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By Reviewed By Andreas Zabczyk Mar 31, 2014 Updated Jul 29, 2023

Sphalerite Gemstone Information

Sphalerite Gemstones from GemSelect - Large Image
Buy Natural Sphalerite Gemstones from GemSelect

About Sphalerite - History and Introduction

Sphalerite is a zinc ore mineral that typically contains iron. When it has a high iron content, sphalerite is an opaque black. Gem-quality material has a low iron content, resulting in transparent crystals. Due to its lack of hardness, it is mainly a collector's gemstone. One of the most notable characteristics of sphalerite is its high dispersion (0.156). In fact, the dispersion of sphalerite is over three times that of diamond, which has a dispersion of 0.044. This means that sphalerite has remarkable "fire"; the separation of visible light into colors by refraction or diffraction. In simple terms, this refers to the flashes of color seen when sphalerite is turned in the light.

Due to its composition, sphalerite is also known as "zinc blende". The name "sphalerite" comes from the Greek word, "sphaleros", which means "deceptive". This is because sphalerite is easily mistaken for galena, which is the mineral form of lead sulphide. Gem quality transparent sphalerite is rare. Sphalerite is typically yellow, orange or red. A black, iron rich variety of sphalerite is called marmatite.

Sphalerite Gemstone

Identifying Sphalerite

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Sphalerite can be identified by its yellowish, orange or honey-brown color and characteristic resinous to adamantine luster. Its high dispersion, cleavage in six directions and high density also help to distinguish sphalerite from other gemstones of a similar color. Also, a streak test (done by crushing the mineral into a powder, or by swiping the mineral across a "streak plate"), produces a sulphurous odor, which makes sphalerite unmistakable.

Sphalerite; Origin and Gemstone Sources

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Sphalerite deposits are found in Bulgaria, Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Namibia, Spain, the USA and Zaire.

Buying Sphalerite and Determining Sphalerite Gemstone Value

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Sphalerite Color

Sphalerite can be colorless, yellow, orange, red or green. Most gemstones tend to range from pale yellow to deep fiery orange. The lighter colored gemstones display the greatest dispersion. Red shades of sphalerite are also known as "ruby blende". Colorless sphalerite specimens are rare.

Sphalerite Clarity and Luster

Sphalerite gemstones are rarely inclusion-free, except in small sizes. The greasy to adamantine luster of sphalerite is remarkable. When buying sphalerite gemstones, select specimens with the best clarity, which generally tend to exhibit the greatest dispersion, or "fire".

Sphalerite Cut and Shape

Sphalerite is usually faceted in order to maximize its brilliance and can be seen in a variety of shapes, such as octagons, trillions, squares, rounds and fancy shapes, such as ovals, pears and cushions. Sphalerite is a challenge to gem cutters because of its brittle tenacity, softness and perfect cleavage in six directions.

Sphalerite Treatment

Synthetic sphalerite is known to be made. However, natural sphalerite is also available.

Sphalerite Gemological Properties:

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Chemical Formula: (Zn,Fe)S Zinc sulphide
Crystal Structure: Cubic; tetrahedral
Color: Yellow, orange, red, green, colorless
Hardness: 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale
Refractive Index: 2.368 to 2.371
Density: 3.90 to 4.10
Cleavage: Perfect
Transparency: Transparent, translucent
Double Refraction or Birefringence: None
Luster: Greasy, adamantine
Fluorescence: Yellow-orange, red

Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemology-related terms.

Sphalerite: Related or Similar Gemstones

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Champagne Diamond
Champagne Diamond

Sphalerite can be sometimes be confused with similar colored chrysoberyl, cassiterite, scheelite, sinhalite, topaz, tourmaline, idocrase, zircon and colorless diamond.

Sphalerite is trimorphous with the minerals wurtzite and matraite. This means that all three minerals have the same chemical composition but crystallize in different forms.

Sphalerite Gemstone Mythology, Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers

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There is not a great deal of information about the metaphysical properties of sphalerite. Generally, sphalerite is thought to provide its wearer with strength and vitality. It is said to increase recovery from illness, to bring sexual and creative energy and to protect against infection, exhaustion and fatigue. Sphalerite is not a traditional birthstone or zodiac stone, but it is a non-traditional gemstone for those born under the sign of Gemini and is associated with the planet Earth. Physically, sphalerite is believed by some to help eye disorders.

Disclaimer: Metaphysical and Alternative Crystal Healing Powers and Properties are not to be taken as confirmed advice. Traditional, Ceremonial and Mythological Gemstone Lore is collected from various resources and does not represent the sole opinion of SETT Co., Ltd. This information is not to replace the advice of your doctor. Should you have any medical conditions, please see a licensed medical practitioner. GemSelect does not guarantee any claims or statements of healing or astrological birthstone powers and cannot be held liable under any circumstances.

Sphalerite Gemstone and Jewelry Design Ideas

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Sphalerite is a rare gemstone, so it is not often seen in jewelry. Moreover, due to sphalerite's lack of hardness, it is not recommended to be worn daily as rings or in jewelry that is likely to be exposed to general wear and tear. However, sphalerite's brilliance and high dispersion make it a beautiful gemstone for jewelry, and whether it is set in white or yellow precious metal, it will yield stunning results. Sphalerite is best used for earrings and pendants, which would not be at risk of damage as much as rings or bracelets. If sphalerite is fashioned into a ring or bracelet, protected settings such as bezel settings are best.

Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.

Famous Sphalerite Gemstones

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At Heritage Auctions' Nature & Science Auction in October 2013, a five-inch square specimen of purple fluorite, with barite, sphalerite and calcite crystals sold for $125 thousand.

Exclusive and acclaimed jeweler to the stars, Joel Arthur Rosenthal (known simply as JAR) designed intricate jewels in the form of flowers, (possibly influenced by Paulding Farnham) that featured sphalerite, amongst other colored gemstones.

Sphalerite Gemstone Jewelry Care and Cleaning

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How to clean your gemstonesSphalerite is a fairly soft gemstone, so it should be cared for in order to prevent damage. Since household dust contains quartz, which has a Mohs scale hardness of 7, simply wiping dust from a sphalerite gemstone could cause scratches. The best way to clean sphalerite gemstones is by using soapy water and a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse well to remove soapy residue. Do not expose sphalerite to household chemicals or excessive heat. As with most gemstones, ultrasonic cleaners and steamers are not recommended. Always remove any jewelry or gemstones before exercising, cleaning or engaging in harsh physical activities such as sports. Sphalerite can be easily scratched by harder substances, so it should be stored away from other gemstones. It is best to wrap gemstones in soft cloth or place them inside a fabric-lined jewelry box.

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