Sphalerite Value, Price, and Jewelry Information

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Custom cushion-cut sphalerite, 21.53 cts, 17 x 13.9 mm, PC Mine, Basin Dist., Jefferson Co., Montana. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Sphalerite occurs in many colors, including green, yellow, orange, brown, and fiery red. With a dispersion over three times that of diamond and an adamantine luster, faceted specimens make beautiful additions to gem collections. However, they’re too soft for most jewelry uses.

Sphalerite Value

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Sphalerite Information

Data Value
Name Sphalerite
Crystallography Isometric. Crystals widespread, in various shapes; massive, cleavable, granular.
Crystallographic Forms
Refractive Index 2.37-2.50
Colors Colorless (very rarely); black (rich in Fe), brown, orange, yellow, green, orange-red, white-gray. May show color zoning.
Luster Resinous to adamantine.
Hardness 3.5-4
Wearability Poor
Fracture Conchoidal
Specific Gravity 3.90-4.10
Birefringence None
Cleavage Perfect dodecahedral
Dispersion 0.156 (extremely high)
Heat Sensitivity Yes
Luminescence Bright orange-red to red in LW, SW, from many localities. Material from Otavi, Namibia is triboluminescent. (Produces light under friction).
Luminescence Present Yes
Luminescence Type Fluorescent, UV-Long, UV-Short
Transparency Transparent to opaque
Absorption Spectrum Sometimes 3 bands seen in the red at 6900, 6670, and 6510 due to cadmium.
Formula ZnS + Fe
Pleochroism None
Optics Isotropic; N = 2.37-2.50. (Spanish material 2.40).
Etymology From the Greek sphaleros, meaning “treacherous,” because sphalerite often resembles galena (lead sulfide) but yields no lead.
Occurrence Sphalerite is the chief ore of zinc, the most abundant zinc mineral, and is common in low-temperature ore deposits, especially in limestones; also in sedimentary rocks; hydrothermal ore veins.
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faceted sphalerites

Sphalerites: Colorado (1.93). Spain (3.30), Mexico (4.65) // Spain (14.48, 5.57). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Does Sphalerite Make a Good Jewelry Stone?

You’ll find no shortage of facetable sphalerite rough in most colors. Faceting this material, however, poses a challenge. Sphalerites have a low hardness (3.5 to 4) and perfect cleavage. These properties also make sphalerites less than ideal as jewelry stones. Nevertheless, sphalerites can show beautiful colors and may appeal to collectors of unusual gems. Consult our sphalerite buying guide for more information.

Use protective settings for these gems, especially if worn as ring stones.

This 18K gold cocktail ring setting allows light to enter the 35.7-ct sphalerite center stone but still protects it from scratches and blows. The ring also features pavé diamonds and tiny sphalerites. Photo courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers.

Sphalerite Colors and Varieties

A number of trace elements may contribute to color in sphalerites. These include germanium, calcium, copper, mercury, and cerium (yellow); tin, silver, and molybdenum (reddish); and cobalt and iron (green).

Sphalerite: Spain (5.95). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Iron-rich, opaque, black stones are known as marmatites, named after the locality, Marmato, Italy.

In Europe, sphalerite is sometimes called blende, after the German word blenden, “to dazzle.” Though they have no connection to actual ruby gems, stones with red and orange shades are sometimes called “ruby blende.”

Cushion-cut sphalerite, 14.29 cts, 16 x 12 mm, Spain. © The Gem Trader. Used with permission.

Low-iron, pale and colorless sphalerites, known as cleiophanes, are extremely rare.

Sphalerites can also show color zoning.

color zoning

Concave round brilliant-cut sphalerite with golden brown, orange, golden, yellow, and greenish yellow color zones. 19.24 cts, 16.11 mm. Mogilata Mine, Madan, Bulgaria. © Rob Lavinsky, mineralauctions.com. Used with permission.

Identifying Characteristics

Sphalerites have an exceptionally high dispersion of 0.156. Well-cut sphalerites can display a beautiful rainbow effect of multi-colored flashes of light. Only other rarely faceted gemstones have comparable dispersion values. Gemologists can measure a gem’s dispersion using a refractometer or a spectrometer. However, keep in mind that cut quality, color, and specific gravity can affect how well a specimen displays dispersion.

sphalerite dispersion

Golden modified trigon-cut sphalerite with yellow and red flashes. 1 ct, 6.14 mm. Santander, Spain. © Rob Lavinsky, mineralauctions.com. Used with permission.

Sphalerite and wurtzite are polymorphs. They share the same chemical formula (ZnS), but have different crystal habits. Sphalerite has an isometric crystal structure, while wurtzite has a hexagonal structure. These two minerals can coexist in alternating layers as schalenblende, a gem material used rarely for cabochons.

schalenblende

Schalenblende. Photo by Ra’ike. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Sphalerites may have a streak color ranging from pale brown to yellow or white. Keep in mind that streak testing can destroy the test sample. Conduct this examination only as a last resort for gem identification on rough, never on a finished gem. This test will also release a sulfurous odor from the test sample.

Sphalerites are pyroelectric. When heated, these gems generate an electrical charge.

Sphalerites may show anomalous double refraction due to crystal strain.

Refractive index and specific gravity in sphalerites may vary due to variable chemical composition.

RI and SG vs Sphalerite Chemical Composition

Refractive index (N) and specific gravity plotted against chemical composition in sphalerite, in which Fe substitutes for Zn, in the formula (Zn,Fe)S. Adapted from W. A. Deer, R. A. Howie, and J. Zussman, 1962, Rock Forming Minerals, vol. 5 (New York: Wiley), p. 174.

Are There Synthetic Sphalerites?

Since sphalerite ranks as the primary ore for zinc mining, scientists have synthesized this mineral for industrial research. In addition, facetable synthetic sphalerites in all their colors have appeared in jewelry and gem collections.

There are no known gemstone treatments for sphalerites.

Are There Cat’s Eye Sphalerites?

Polishing scratches on the bottoms of sphalerite cabochons may cause apparent chatoyancy and asterism. Although these scratches may occur accidentally, be aware that sphalerites don’t normally display cat’s eye or star stone effects.

Where are Sphalerites Found?

Significant gem-quality sources include the following:

  • Santander, Spain: major gem locality, large cleavages of red-orange color.
  • Cananea, Sonora, Mexico: fine green transparent material, often pale colored and color zoned, sometimes yellow.
  • Kipushi, Democratic Republic of the Congo: dark green material containing elevated amounts of cobalt and iron.
  • United States: Franklin, New Jersey (almost colorless to pale green, transparent variety known as cleiophane); Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma (so-called Tri-State Region, heavily mineralized by lead and zinc, with many localities and operating mines); Tiffin, Ohio (red color); Colorado/Utah (may be transparent); Arizona; Idaho; Montana; Wisconsin.
  • Australia; Bulgaria; Canada; China; Czech Republic; England; France; Germany; Tsumeb, Namibia; Romania; Scotland; Sweden
sphalerite - China

Sphalerites on a galena matrix, Huanggang Mines, near Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, China, 4.1 x 3.0 x 2.3 cm. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

Stone Sizes

From the large, reddish material from Spain, faceters could easily cut gems of hundreds of carats, as well as cabochons. Green cleiophane material from New Jersey has yielded faceted gems as large as 15 carats. Mexican material could yield faceted gems to 50 carats.

  • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC): 73.3, 68.9 (yellow-brown. Utah); 59.5 (yellow-green, New Jersey): 48 (yellow, Mexico); 61.9, 45.9 (yellow, Spain).
  • California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco): 150.3 (dark red-brown oval, Spain).
  • National Museums of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario): 100.1 (dark orange, round, Spain).
  • Private Collection: 24.8 (gray-green, Mt. Ste. Hilaire, Quebec).
Star of Asturias - sphalerite

“The Star of Asturias,” 163.4 cts, the largest known faceted sphalerite, on display at the Cantonal Museum of Geology, Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo by Sailko. Licensed under CC By 3.0. (Cropped to show detail).

How to Care for Sphalerite Jewelry

Clean sphalerites only with a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water. See our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide for more recommendations.

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