Aluminum oxide mineral (Al2O3) that is, after diamond, the hardest known natural substance. Gem varieties are sapphire and ruby; mixtures with iron oxides and other minerals are called emery. Corundum is widespread in nature, although large deposits are rare. Rich deposits occur in India, Russia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. In addition to being a precious gem, corundum is used as an abrasive for grinding optical glass and for polishing metals and has also been made into sandpapers and grinding wheels. For most industrial applications, however, it has been replaced by synthetic materials such as alumina; synthetic corundum is also manufactured.
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Corundum (from Tamil kurundam குருந்தம் or kuruvindam குருவிந்தம்) is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide and one of the rock-forming minerals. It is naturally clear, but can have different colors when impurities are present. Transparent specimens are used as gems, called ruby if red, while all other colors are called sapphire. A pinkish-orange sapphire is called padparadscha.
Due to corundum's hardness (pure corundum is defined to have 9.0 Mohs), it can scratch almost every other mineral, leaving behind a streak of white on the other mineral. It is commonly used as an abrasive, on everything from sandpaper to large machines used in machining metals, plastics and wood. Some emery is a mix of corundum and other substances, and the mix is less abrasive, with a lower average Mohs hardness near 8.0.
Corundum occurs as a mineral in mica schist, gneiss, and some marbles in metamorphic terranes. It also occurs in low silica igneous syenite and nepheline syenite intrusives. Other occurrences are as masses adjacent to ultramafic intrusives, associated with lamprophyre dikes and as large crystals in pegmatites. Because of its hardness and resistance to weathering, it commonly occurs as a detrital mineral in stream and beach sands.
Corundum for abrasives is mined in Zimbabwe, Russia, and India. Historically it was mined from deposits associated with dunites in North Carolina and from a nepheline syenite in Craigmont, Ontario. Emery grade corundum is found on the Greek island of Naxos and near Peekskill, New York. Abrasive corundum is synthetically manufactured from bauxite.
The Verneuil process allows the production of flawless single-crystal sapphire, rubies and other corundum gems of much larger size than normally found in nature. It is also possible to grow gem-quality synthetic corundum by flux-growth and hydrothermal synthesis. Because of the simplicity of the methods involved in corundum synthesis, large quantities of these crystals have become available on the market causing a significant reduction of price in recent years. Apart from ornamental uses, synthetic corundum is also used to produce mechanical parts (tubes, rods, bearings, and other machined parts), scratch-resistant watch crystals and windows for optical equipment, spacecraft as well as for lasers.