At first glance, a dendritic stone might be mistaken by the uninitiated for a shard of ancient Chinese porcelain. But while the intricate vegetal patterns that distinguish dendritic quartz and dendritic agate have a hand-painted, calligraphic quality, they’re actually a natural phenomenon caused by fern-like inclusions of iron, manganese, or other metallic oxides known as dendrites.
The best specimens of dendritic quartz and agate hail from Brazil, India, and Montana and are catching on among our industry’s more experimental artisan designers. Dendritic agate is itself a type of quartz (a variety of chalcedony, technically) and displays a milky, opaque “background” (think of a snowy lawn strewn with fallen branches). Dendritic quartz, on the other hand, has a transparent, crystalline quality—it’s more shimmery and iridescent. “This is the dendritic stone I see used the most in fine jewelry,” says gem expert and trend tracker Benjamin Guttery of Third Coast Gems.
“It’s exciting to see enthusiasm for these different forms of included quartzes,” says the noted gem purveyor and lapidary artist Robert Bentley. “More than many other gemstones being used today, they inspire people to go on an adventure in the endlessly fascinating world of the mineral kingdom.”
“Nothing is more poetic than dendritic agate,” he adds. “In a well-cut stone, the manganese inclusions mimic trees and plants, evoking dreamy landscapes or still lives.”
Designer Judi Powers, who debuted a collection starring dendritic agate and quartz at JCK Las Vegas, agrees: “The frilly, sea kelp–like inclusions really amplify the uniqueness of each stone and the absolute magic of geology,” says Powers, who likens the reddish-brown or black dendritic elements to old sepia-tone and tin-type photographs. “I studied art history, and the pictorial quality always delights me. Plus, I find the process of selecting the stones one by one to be both meditative and exciting.”
Many of Powers’ peers favor the use of moss agate, beloved for its grass-green dendrites (the result of manganese). The color and patterns suggest a rainforest thick with hanging vines and leafy canopies, making moss agate ideal for jewelry designs with an organic, botanical look and feel.
Check out the examples below to better understand the distinctions between the different dendritic stones…and, as Bentley suggested, let the different patterns, colors, and textures whisk you away on a magical adventure.
Clockwise from top: Dendritic quartz earrings in 14k gold with cognac diamonds, $785; assorted necklaces in 14k gold featuring dendritic agate and dendritic quartz, $799 to $2,195 each; and dendritic agate ring in 14k gold and sterling silver, $999; all Judi Powers
Dendritic agate pins with assorted gems including amethyst, peridot, carnelian, pink tourmaline, tanzanite, aquamarine, and moonstone, in 18k and 22k gold, from $980 each; Judy Geib + a
Stingray pendant in 18k gold with moss agate, price upon request; Rachel Atherley
Dendritic quartz ring in sterling silver and 18k gold, 640 GBP; Amy Keeper
Bracelet in 22k gold and sterling silver with dendritic quartz, rose-cut sapphire, Tahitian black pearl, sapphire crystal, herkimer diamond, quartz crystal, and black diamond, $2,000; Sam Woehrmann
Dendritic agate rings with diamonds, $695 each, and dendritic agate earrings, $1,375, both in sterling silver with 22k gold bezels; Ananda Khalsa
Dendritic agate and diamond ring in 14k gold, price upon request; Erin Nelson
Kyoto necklace in sterling silver and 24k gold with dendritic agate, $1,100; Gurhan
Zen ring in 18k rose gold featuring a 35.15 ct. dendritic quartz, $3,750; Mark Patterson
Dendritic agate ring in recycled 14k gold, $850; Melissa Joy Manning
Dendritic quartz and black diamond necklace in 18k rose gold, $3,850; Susan Wheeler Design
Dusk Twig cuff with dendritic quartz, gray moonstone, sillimanite, and gray diamonds in oxidized silver and 18k and 22k gold, $2,110; Sydney Lynch
Moss agate earrings in sterling silver and 14k gold, $395; Russell Jones
(Photo at top courtesy of Judy Geib + a)