Summary
Meteorites have fascinated people from prehistoric times to the present. Jewelers can incorporate these unique and unusual bits of extraterrestrial debris into beautiful designs. Although you don’t need a degree in astronomy to appreciate these pieces, learning more about meteorite types and terminology can help you immensely when you’re shopping for meteorite jewelry or fragments for your own custom jewelry project.
Reading time: 8 min
meteorite pendant

This sterling silver pendant holds a 12 mm sphere of material from the famous Muonionalusta meteorite find (Sweden, 1906), thinly plated in rose gold but with the Widmanst?tten patterns still visible. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers.

A Brief Primer on Outer Space Debris

You should differentiate between these three terms: meteoroid, meteor, and meteorite. Although they may all refer to the same object, they specify where the object is in its journey.?These terms can denote any kind of extraterrestrial debris, but scientists further classify them according to their structure and composition.?

Meteoroid

While small chunks of space debris move through outer space, they’re called meteoroids. “Small” is a relative term, however, as some meteoroids can reach the size of large boulders. Some meteoroids form when comets or asteroids split apart, but others developed along with the formation of star systems like our own solar system.

meteorite, possibly from Mercury

Some meteoroids formed when impacts on Mars or the Moon ejected material into space. This meteorite might have originated from a meteoroid created by an impact on Mercury. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Heritage Auctions.

Meteor

Once a meteoroid enters a planet’s atmosphere, its surface begins to burn up and leaves a trail visible across the sky. At this point, the proper term for the object is meteor. Meteors streaking through the Earth’s atmosphere are often referred to as “shooting stars,” though, of course, they’re not stars.

Meteorite

Not all meteors survive their journey through the atmosphere. Some burn up. Those that manage to strike the surface of a planet are called meteorites. Since meteorites travel at such high speeds, they form craters on impact.?While larger meteorites make easily spotted craters, smaller meteorites create smaller, harder to notice craters.

More Meteor and Meteorite Terminology

The following terms describe specific types of meteors and meteorites and the circumstances of their discovery. Just as with gemstones, the source or provenance of space debris may add to the interest — and possibly the value — of meteorite jewelry.

Meteor Shower

During a meteor shower, meteors do, indeed, look like they’re raining across the sky. These meteors consist of cometary debris and enter the atmosphere as the Earth passes through comet tails.

Leonid meteor

Meteor showers seem to originate from specific points in the sky. As a result, they’re named after prominent constellations or stars that appear closest to that point. Since the Earth crosses comet tails on a regular basis as it orbits the Sun, some meteor showers are annual occurrences. For example, the Leonids appear to originate from the constellation Leo and have the greatest activity and visibility on November 17. This Leonid meteor was photographed on November 17, 2009. Photo by Navicore. Licensed under CC By 3.0.

Meteor Falls and Meteorite Finds

The term “meteor fall” identifies meteorites recovered because witnesses viewed their journey through the atmosphere, their “fall” or meteor stage.

“Meteorite finds” are meteorites that were recovered by chance, not as a result of someone tracking a meteor’s path.

Sikhote-Alin pieces

11 pieces (142 grams total) of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite fall. When this meteorite came down over Russia in 1947, witnesses up to 200 miles from the impact observed a fireball in the sky brighter than the Sun. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and TimeLine Auctions Ltd.

Types of Meteorites

There are three main types of meteorites, each of which has a unique composition, structure, and look.

Stony Meteorites

The most common type of meteorite, stony meteorites are rich in silica. Scientists subdivide them into two categories: chondrites and achondrites. Chondrites contain chondrules while achondrites don’t.

chondrite meteorite

A chondrite meteorite with chondrules and metal flakes visible on its polished face. Photo by H. Raab. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Sphere-shaped grains, chondrules consist of two silicate materials, olivine and pyroxene, and often contain refractory inclusions. Chondrules are some of the oldest particles in space (approximately 4.55 billion years old).

Iron Meteorites

Only about 6% of all recovered meteorites are iron meteorites. As the name indicates, iron meteorites contain a large amount of iron. However, they also commonly contain other metals, including nickel and cobalt.

Murnpeowie meteorite

This iron meteorite, known as the Murnpeowie meteorite, was found in 1909 in the South Australian Outback and weighs 2,520 pounds. Since the iron in these meteorites rusts relatively quickly once on Earth, it’s estimated this specimen was found within 5 years of striking the ground. Photo by James St. John. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Stony-Iron Meteorites

These combinations of stony and iron meteorites contain pockets of olivine and pyroxene surrounded by an iron matrix. Collectors prize stony-iron meteorite fragments and items made from them because of their beauty and rarity.

Esquel Pallasite

This large cross section of a stony-iron pallasite meteorite from the Esquel find (Argentina, 1951) shows an iron matrix and silicate crystals. Photo by Captmondo. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

The Mystique of Meteorite Jewelry

Ancient civilizations used meteorites in decorative objects, including jewelry, as far back as five thousand years ago. At an Egyptian burial site, scientists discovered a bead made from an iron meteorite. They dated its crafting to some time between 3,350 and 3,600 BCE.

stamp and seal, meteoric iron - Sasanian

Seal with stamp made from meteoric iron, Sasanian Empire, Iran, circa 5th century CE. Gift of Miss Helen Miller Gould, 1910. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public Domain.

People have valued meteorite jewelry not only for its beauty but also because they believed these stones had healing properties. Iron meteorites were also commonly associated with balance and strength, and the nickel in these meteorites was believed to purify the wearer’s blood.

The iron and other metals in meteorites may attract magnets. Such magnetic reactions, combined with celestial origins, may have inspired beliefs that meteorites had magical powers.

magnetic pendant

Magnetic pendant made from an iron meteorite. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Ingenuity Gallery Inc.

Meteorites in Jewelry and Watch Designs

Meteorite fragments can appear in jewelry and watch designs in several ways.

gold watch - Agpalilik find

18k yellow gold watch with meteorite dial and bezel-set diamonds. An inscription on the reverse identifies the source of the meteorite as the Agpalilik?find (Greenland, 1818). Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Heritage Auctions. (Cropped to show detail).

Cross Sections

Slices of iron meteorites are frequently used as watch faces, bezel set as pendants, or fashioned into ring bands because of the beautiful patterning these cross sections can show. Known as Widmanst?tten patterns, these markings are made of long, nickel-iron crystals that form inside the meteorite and cool very slowly in space.

cufflinks - Muonionalusta meteorite

The meteorite slices in these cufflinks are from the Muonionalusta meteorite find. They show striking Widmanst?tten patterns. Photo?courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers.

Jewelers can highlight these intriguing patterns by cleaning and polishing the cross-sectional slices, then placing them in an acid bath. The acid bath etches the pattern, making it more prominent.

Widmanst?tten pattern

Closeup of Widmanst?tten pattern from an iron meteorite. Photo by Kevin Walsh. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Jewelers can also incorporate cross sections of stony-iron meteorites into jewelry, with their iron matrices filled with green or yellow silicates. For maximum effect, jewelers should set these slices so light can enter them from the back.

gold pendant

Custom-designed freeform 14k gold pendant with a stony-iron meteorite slice and bezel-set garnet and diamond. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Uniques & Antiques, Inc.

Meteorites as Gemstones

Jewelers sometime use small, whole meteorites or rough meteorite fragments in the same manner as gemstones, mounting them on rings or bracelets like silvery rocks. They may also use them for pendants by affixing bails to one end so the stone can be threaded onto a necklace chain or cord.

meteorite jewelry - pendant and ring

Pieces of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite fall, used as a pendant and mounted on a ring. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and TimeLine Auctions Ltd.

Gemstones from Meteorites

Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments.?For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.

pallasite peridot

This 0.97-ct, brilliant cushion-cut peridot was cut from the Jepara meteorite find, recovered in Indonesia in 2008. ? The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Combinations

Some jewelers incorporate cross-sectional pieces as well as chunks of meteorites into their designs. Traditional gemstones, as well as more exotic stones such as fossils and amber, frequently add flair to meteorite jewelry designs.

meteorite and onyx pendant

Custom-designed sterling silver pendant, featuring a cabbed black onyx and a piece from the Gibeon meteorite find (Namibia, 1836). Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Artistic Findings.

Buying Loose Fragments and Meteorite Jewelry

Jewelry designers can purchase fragments from a wide range of meteorite falls and finds. Since each meteorite fragment is one-of-a-kind, some vendors may show an example of what the fragment may look like but offer no guarantees of its appearance. Other vendors may list each piece separately, so you know the size, shape, and pattern of each fragment.

Whether you’re looking for materials to create meteorite jewelry or finished jewelry and watches, you may want to know the source of the meteorite fragments. Sellers typically list the meteorite’s recovery site, so you can search for materials from specific falls or finds. Although most people buy meteorite jewelry based on its visual appeal, knowing when and where your meteorite fell to Earth is certainly a conversation starter.

moldavite and meteorite pendant with medal

This necklace consists of 93 polished, irregular-shaped pieces from a 2000 meteorite find in Algeria (NWA 869) and features a moldavite pendant (another stone with extraterrestrial connections). The medal commemorates the event. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles.