Generally, when one thinks of crystal caves, the image of a factory does not spring to mind — especially the type of industrial enterprise that is devoted to smelting ore. Nevertheless, a zinc-smelting factory in Poland is responsible for the brilliantly colored, magical-looking zincite crystal pictured here.
Zincite is a crystalline formation of zinc oxide. It does occur naturally as tiny gravel-like pieces in a couple of mines in New Jersey. But the beautiful crystals like this yellow-tipped orange wand came about because of breakage in the smelter walls at a factory in Poland. The change in environment (some complex confluence of air composition and heat factors) resulted in the zinc forming glowing crystals on the inner surfaces of the smokestacks. The temporary result of the accident (the situation has been repaired now) was to transform those industrial cylinders into ersatz geodes, lined with brilliant crystals in red, orange, green, gray — even blue.
Not natural, nor yet man-made, these crystals inhabit some middle ground. Perhaps man-caused would be a correct term.
This orange crystal was the first of a small group I’ve collected over the years. The clarity, luster, and intense color first drew me to examine it. Holding it in my hand made me buy it. Zincite is heavier than you might expect. Most of the time, when I lift something, I have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to feel. My expectations, fueled by experience and cued by size, tell me that a larger item is likely to weigh more than a smaller one. But zinc is heavy, and the crystal cradled in the palm of my hand has substance that impels my fingers to curl around it as my hand adapts to its presence.
I have other pieces of zincite — including a red one that’s nearly 4 inches long; this one just misses the 3-inch mark. The orange one is my favorite, though. Perhaps it’s the fact that it is bi-colored. Maybe it’s the slight rounding of the tapering shape — some zincite is very pointed and angular, almost dagger-like. Probably it’s just the way it fits my hand, or the fact that it was my first piece.
That’s why this piece is my favorite. As to why I’m so attracted to zincite, I think that has to do with the idea that it symbolizes beauty in the midst of the mundane; unexpected treasure from an otherwise pedestrian situation. Zincite reminds me to take a second look; to seek value in random events and in the people I meet.