What is Howlite? – A Complete Buying Guide

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There’s something special about a soft, opaque gemstone such as howlite – the calming, milky color, the intricate darker veins running through it, the glimmering luster.

The howlite gemstone may be neither expensive nor commonly used in high-end jewelry but it is a very popular ornamentation stone that’s also loved by many artisan jewelers for its fascinating properties and diverse applications.

In this guide, let’s take a look at what exactly howlite is and how to buy howlite jewelry.

Howlite – Is It a Gemstone?

Howlite tumbled stone
A collection of smooth, lustrous howlite rocks. See them here.

Contrary to popular belief, howlite is a gemstone, and more specifically – it’s a borate mineral. It’s usually found in evaporite deposits and is relatively rare. It’s mined only in parts of the U.S. and in Canada, where it was first discovered in 1868 in Nova Scotia.

The Canadian geologist, mineralogist, and chemist Henry How officially made the discovery after gypsum quarry miners alerted him to the fact that a strange mineral was preventing them from mining gypsum – that mineral was howlite.

Despite having a hardness of just 3.5 on the Mohs scale, howlite was still harder than gypsum which is what prevented the mining process.

Howlite typically grows in small, irregular nodules shaped like a cauliflower head but only up to 1 cm in size. When howlite nodules do appear, however, they can reach a combined mass of up to 50 kilograms.

Henry How first named howlite “silico-boro-calcite” but it was later renamed to howlite by fellow American geologist and mineralogist James Dwight Dana.

How To Evaluate Howlite Quality

Howlite earrings smooth white
Howlite makes for gorgeous jewelry. See these here.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when evaluating the quality of howlite in jewelry:

1. Howlite Color

Howlite resembles white marble or porcelain thanks to its milky-grey color. It has a porous surface and opaque transparency. It usually has darker or black veins running through it but can sometimes be found with no veins whatsoever and pure white in color. Transparent howlite crystals are extremely rare and sought after.

Howlite vs turquoise side by side

2. Dyed howlite that looks like turquoise

Howlite can be dyed into other colors. It’s frequently used as an imitation of turquoise, as it tends to display the matrix patterns that turquoise has. Unscrupulous sellers can try to pass blue-dyed howlite off as turquoise, which is much more expensive, so bear that in mind when shopping.

3. Howlite Value

As an opaque gemstone mineral, howlite is not too expensive or highly valued by the jewelry industry. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s without its qualities and that there aren’t howlite variants that are highly valued.

Howlite pieces are often valued for their subjective qualities – individual stones with veiny patterns that form rather unique shapes and curves, or cloudy forms within the mineral are what usually grab the attention of jewelers and customers alike.

4. Howlite Clarity

On the more objective side of things, the most sought-after howlite gemstones are the rare partly transparent crystals that can sometimes be found. What draws gemologists and jewelers to them isn’t so much the visual superiority of these crystals but simply their rarity. Arguably, it can be said that the standard opaque white howlite gemstones make for more beautiful pieces, but they aren’t as fascinating from a collector’s standpoint.

5. Howlite Inclusions

The standard inclusions in howlite you can expect to see are the black and dark brown veins that course through most howlite pieces. They are rarely seen as a drawback in terms of quality, however, as they are what gives howlite its interesting patterns and shapes.

6. Howlite Cut

As a soft and opaque gemstone with an indistinctive cleavage, howlite is usually cut into simple cabochons, beads, spheres, egg shapes, pear shapes, ovals, and other similar forms. It’s rarely faceted but when given angles, it takes on a sophisticated, lustrous look. The quality of the shape and cut, as well as the subjective beauty of the individual stone’s color, are what usually determine its quality and price.

How to Choose Howlite Jewelry

Howlite is typically carved into beads or cabochons and made into standard jewelry types. For a bohemian look, howlite bead bracelets and necklaces are popular.

However, when crafted beautifully and paired with high-quality materials, howlite suits high-end fashion jewelry as well.

white howlite ring
White howlite ring. See it here.

Howlite is rarely used for rings, especially in engagement rings, because of its softness. It’s best in jewelry not meant for daily wear.

Because of its white milky color, as well as the many different dyes it can be painted with, howlite works very well with all kinds of metals and other gemstones – silver and gold can both make excellent companions to howlite gemstones.

In terms of price, howlite is quite inexpensive which is excellent if you’re not one to value price as a measurement of a jewelry piece’s quality. If instead, you’re looking for a gorgeous and different type of gemstone for your jewelry, howlite can be both an excellent and a budget-friendly alternative to many other materials.

Howlite as a Stone for Ornaments

Howlite is a very versatile gemstone that can be used in different ways. For starters, it’s very famous as an ornamentation stone. You can easily find lots of figurines, statuettes, and simpler shapes such as peace signs, skulls, stars, hearts, and others, made of howlite.

The reason why howlite is so popular as an ornamentation stone is that it’s very malleable, soft, and easy to craft, as well as that its highly porous surface makes it easy to dye in many different colors.

Howlite vs. Turquoise – How to Tell the Difference

Vintage turquoise necklace
Vintage turquoise necklace. See it here.

Howlite itself may not have any imitators but because of its porous nature, it can easily be dyed and used as an imitation for other gemstones.

The most popular victim of that is turquoise which howlite can easily be made to resemble using a simple, light-blue dye. And that’s not an insignificant concern – up to 90% of the turquoise sold on the market today is believed to actually be dyed howlite.

The reason for this is quite simple – howlite is much cheaper to produce than turquoise so dishonest jewelers can make a great profit through this imitation. The reason howlite can resemble turquoise so easily is not just in the fact that it can be dyed in the turquoise’s Robins eggs blue but because both gemstones have a web-like darker matrix running through them. This dark webbing is quite difficult to fake unless the base mineral already has it – which howlite does.

So, how to tell the difference between turquoise and the much cheaper dyed howlite? Here are several basic observations to look out for:

  • Turquoise’s webbing is made from the leftover remains of the host rock formations in which turquoise grows. Over time this matrix erodes – unlike howlite’s webbing – so if you’re being sold a rough turquoise piece you can run your finger on its surface and check whether it’s uneven where the webbing is. if it’s uneven then it’s most likely turquoise. Of course, it can still be turquoise even if it’s smooth, so this isn’t a guarantee.
  • Turquoise is not a very hard gemstone but it’s still significantly harder than howlite. Where howlite has a hardness of 3.5 on the Mohs scale, turquoise is at 5-6. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the difference on the spot without professional equipment but if you notice that your “turquoise” stones scratch too easily, then they are most likely howlite.
  • Check the color’s stability. Unfortunately, this method involves compromising the stone’s surface – take a piece of cotton and dip it in acetone (nail polish remover). Run the cotton on the stone’s surface – if the cotton wipes away some of the stone’s blue color then it is artificially dyed howlite.
  • Lastly, mind the price. Most so-called “turquoise” jewelry pieces include perfectly matching blue turquoise beads at an acceptable price. This is usually too unrealistic and the stone is actually dyed howlite. It is actually very difficult and rare to find multiple turquoise pieces that match perfectly in color, so, for a genuine turquoise necklace of perfectly matching beads the price will typically be very high.

Howlite Value And Rarity

Howlite is neither the rarest nor the most expensive mineral out there. However, that doesn’t mean it’s without value. Even if we exclude all the ways it can be used as an imitation for other gemstones, howlite itself is quite a beautiful and attractive gemstone too.

However, howlite jewelry is typically very affordable and most pieces come under $50. Depending on the materials used, brand, and quality of workmanship, howlite jewelry can cost from a few dollars to upwards of $100.

How To Clean and Care For Howlite

The chief concern when taking care of howlite is how soft it is. With a hardness of just 3.5 on the Mohs scale, howlite can be scratched very easily.

This means that you should never store it side by side with other gemstones, metals, or jewelry pieces as they will almost certainly scratch it over time. Additionally, it also means that even plain old household dust will scratch it over time so it’s important to keep your howlite pieces dust-free.

Never use anything stronger than the mildest of soaps, warm water, and a soft piece of cloth when cleaning howlite. You should be extra careful especially if the stone is dyed– most cheap dyes can be washed away just with hand soap.

Howlite Meaning And Symbolism

Howlite mala beads
Howlite mala beads for mediation. See them here.

With its soft, white color and captivating web patterns, howlite is believed to have a soothing energy that can relieve stress and subdue fits of anger and irritability.

Its intended use is to help deal with aggressive and belligerent people that you may need to interact with on a daily basis. Colleges in the office or relatives at home are said to both be manageable with a nice set of howlite jewelry or ornamentation stones.

Howlite can also assist those struggling with insomnia, trouble concentrating, and being continually distracted. Howlite offers calmness and relaxation, helping the wearer to feel in control and at peace.

*Disclaimer: Jewelry Shopping Guide does not guarantee or validate any of the claims related to the metaphysical and alternative healing powers of this or any other gemstone. This information should in no way be used as a substitute for medical advice.

If you’re looking to buy howlite stone or jewelry, click here to begin your search on Etsy. You’re bound to find a piece you love! 

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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