With this change, people now mined and sold crystals freely. Kofu’s crystal industry was born.
What Are Crystals?
Professor Kenro Tsunoda of Yamanashi University answers: “The word ‘crystal’ can refer to any solid substance that has a regular, repeating arrangement of atoms. Diamonds, snowflakes, and even common table salt are crystalline in structure.”
From where did crystals come? Professor Tsunoda answers: “Quartz crystals are made up of silicon and oxygen, the two most abundant elements in the earth’s crust. After the earth’s creation, it cooled, and lighter chemical materials floated to the surface. As they hardened, a thin, rocky crust was formed. Hot granitic magma from the earth’s interior, however, would at times break through this crust. The result: a volcano. At other times the magma would protrude only enough to cause a mound under the earth’s crust.” Over the centuries, the continual rise and slow cooling of the hot magma caused a mix of just the right elements, temperatures, and pressures to form clear quartz crystals.
“No matter what their size or shape,” continues the professor, “these crystals always have six sides. Their smooth, flat surfaces meet at 60 degree angles and come to a point at the top. Of course, they are not as hard as diamonds, which are formed under far greater heat and pressure. But they do have a hardness of seven on the Mohs’ scale of hardness, compared to nine for sapphires and rubies. And they can be quite large.”
From Mineral to Masterpiece
Mr. Momose, owner of one of the larger workshops in Kofu, has kindly agreed to show us how crystals are taken in their rough form and made into beautiful gems. “In years past,” says Mr. Momose, “most crystals used here were mined in Japan. Now, for economic reasons, there are no mines in operation in Japan. Some 480 tons of crystal are imported each year, mostly from Brazil, with some stones coming from Africa, West Germany, and the United States.”
The stones are cut into slices with a Carborundum blade, much as you slice a loaf of bread. Then a foreman traces out on the stone where he will cut each gem. For ease in cutting, the craftsman glues the gems onto a long stick. Then, sitting at a spinning table, he skillfully grinds the facets by hand. He may use oval, brilliant, emerald, or other beautiful cuts. Next, the stones are polished on a revolving table. Each stone has been turned into a masterpiece!
The value and beauty are greatly enhanced when these stones are put into elegant settings by a jeweler. We visit a local jeweler and see a dazzling display of gems. We notice that a great variety of things can be made from crystal: brooches, cuff links, paperweights, tie tacks, pendants. And on the wall are impressive displays of Mount Fuji, colorful birds, and the famous Japanese carp.
Jewelers use gold, platinum, white gold, or silver in seemingly endless ways to set off the natural beauty of the gems. And combining the crystals with precious stones, such as diamonds, greatly increases their splendor and value. But tiny quartz crystals in less glamorous settings now serve as oscillators in watches, televisions, radios, and other electronic devices. And who knows what future use will be found for them? In the meantime, however, we are content to gaze with admiration at their lustrous beauty.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 23]
Yamanashi Jewelry Museum
The Shakado Museum of Jomon Culture