Serpentine - Encyclopedia

    Class : Silicates
    Subclass : Phyllosilicates
    Crystal system : Triclinic / Monoclinic
    Chemistry : Mg3Si2O5(OH)4
    Rarity : Common

The term serpentine designates a group of minerals of formula Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 whose most frequent representatives are the antigorite (sometimes called bowenite when it is dense and compact), chrysotile (designated under the industrial term of asbestos) and lizardite. Replacements are usually limited, except in nickel serpentines where Ni replaces Mg, and where NiO contents can reach 30% (garnierite). Its name comes from the Latin serpens (snake) in allusion to its scaly, mottled green appearance. The structure of the serpentines is identical to that of kaolinite (TO clay) with sheets made up of a layer of tetrahedra and a layer of octahedra. Serpentines are alteration products of ultra-basic rocks rich in magnesium, resulting from a hypogenic transformation (a kind of self-hydration by the last magmatic fluids) of forsterite or more rarely of enstatite. In the case of a very intense alteration, the dunitesperidotites or pyroxenites are transformed into serpentinites, rocks formed essentially of minerals of the serpentine group. These minerals are used in decoration and as ornamental stone, sometimes cut into cabochons for jewelry. It is used in the composition of certain neutron retarder concretes, and sometimes as a refractory material and fiber cement.

14.12 ct antigorite (bowenite variety) from India
31.50 ct lizardite from Snarum, Modum, Buskerud, Norway
49.75 ct US serpentine
32.75 ct chrysotile and lizardite from Brazil

Serpentine in the World and in France

Antigorite : there are numerous deposits, the best known of which are found in Canada, the USA (Appalachians), northern Italy (Val Malenco) and the Urals (Russia). The best specimens seem to have been extracted from deposits in eastern America: Tilly Foster (New York), Montville (New Jersey), Smithfield (Rhode Island) as well as Modum (Norway).

Chrysotile : the deposits are the same as for antigorite. It should be noted that fibers, exceptional in their length, have been discovered in the American Appalachian deposits (Lowell and Eden, Vermont), in Quebec (Abestos, Thetford Mines) and in Norway. In France, chrysotile was exploited at Cap Canari (Corsica)

Lizardite : it is known in serpentinites around the world but the only samples of aesthetic value come from Italy (Coli and Val Trebbia in Emilia-Romagna), sometimes in moraines (Val Sissone, Lombardy). Its particular frequency in the USA, Canada and Australia is an artifact due to the fact that serpentinites have been particularly exploited for asbestos or chromite in these regions.

Fakes and treatments :

No fake listed for this mineral.

Hardness : 2.5 to 3.5
Density : 2.55 to 3.30
Fracture : Irregular to scaly
Streak : White to pale green

TP : Opaque to semi-transparent
IR : 1.541 to 1.573
Birefringence : 0.005 to 0.012
Optical character : Biaxial -
Pleochroism : Not observable
Fluorescence : None

Solubility : None

Magnetism : Paramagnetic
Radioactivity : None


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