Rock Crystal & Scottish Cairngorms in Scottish Pebble Jewellery

‘Cairngorm’ or smoky quartz is a crystalline material produced within granite rock, of which the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland (4 miles high) is a prime example.  When the granite was originally formed, masses from volcanic magma included material known as pegmatite which enclosed many gas cavities. It is in these fissures that quartz crystals grew.  Although this material can be found in other places in the world, it was in Scotland that Cairngorm collection and use in Scottish Pebble Jewellery was generally first associated.








Scottish quartz comprises crystals varying from completely colourless through light yellows and darker browns, to almost black and in some very rare cases, red.  Within the jewellery trade, the most commonly occurring colours are described thus; Light yellow are described as citrine, golden to darker brown are known as ‘Cairngorm’ and the darkest stones are known as ‘morion’.  These three are widely found through the Grampian and Cairngorm granites.   These three descriptions are thought to be relatively recently adopted and only came into widespread use in the early part of the 19th century.  The central crystal in the center of this brooch is clear rock crystal.  It is rare to see clear rock crystal and most of it seems to have been mined from the east side of  Loch Aven in the Grampian range of mountains in Scotland.








Prior to all this, all quartz material including smokey quartz and rock crystal was described simply as ‘crystal’.

The most effective way of establishing the presence of a genuine Cairngorm crystal within a specific piece of  Scottish Pebble Jewellery is to gain knowledge of where the other materials (agates) in the specific piece originated, since agates are fairly location specific in Scotland.








Although not completely definitive, it is a way to discover if the crystal (usually at the center of the piece) is of genuine Scottish origin.








Some collectors found fairly large Cairngorm crystal deposits.  The Rev. J Stewart in a letter dated 1858 stated that “Rock crystal is diffused throughout the central group of the Grampian range.  In one instance ten hundredweights were taken from one cavity in the granite alone.  The crystals found on the east side of Lock Aven are of a very light colour and very clear, whilst those found on the west side are a dark brown.”








The effect of creased collecting activities during the early part of the 1800’s did seem to provide an increase in abundance of Cairngorm crystal.  But demand seems to have outstripped supply.  By the end of the 1800’s the collection of Cairngorms had once again been reduced to nothing more than a cottage industry.








It is a myth that collecting gemstones in Scotland only started only with the interest of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the English throne.  The use of crystals as ornaments goes back to at least the 14th century.  The brooch of Lorne, said to date back to 1306 comprises a central stone of crystal, surrounded by Scottish Agates.  The ‘Loch Buy’ brooch dated about 1500 “…….is set with crystals and river pearls in high collets.  The raw materials used in Scottish Pebble Jewellery have certainly been available and have been recognized for many centuries.








By 1799 reports of crystal collecting were much more frequent. The Reverend  Charles McHardy reported that “……on Binn-na-Baird and Binn-na-Muick-duidh……are found pellucid stones of the nature of precious stones.  The most common are browns of different shades.”(Sinclair 1799).








After Queen Victorians patronage, interest in all matters Scottish exploded and suddenly the jewellery became highly sought after and in very high demand.  She became Monarch in June 1837.






















(Facts courtesy of ‘Scottish Pebble Jewellery’ by Nick Crawford.)