Chinese Turquoise & Uranium Bead Found!
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Posted by: AnneLFG Post Reply
04/23/2019, 21:55:04

Hi Bead Peeps, Well this is quite unusual, so far as my day to day. My Son Sam and I are both Fossil & Rock Collectors. Yesterday rock collecting and beads intersected in a way we could never have imagined or foreseen.

Most Bead Collectors are aware that Uranium in small amounts was used beginning in the 1830's in Bohemia to create what are now called "Vaseline" beads and also glass containers of certain yellow and green colors that will incidentally "glow" under UV light, and will also set off a geiger counter- if you have one. Many people are also familiar with the 1920's Depression Era Uranium Glass dish sets of yellow and green that are avidly sought out by collectors and displayed in China Cabinets equipped with black lights with a striking effect.

Night before last we were using the geiger counter on some collected petrified wood and decided to use it to hunt for my elusive stash of Vintage yellow "Vaseline" Beads in the room where we have been unpacking, when the geiger counter began sounding a loud reading near a bag of Chinese Turquoise beads. As we investigated, we found that it was not ALL the beads but ONE bead in particular- an oval shaped drilled turquoise bead with dark pyrite "spider" webbed matrix and a quite visible yellow band running through it from end to end. Our curiosity was certainly piqued!

As we carefully checked with a magnifier we could also see that this yellow material was crystalline, and appeared to be a uranium bearing mineral such as Torbernite (hydrated copper uranyl phosphate) or Autinite (hydrated calcium uranyl phosphate). Both of these uranium bearing minerals are the hydrated form, but most likely over time have dehydrated into the forms known as metatorbernite and metaautunite. How to tell them apart? Both can be yellow to rich green in color, but evidently only autunite fluoresces under black light. I am not certain though as our black light is not the correct type. However it is a uranium crystal of some type.

IMGUR ALBUM- scroll down to see all pics:


YOU TUBE VIDEO of Geiger Counter reaction:

I was able to find both Torbernite and Autunite specimens from Hubei provence, China, where much of the Turquoise is also mined. By the way, uranium with turquoise is found in many areas of the world in association with copper and turquoise, and in many of the Arizona mines where turquoise is or was mined in the USA.

GEMOLOGY Online Forum had an interesting discussion about Chinese Turquoise from Hubei province with uranium inclusions, and a discussion about health concerns and knowledge level of the Bangkok cutters:

GIA Link to Gem and Gemology Winter 2009 G&G Lab Notes, Vol. 46 , No.4: ... bnote.html / TRY NEXT LINK OR: [GO TO "Research & News" heading >>> GEMS and GEMOLOGY....>>> TYPE IN: : "WINTER 2009 ">>> GO TO Winter 2009 G&G Lab Notes (read more) >>>>> DOWNLOAD PDF>>> Scroll down to Page 294] page 294

SAFETY: Most of us would wear yellow or green "Vaseline" or "Uranium" glass beads without a second thought, and this is generally accepted as fine and not a health threat. The so called uranium beads and uranium depression era glass emit low BETA activity on the geiger counter, and like other Beta emitters, the activity rapidly falls off within a short distance.

Collector's Weekly: "These People Love to Collect Radioactive Glass. Are they Nuts?":
International Gem Society: "Is Uranium Glass Safe to Facet?":

Certain Vintage and Antique Clay Pottery also has Uranium in the glaze, depending on color, and the clay itself can have radionuclides: Uranium in ceramics:

Anyone that does lapidary work and cuts raw materials for beads, cabochons, etc. knows to use certain safety precautions like masks and water with the cutting wheel to not only cool but to cut down on loose dust that could be inhaled, ingested, or disseminated. Certain stones are more "dangerous" to cut than others and require more vigilance. I have big Malachite chunks from Zaire that not only contain problematic copper and arsenic dust, but some set off my geiger counter too! Come to find out that Zaire was a big uranium supplier during the Manhattan Project. Uranium and Malachite can be found together in the same mine and on the same stone. Much of the petrified wood and also fossil Dino bone I have is radioactive, and you should know this and take precautions before polishing or cutting these materials.

I am going to treat my Turquoise Uranium bead as a "specimen", enjoy it's curious beauty, put it in a labeled plastic bag, and wash my hands with soap and water after handling. So long as it's not under my pillow, or hanging around my neck next to my Thyroid Gland (very radiation sensitive) I should be fine. Note that "fresh" hydrated Torbernite and Autunite OFF-GAS Radon so do not seal those up! Collectors keep their radioactive specimens in special containers & cabinets, I would suggest that if you have any Turquoise (from anywhere) that has a yellow or an unusual bright green color on/in it anywhere to borrow a Geiger counter and check! Also check any other copper associated beads like malachite (for yellow and black-since one of mine had black radioactive material) and your "specimen" rocks if you have any. You don't need to run out and buy a geiger counter. We Fossil and rock hunt in areas with known occurrences so it is useful for us to have one. I think most Fire stations have a Geiger counter and would probably check some bead or rock samples if you took them by on a slow day- (CALL FIRST!).

Has anyone else found uranium in their turquoise or malachite, or any other copper-related materials? I am curious to hear your feedback and experiences with anything similar and get your input.

Thanks, Anne


Autinite Specimen from China:

Torbernite Specimen(s) from China:


Rocks & Minerals
Volume 80, 2005 - Issue 3, article: Connoisseur's Choice by Robert B. Cook, Autunite:

Forum: Rockhound Lounge Uranite and Torbernite:

More reading is showing that Arizona Copper and Turquoise mines have documented occurrences of both radioactive minerals. Here is one geologic explanation for the interested, at least as it occurs in one area of Arizona:

SCIENCE How Stuff Works:

Bead lover, collector since Age 15, semi-retired had wholesale/retail bead, folk art, tribal art store Lost and Found Gallery for 25 yrs. in DT Greensboro, NC

Modified by AnneLFG at Thu, Apr 25, 2019, 21:53:50

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