Sphene - Emerald Cut - Madagascar
Sphene - Emerald Cut - Madagascar

Sphene (Titanite) Value, Price, and Jewelry Information


Sphene, also known as titanite, has rich body colors, strong trichroism, and a fire that exceeds diamond. Although softer than many more popular gems, sphenes can make wonderful jewelry stones if set and maintained properly.

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Sphene, also known as titanite, has rich body colors, strong trichroism, and a fire that exceeds diamond. Although softer than many more popular gems, sphenes can make wonderful jewelry stones if set and maintained properly.

Sphene - Emerald Cut - Madagascar
Fine yellowish green emerald-cut sphene (Madagascar), displaying lots of dispersion and the doubling of back facets characteristic of this gemstone. 2.47 cts, 9.3 ⨉ 6.8 ⨉ 4.5 mm. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

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Sphene (Titanite) Value

.5 to 1 carats
Faceted
to /ct
1 to 10 carats
Faceted
to /ct
1 to 10 carats
Faceted
to /ct

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chrome sphene
Chrome sphene, 10.79 cts. © ARK Rare Gems. Used with permission.

As with many gemstones, color, clarity, and carat are the most important value factors, followed by the skill and artistry shown in cutting. A preference exists for lighter tones, especially yellows, light oranges, and greens, which best exhibit sphene’s magnificent dispersion.

Chrome sphene is the most valuable type. The chrome sphene from Baja California is the color of fine emerald and very rare, especially if clean and larger than 1 carat. Brazilian yellow gem material has a sleepy look and isn’t as bright as that from Baja. Some of the largest and most spectacular green gems have been cut from Indian material.

Sphene is usually included and rarely even eye clean.

Size is definitely a premium characteristic with this species.

In general, specimens with reasonably good clarity, strong and attractive body color, and at least some display of dispersion command the best prices.

sphenes - rough and cut - Mexico
Faceted and rough sphenes: Baja California, Mexico. Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

What is Sphene?

Sphene or titanite belongs to the titanite mineral group as the titanium-rich (Ti) member. It’s the only member of this group commonly used as a gemstone. While mineralogists officially use the term titanite to refer to this stone, many gemologists use the term sphene.

Sphenes frequently come in yellow, orange, brown, and green hues, with many gradations between them, and often show color zoning. Iron (Fe) and rare-earth element impurities create these typical colors. Chromium (Cr) colors the rare “chrome sphene” variety an intense green. Sphenes can also occur colorless, red, blue, and black.

faceted sphenes
Sphenes: Madagascar (6.22), Baja California, Mexico (1.55, 1.76) India (7.01) // Baja California, Mexico (1.01, 1.44, 4.22), India (2.65). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Does Sphene Make a Good Jewelry Stone?

Whether known as sphenes or titanites, however, these striking gems remain little known to most jewelry connoisseurs, despite reasonable availability.

Sphene’s relatively low hardness (5 to 5.5) and distinct cleavage make it a risky choice for jewelry. However, it also possesses gemological properties that make it a desirable piece for collectors as well as adventurous jewelry enthusiasts. For example, sphene’s dispersion or fire ranks among the highest in the gem world. However, its body color, degree of inclusions, cutting orientation, and cutting style may enhance or obscure this feature. (Gems with high dispersion and strong pleochroism like sphene may not show both properties at the same time).

Sphenes - Pakistan - Various Cuts
Three fine sphenes (Pakistan) showing high dispersion. Small trilliant: 1.95 cts; cushion: 1.56 cts; large triangle: 2.78 cts, approx 9.9 8.9 5.4 mm. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Well-polished sphenes can match diamond’s adamantine luster. Unfortunately, polishing this gem well proves quite difficult.

If placed in protective settings and worn just occasionally, sphenes can make a spectacular addition to your jewelry collection. However, shield these gems from impacts, scratches, heat, and acids (including sweat).

Round brilliant cuts can showcase sphenes beautifully. However, almost any cut designed for a zircon will also look wonderful.

Bowesite, an ornamental rock from Australia, may contain sphene and other gem materials. Lapidaries have carved objects from this material. (Don't confuse bowesite with bowenite, a variety of serpentine).

Identifying Characteristics

Variations in Sphene Properties by Locality

Locality a 

Birefringence

Specific Gravity

Madagascar

1.910

2.070

0.160

3.52

Mexico

1.908

2.080

0.181

3.53

Sri Lanka

1.909

2.099

0.190

3.52

Brazil

1.911

-

-

3.53

sphene gems - Mexico
Sphenes: Baja California, Mexico (6.0, 6.4, 6.75). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Refractive Index

Sphene’s refractive indices (RI) exceeds 1.81. Therefore, its refractometer readings will be “over the limit” (OTL), since that exceeds the RI of most commercial RI liquids.

Pleochroism

  • a = pale yellow;  = brownish yellow;  = orange-brown.
  • Sometimes (blue crystals): colorless/blue.

Birefringence

sphene - Pakistan
Sphene, 14.75 cts, Pakistan. © ARK Rare Gems. Used with permission.

Sphene’s high birefringence usually results in some visible doubling of facet images within the stone. This causes a degree of internal fuzziness similar to that often seen in zircon or peridot.

Color Change

Some rare specimens from Afghanistan and Pakistan have demonstrated color change. Vanadium-bearing sphenes have shown green to yellow-green in daylight but brownish orange to brown under incandescent light.

Another specimen from Afghanistan has shown a brownish, yellowish green in daylight but orangey yellow under incandescent light.

Are There Synthetic Sphenes?

Laboratories have synthesized sphene or titanite for research in geology, pigments, and radioactive waste disposal. Synthetic crystals have also been created. However, there's no known use of synthetic sphenes as jewelry stones. (This beautiful but brittle, little-known gem doesn’t currently generate a market for synthetics).

Sphene Simulants and Misidentifications

Because of its high dispersion and luster, colored cubic zirconia (CZ) can make a convincing sphene simulant. However, CZ lacks sphene’s birefringence and surpasses its hardness. CZ also fluoresces under ultraviolet light, while sphene doesn’t.

Brownish red to orange gems such as grossular garnets, zircons, and rare bastnäsites have been misidentified as sphenes (and vice versa).

Beware of chrome sphene sold as “Mexican Emerald.” Sphenes and real emeralds have very different properties and prices. Unfortunately, disreputable vendors sometimes attach the name of a more popular and expensive gem to a different gem just to drive up its price. For more examples, see our list of false or misleading gemstone names.

Enhancements

Heating can turn sphenes orange or red.

Where are Sphenes Found?

Canada, Madagascar, and Mexico are the primary sources of this gemstone.

Baja California, Mexico produces yellow-brown, brown, green, and dark green (chrome) gemmy crystals up to 4 inches. This may be one of the world’s major sphene deposits.

sphenes - Baja California, Mexico
Sphenes: Baja California, Mexico (2.62, 1.01, 2.6, 3.5, 2.13, 1,75, 1.75, 1.25). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Madagascar produces green crystals, sometimes large.

round sphene - Madagascar
Round sphene, 3.42 cts, 9.1 5.9 mm, green, Madagascar. © ARK Rare Gems. Used with permission.

Canada produces brown and black crystals.

titanite - Canada
Titanite, 2.5 cm, Millar’s Mine, Tory Hill, Monmouth Township, Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Kelly Nash. Licensed under CC By 3.0.

Minas Gerais, Brazil produces twinned yellowish to greenish crystals, often gemmy.

sphene - Brazil
Titanite crystal, twinned, Campo do Boa Mine, Capelinha, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 9.3 5.8 0.7 cm. © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

Historically, Zillerthal, Austria and Grisons, Switzerland both produced gems.

Other notable gem-quality sources include the following:

  • Mettur, India (about 30 miles from Salem, Tamil Nadu, South India): yellow, brown, and green.
  • Sri Lanka: dark brown, yellowish green, honey yellow.
  • Afghanistan; Kenya; Myanmar; Pakistan; Russia; New York, United States.
heat-cut sphene - Sri Lanka
Heart-shaped sphene, 2.57 cts, 9.5 7.0 4.9 mm, yellow gold, Sri Lanka. © ARK Rare Gems. Used with permission.

Stone Sizes

Very rare in clean stones over 5-10 carats, even a 5-carat flawless sphene would make a rare, fine stone.

Indian material generally cuts to about 10 carats, Madagascar material to perhaps 15 carats.

Brazilian yellow stones over 5 carats are scarce. Sri Lankan gems generally range under 10 carats.

Myanmar has produced stones over 20 carats. However, Mexico has the potential to produce some of the largest faceted gems.

  • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC): 9.3 (golden, Switzerland); 8.5 (brown, New York); 5.6 (yellow-brown, Mexico).
  • Private Collection: 63 carats (green); 106 (intense dark green, from India, square emerald cut and near flawless with enormous dispersion — by far the world’s largest cut sphene).
  • Devonian Group (Calgary, Alberta, Canada): 4.95 (red).
  • National Museums of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario): 50.75 (green, Brazil, very fine).

Caring for Sphene Gemstones

Never use mechanical cleaning systems such as steamers or ultrasonics. Clean sphenes only with a soft brush, mild detergent, and warm water. See our gemstone jewelry cleaning guide for more recommendations.

faceted sphenes - Brazil
Sphenes: Brazil (2.2, 2.6, 2.05). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Joel E. Arem, Ph.D., FGA

Dr. Joel E. Arem has more than 60 years of experience in the world of gems and minerals. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Mineralogy from Harvard University, he has published numerous books that are still among the most widely used references and guidebooks on crystals, gems and minerals in the world.

Co-founder and President of numerous organizations, Dr. Arem has enjoyed a lifelong career in mineralogy and gemology. He has been a Smithsonian scientist and Curator, a consultant to many well-known companies and institutions, and a prolific author and speaker. Although his main activities have been as a gem cutter and dealer, his focus has always been education. joelarem.com


Barbara Smigel, PhD. GG

Barbara Smigel is a GIA certified gemologist, facetor, jewelry designer, gem dealer, gemology instructor and creator of the well-regarded educational websites acstones.com and bwsmigel.info.


L. Allen Brown

L. Allen Brown is a Gemologist (GIA) with 38+ years of experience in the industry and has traveled to gem producing countries seeking faceted gems and rough at their source. He is CEO of All That Glitters, a Massachusetts based business involved in the importing and faceting of fine quality colored gemstones.


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