Diana Jarrett takes a look at scintillating sphalerite
I have a soft spot for wonky gemstones that may be overlooked as being too exotic or might just take a lot of work to drum up interest. But that’s part of their appeal, at least for me. Many attractive stones remain off the radar for both consumers and certainly in the jeweler’s case . . . but should they?
Today jewelry lovers are more demanding than ever before. We live in the age of hyper-personalization. Pretty much everything in our culture today is worthy of aiding and abetting the modern person’s sense of individuality. Why else would there be stores overloaded with whimsically designed cell phone cases on every corner just waiting for someone to personalize their utilitarian device? So jewelry shoppers are also looking for the out-of-the-ordinary in their accessories as well as in other areas of their lives.
An almost unheard of gemstone that’s turning my head lately is sphalerite. Other than being known mostly to serious gemologists or avid rock hounds - this alluring stone has pretty much eluded the limelight. What it’s got going for it and clearly what sets it apart from other stones is fire - big time fire. “It has an adamantine luster. Actually it’s more dispersive than diamonds; three times higher than a diamond to be exact,” reports gemstone authority Cheryl Ells, GG AJP.
Although Cheryl has been examining exotic stones for decades, many at their source, she holds a special fondness for sphalerite. “I love gem quality sphalerite because it is rare and still relatively unknown to collectors. Once you see one of these beauties that have been faceted you will definitely want one, and should, in your own collection.”
Sphalerite is in an elite group of ultra-fiery stones - and there aren’t many other members in that circle. Zircon, demantoid garnet and sphene are also in the category of most-fiery jewels. That particular trait makes for an exciting cut gemstone - the kind that makes you say “wow” and then be at a loss for words.
Two of the most important sources for this outstanding gem-mineral are the Chivera mine in Sonora, Mexico, and one on Spain’s northern coast, the Picos de Europa mine. It can turn up in Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gem quality sphalerite is most often seen in shades of yellow to honey brown, a red or a warm orange, and even yellow-green.
Mainstream jewelers for mass manufactured items have avoided this rare stone mostly due to its hardness factor - or to be more precise, its lack of hardness. True, it’s 3.5 - 4 on the Mohs scale, so setting it in a ring is pretty much a no-no. But it can be ideal in a fabulous pendant, or earrings, and it sometimes does just that thanks to imaginative designers who are daring in the creative department.
International designer Lisi Fracchia is celebrated for her dynamic use of colored gemstones in all of her collections. So it’s not surprising that she finds sphalerite to be a perfect stone for her exciting creations. “As if in a dream, your eye catches the brilliant tones of the sphalerite. . . no wonder it is a gem you fall in love with,” says Lisi.