Quartz is one of the most common minerals in the Earth's continental crust. It belongs to the hexagonal rhombohedral crystal system, and is made up of silica (SiO2) tetrahedra. Quartz has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale. Density is 2.65 g/cm³. The typical shape is a six-sided prism that ends in six-sided pyramids, although these are often twinned, distorted, or so massive that only part of the shape is apparent from a mined specimen. Additionally a bed is a common form, particularly for varieties such as amethyst, where the crystals grow up from a matrix and thus only one termination pyramid is present. A quartz geode consists of a hollow rock (usually with an approximately spherical shape) with a core lined with a bed of crystals.
Quartz goes by a array of different names. The most important distinction between types of quartz is that of macrocrystalline (individual crystals visible to the unaided eye) and the microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline varieties (aggregates of crystals visible only under high magnification). Chalcedony is a generic term for cryptocrystalline quartz. The cryptocrystalline varieties are either translucent or mostly opaque, while the transparent varieties tend to be macrocrystalline.
Although many of the varietal names historically arose from the colour of the mineral, current scientific naming schemes refer primarily to the microstructure of the mineral. Colour is a secondary identifier for the cryptocrystalline minerals, although it is a primary identifier for the macrocrystalline varieties. This does not always hold true.
Not all varieties of quartz are naturally occurring. Prasiolite, an olive coloured material, is produced by heat treatment; natural prasiolite has also been observed in Lower Silesia in Poland. Although citrine occurs naturally, the majority is the result of heat-treated amethyst. Carnelian is widely heat-treated to deepen its colour.
Because natural quartz is so often twinned, much quartz used in industry is synthesized. Large, flawless and untwinned crystals are produced in an autoclave via the hydrothermal process: emeralds are also synthesized in this fashion.
Quartz occurs in hydrothermal veins and pegmatites. Well-formed crystals may reach several metres in length and weigh hundreds of kilograms. These veins may bear precious metals such as gold or silver, and form the quartz ores sought in mining. Erosion of pegmatites may reveal expansive pockets of crystals, known as "cathedrals.
Quartz is a common constituent of granite, sandstone, limestone, and many other igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
Other silica mineral varieties
Tridymite and cristobalite are high temperature polymorphs of SiO2 which occur in high silica volcanic rocks. Lechatelierite is an amorphous silica glass SiO2 which is formed by lightning strikes in quartz sand.
The name "quartz" comes from the German "Quarz", which is of Slavic origin (Czech miners called it krem). Other sources insist the name is from the Saxon word "Querkluftertz", meaning cross-vein ore.
Quartz is the most common material identified as the mystical substance maban in Australian Aboriginal mythology. It is found regularly in passage tomb cemeteries in Europe in a burial context, eg. Newgrange or Carrowmore in Ireland. The Irish word for quartz is grian cloch, which means 'stone of the sun'.
Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder believed quartz to be permanently frozen ice. He supported this idea by saying that quartz is found near glaciers in the Alps and that large quartz crystals were fashioned into spheres to cool the hands. He also knew of the ability of quartz to split light into a spectrum.
Nicolas Steno's study of quartz paved the way for modern crystallography. He discovered that no matter how distorted a quartz crystal, the long prism faces always made a perfect 60 degree angle.
Charles Sawyer invented the commercial quartz crystal manufacturing process in Cleveland, OH. This initiated the transition from mined and cut quartz for electrical appliances to manufactured quartz.
The quartz oscillator or resonator was first developed by Walter Guyton Cady in 1921. George Washington Pierce designed and patented quartz crystal oscillators in 1923. Warren Marrison created the first quartz oscillator clock based on the work of Cady and Pierce in 1927.
Quartz crystals are rotary polar (see rotary polarization) and have the ability to rotate the plane of polarization of light passing through them. They are also highly piezoelectric, becoming polarized with a negative charge on one end and a positive charge on the other when subjected to pressure. They will vibrate if an alternating electric current is applied to them. This proves them to be highly important in commerce for making pressure gauges, oscillators, resonators and watches.
Quartz is also a type of piezoelectric crystal that creates electricity through a process called piezoelectricity when mechanical stress is put upon it. One of the earliest uses for a quartz crystal was a phonograph pickup. Today, one of the most ubiquitous piezoelectric uses of quartz is as a crystal oscillator—in fact these oscillators are often simply called "quartzes" or "crystals". The same principle is also used for very accurate measurements of very small mass changes by means of the quartz crystal microbalance.