Marra Mamba vs Binghamite – The Snob Blog

Did you ever think about how similar Marra Mamba Tigers Eye and Binghamite are? NO, you mean you haven’t? It’s amazing to me how unrelated rocks, that came from places so remote from each other, resemble each other. Let’s first look at Binghamite, then talk about Marra Mamba.

Characterstics of Binghamite

Binghamite/Silkstone Is a highly sought after gemstone material from Minnesota’s Cuyuna Iron Range. The mine where Binghamite was found is long closed, and even the spoil piles are depleated. Binghamite can still be found at swap meets and rock & mineral Shows. Binghamite is also sometimes known as American Pietersite, because of its’ silky chatoyancy. My opinion is that it has the appearance of fine Tiger Iron from Australia more than Pietersite from South Africa. Pietersite generally contains no iron and loads of chatoyancy. Tiger Iron, Marra Mamba, and Binghamite, all contain the iron element, and in my opinion have much more character than does Pietersite.
A flashlight on the face of this amazing Binghamite shows the “glow” of the Goethite and the Hematite in this gorgeous pendant. Binghamite, like this beauty, are very difficult to find.

Do Old Collections Yield Rare Stones?

Purchasing old collections is a wise investment most of the time. When you find things like high grade, picture Binghamite, in an old collection, it’s a special day. Every time I looked at one particular little slab of Binghamite I found in an old collection, I saw new things. I thought I would bring this Cab to the top of my “make jewelry” list; but guess what? I put it in a “safe place” and forgot about it for 10 years! I rediscovered this shiny stone, and put it in a tray to travel to Florida with us this winter. I placed it on my work bench, and looked at it for a couple months. This Binghamite Cabochon was begging me to make it into a pendant, all that time. I cut and polished it with My Pixie Machine out on our picnic table. Man, that stone sparkled in the sun. I cut and shaped this slab into a square picture, a Magical and Ethereal Cabochon indeed.

Binghamite is a rock containing Chalcedony (a form of micro-crystalline Quartz). In the case of Binghamite the Chalcedony contains fibrous iron oxide, Hematite and/or Goethite. It has been explained to me that Binghamite is a Chalcedony replacement of Fibrous Goethite-Hematite. It’s hard to get my head around how this causes a play of color not unlike Tiger’s Eye, but it does.

What is undercutting?

The hardness of Binghamite varies. The more Hematite in the stone, the more difficult to cut and polish. The term “Undercutting” is applied. Undercutting occurs when cutting material with different hardnesses within one stone. Because some areas are softer they tend to cut deeper than surrounding areas. A lot of finesse is involved when cutting, and this is the case with Binghamite. The best polish obtainable may be a Matte Finish.

Really good Binghamite will certainly outshine Tiger Iron, but will not hold a candle to Marra Mamba.

Characteristics of Marra Mamba

Marra Mamba is considered the finest form of Tiger’s Eye ( I refer to Tiger Eye and Tiger’s Eye in this Blog. Both are acceptable) by many collectors and lapidarists. In the Hamersley Ranges of the Pilbara region in Australia, there are a iron rich areas where Australian tiger-eye has been found. The best-known area is near Mount Brockman.   A ridge of hills a few miles long has produced good quality golden-colored material from a number of small deposits.   The “true” Marra Mamba is a very rare type of Tiger Eye, and was only found in two areas. Vivid chatoyant blues, reds, yellows, gold, and greens! (see note below) can all be present in Marra Mamba.. These areas have been mined out of Marra Mamba since the early 70’s. Hematite is also a major component in Marra Mamba, and in the case of this particular cabochon, makes polishing it very tricky.

Is Marra Mamba still available?

Marra Mamba may be scarce but I found some in Tucson a few years back. Seven years ago I was checking out the tables of Australian Outback Mining at the Tucson Shows. Looking through Glenn Archer’s stash of Tiger Eye and Tiger Iron, I noticed unusual blue colorations in one of his rough pieces. I mentioned to Bonnie that I really thought it was Marra Mamba, but rough MM is very difficult to find and quite expensive. AFTER I bought the rock, I showed it to Glenn, and he confirmed that it was Marra Mamba; “I guess I missed that one”, was his comment. I would not have seen the telltale signs had the bright Tucson sun not been shining on the rock at precisely the right angle. If you are lucky, you can still find this gemstone. What I look for in Marra Mamba that is different from Tigers Eye, is some Blue areas, that you don’t see in ordinary Tigers Eye.

Here’s Binghamite Out in the Florida sunlight,,,AMAZING!! See the picture of the Tigers Iron slab below, and compare to the Binghamite.
A large and spectacular, polished piece of Marra Mamba for sale by legendary Miner, Glenn Archer (Owner of Australian Outback Mining) several years ago at the Tucson Shows. I intentionally inserted the short movie of my Binghamite Pendant to directly compare it to the Marra Mamba slab seen at the Tucson shows. It’s unfortunate you cannot see these stones in person. No picture can do this justice!
Another picture from a Tucson gem show trip: Looks like giant Bacon Slabs; and I LOVE Bacon!

About my Finished Binghamite Pendant (It passed Quality Control)

I decided on Gold wire, and I did not “cheap” on the quantity. I piled those wires into a 12 wire high bundle. My usual rule in no more than 10 wires. I wanted to achieve a simple, elegant, yet expensive look, and nothing does this like being extravagant with the gold. Careful planning and excecution, and a couple hours of intense concentration, produced a wire wrap job befitting this stone. Quality Control (Bonnie) smiled, and declared it “elegant”. Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Piles of Tiger Eye are occasionally seen in Tucson and Quartzsite. You won’t find piles of Marra Mamba though. These piles are better searched when they are wet.

I understand, from my metaphysically inclined friends that Marra Mamba is a favorite of female Shamans, and has multiple benefits. It is said to invoke the powers of the far seeing eye, and bring health and well being. I know it makes ME happy. I see new things each time I look at this gemstone; amazing landscapes, and fantastic colors seem to reflect different features within. The evening sun shines thru, reflecting rich, chatoyant colors, and mysterious places. Trivia Alert! The Dalai Lama often wears Tiger’s Eye Beads. That may, or may not be and important fact, but I love trivia.

Beautiful Marra Mamba pendant.

Beware of False Claims.

I have noticed much of the Australian Tiger Eye on line, being sold as Marra Mamba, is not real Marra Mamba. Buyers must beware.

Ordinary Tiger’s Eye from Australia is somewhat dull as compared to Tiger Eye from South Africa. Tiger Iron from Australia, on the other had, can be very gemmy.

In Conclusion

Tiger Eye is found in many places around the world, but Australia is the only place where Marra Mamba was, and is, found. While Tiger’s Eye is quite common, Marra Mamba is not. I would love to have more Marra Mamba, as would most Lapidarists and Jewelry Makers, but it is quite scarce. Occasionally I exhume a piece from my old rock piles.

I do not believe I can channel all the metaphysical powers of Tiger’s Eye or Marra Mamba, like the Dalai Lama, but making jewelry from Marra Mamba certainly makes me happy.


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