Sphalerite Gemstone Information
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 colours by refraction or diffraction. In simple terms, this refers to the flashes of colour 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.
Identifying Sphalerite Back to Top
Sphalerite can be identified by its yellowish, orange or honey-brown colour and characteristic resinous to adamantine lustre. Its high dispersion, cleavage in six directions and high density also help to distinguish sphalerite from other gemstones of a similar colour. Also, a streak test (done by crushing the mineral into a powder, or by swiping the mineral across a "streak plate"), produces a sulphurous odour, which makes sphalerite unmistakable.
Sphalerite; Origin and Gemstone Sources Back to Top
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 Back to Top
Sphalerite Gemmological Properties: Back to Top
Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemmology-related terms.
Sphalerite: Related or Similar Gemstones Back to Top
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 Back to Top
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.
Sphalerite Gemstone and Jewellery Design Ideas Back to Top
Sphalerite is a rare gemstone, so it is not often seen in jewellery. Moreover, due to sphalerite's lack of hardness, it is not recommended to be worn daily as rings or in jewellery that is likely to be exposed to general wear and tear. However, sphalerite's brilliance and high dispersion make it a beautiful gemstone for jewellery, 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 coloured gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Coloured stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.
Famous Sphalerite Gemstones Back to Top
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 jeweller 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 coloured gemstones.
Sphalerite Gemstone Jewellery Care and Cleaning Back to Top
Sphalerite 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 jewellery 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 jewellery box.
- First Published: March-31-2014
- Last Updated: October-13-2015
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