Sphalerite: Amazing Zinc Gemstone
Sphalerite is an amazing gemstone with more fire and sparkle than even diamonds, which can be clearly seen in the video at the bottom of this page.
It’s quite likely however that you’ll only see it in museums and private gemstone or mineral collections.
The problem with the sphalerite mineral is that its low hardness makes it not very suitable for jewelry. For an amazing example of Sphalerite take a look at the video at the bottom of this page.
What is Sphalerite?
Sphalerite is a zinc sulfide that usually contains iron, because of the high zinc content it is also known under the name ‘zinc blende’ (often spelled as ‘zincblende’) and is the main ore for zinc.
Usually its color is brown to black, but they are found in red, green and yellow as well.
The more iron sphalerite contains the darker the stone will be, turning opaque and black eventually. This is the reason that it was given the name ‘black jack’ by early miners.
Deposits of sphalerite can be found all over the world. While high quality sphalerite crystals are more rare there are still dozens of mines producing them. Some of the better known mines are in Spain, China and the USA.
Sphalerite unfortunately only has a hardness of 3.5 to 4 on Mohs hardness scale making it not suitable for jewelry. If you do insist on buying sphalerite jewelry or getting it made be sure to get it in a protective setting.
Another problem is its perfect cleavage which makes it difficult to cut and prone to chipping or shattering. The dispersion and birefringence (the sparkle and fire of a gemstone) is magnificent however, surpassing even that of diamonds.
Taking Care of Your Sphalerite Gemstones
Because sphalerite is very fragile, special care should be taken of it. The following tips should provide a good guideline.
- Most important is to avoid any physical labor if you’re going to wear sphalerite jewelry. Because of its perfect cleavage a good knock can easily chip the gemstone.
- Cleaning should be done with lukewarm water and a mild soap. A soft brush can be used, just don’t go overboard with scrubbing. Dry it afterwards with a soft cloth and let it air for a few minutes before storing it.
- Do not use a jewelry steam cleaner or an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Sphalerite is heat sensitive and ultrasonic waves could fracture it.
- Store it in a seperate compartment in a soft cloth. Most metals, faceted gemstones and even rocks can scratch or dent sphalerite.
Sphalerite Buying Guide
An overview of what you should be aware of before you buy sphalerite.
Enhancements, imitations and synthetics
No gemstone treatments are known for sphalerite and no synthetic sphalerite has been reported. Sphalerite is imitated but they usually are easy to spot as they have nothing close to the sparkle and fire of real sphalerite.
- Color is very important, green and bright orange sphalerite are valued the most and dark orange and red the least. This is because these become so dark that the fire starts suffering.
- Clarity comes second to color, a good amount of sphalerite is slightly included but to get the most out of your gemstone I would not settle for less than eye-clean.
- Cut: to get the most sparkle you should be getting a good or excellent cut round brilliant. This shape is the most popular for this reason, though there are a good number of pear shaped and emerald cuts on the market as well.
- Price per carat hardly increases when dealing with larger sphalerite. The reason being that it can be found in very large sizes. 100+ carat stones, though certainly rare, are no exception.
Prices of quality sphalerite are between $40-$90 per carat. With dark red orange stones being the cheapest and the brighter reddish orange sphalerite the most expensive. Smaller size sphalerite can be quite cheap, be aware though that many of these smaller stones are of lower quality.
Where can I buy sphalerite?
Because sphalerite is hardly used in jewelry it’s best to look for them at a colored gemstone dealer. I would call in advance to see if they have a good selection. Other options are to shop online, Ebay has over 200 loose cut sphalerite gemstones.
Make sure you are dealing with a reputable seller by checking their feedback and googling them. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you are buying gemstones that can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If you are set on buying sphalerite jewelry you probably will need to get it made yourself. The selection is simply too limited to find the piece you really want. It’s probably best to get a pendant or earrings made and not a ring or bracelet, the latter are more easily damaged. To find out more about the advantages of buying loose gemstones take a look at this article: Why Buy Loose Gemstones’
Here is a video of an extraordinary 259.3 carat brilliant cut orange sphalerite gemstone. The fire seen in the gemstone is simply breathtaking.
As you can see, sphalerite really deserves a place in your mineral or gemstone collection.
The colors and sparkle would look amazing in jewelry as well. Unfortunately because it is considered to be too fragile by most it likely will never gain real popularity.