It says something about the immense value of gold that even its substitute – and not even a substitute, at that – becomes famous as “fool’s gold.” That’s why iron pyrite is better known as, even though chemically it is better described as an iron sulfide, which occurs when iron reacts with sulfur. It all sounds much less appealing than gold, and believe me, it is.
As gimmicky as “fool’s gold” sounds, it’s not a rare commodity. In fact, iron pyrite, also simply known as “pyrite,” is the most common of the sulfide minerals. It’s known as “fool’s gold,” obviously for its similarity to gold, often described as a “dull gold” that lacks the sparkle or flash of real gold. It has also been described as a pale brass yellow, though it can even take on what looks like a silvery or platinum sheen if looked at in the right lighting.
Odd as it sounds for fool’s gold, real gold does indeed sometimes show up with pyrite, which is to be expected for the relative frequency at which pyrite naturally occurs.
Iron pyrite shows up in a heavily crystallized form, marked with cube crystals in its appearance. One of the things that separates it most from gold is that it is brittle and easily smashed, while gold is a softer, more malleable metal that can withstand a blow of the hammer. In fact, gold is often fashioned with hammers into different forms, including gold leaf for the gilding process.
Why would someone want iron pyrite?
Aside from the novelty aspects of iron pyrite, pyrite does have a few commercial uses. Pyrite is used for the production of sulfur dioxide, often helping with the paper industry, as well as in the production of sulfuric acid, since pyrite is a sulfide mineral.
The value of these processes is declining as new technology emerges and the economy relies less on paper industries.
The novelty aspect of iron pyrite has seen it sold in stores as a fun item for kids to own – even though they’re aware it’s not gold, it can be fun to own a chunk of “fool’s gold” that bears a strong resemblance to a gold nugget.
Pyrite was also used in early firearms, though this practice does not exist as much today.
How is iron pyrite different from gold?
Iron pyrite is very different from gold, and has the chemical formula of an iron disulfide, or FeS2. Gold is an element with the simple symbol of Au, meaning it requires no reacting agent as part of its chemical makeup.
Gold is a highly valuable metal that’s regarded as one of the precious metals because of its general rarity. While pyrite is the most common of sulfide minerals, gold is a rare metal with a variety of uses that make it highly sought after and therefore highly priced, while pyrite can be purchased easily.
The difference in price is staggering, but so is the difference in uses. While pyrite’s uses are fading out with new technology, gold is continually found to be of value in electronics, dentistry, and as one of the best materials for constructing jewelry. Gold has also been used throughout the centuries as a stabilizing economic influence, with the gold standard of trade helping keep prices stable.
If you hold two nuggets in your hand, one made of pyrite and the other made of gold, it would be fairly easily to tell which is which. You could do the “hammer test,” in which you try to smash both pieces with a hammer. Don’t worry – the one that breaks it the pyrite, while the malleable gold nugget will change its shape slightly, but won’t be shattered. The brittle iron pyrite will smash and reveal its true nature.
Another test would be the “fingernail test,” in which you press your fingernail against the nugget or flake in order to see if your can make an indentation. The hard but brittle pyrite won’t have an indentation, but the softer gold will have an indentation in the shape of your fingernail.
You can also sell your gold more easily than iron pyrite because of the limited demand for pyrite, and the always-consistent demand for gold. An online gold broker will be able to take your gold off of your hands by sending you an insured mailing package that you can securely place your gold in. Once you have done this, you can send your gold to them for an appraisal and offer on the gold in your possession. It won’t reach quite the market value of individual articles of jewelry, but instead it will be an offer for the pure gold you can offer. You won’t find this kind of demand for iron pyrite.