Sulfur Gemstone: Properties, Meanings, Value & More

sulfur gemstoneSulfur is an element that also forms a yellow crystal. Is sulfur considered a mineral? Though it may come as a surprise, yes — sulfur is a mineral. 

What makes sulfur a mineral? Room-temperature sulfur is a crystalline solid, and it meets the five geological requirements of being a mineral. We’ve gone into these qualifications in-depth when discussing minerals vs. mineraloids, but here they are if you need a refresher:

  • Naturally formed

  • Solid

  • Inorganic

  • Crystallinity

  • Definite chemical composition

Okay, but is sulfur a gemstone? Possibly even more surprisingly, yes! Sulfur can be cut as a gemstone and appears in many other gems. 

In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into sulfur gemstones, including their properties, uses, healing benefits, prices, and more. 

sulfur gemstone

What Is A Sulfur Mineral?

Sulfur (or sulphur) is an abundant mineral and Earth’s fifth most common element. It can be considered a semi-precious gemstone. However, facetable sulfur crystals are scarce, extremely tricky to cut, and not suitable for everyday wear. Thus, sulfur gems are more popular among collectors. 

The sulfur mineral color is usually bright yellow, though pure sulfur is pale yellow. It can also be a few other hues. Sulfur also causes the orange and yellow coloring seen on one of Jupiter’s moons Io or Jupiter I. 

Astrologically, sulfur is a beneficial zodiac stone for Leo. It also harmonizes with the number 7 in numerology. 

Though individual sulfur gemstones are few and far between, you’ll often see sulfur pop up in other gemstones. 

Some gemstones containing sulfur are:

Lapis lazuli is a rock (i.e. composed of multiple minerals) and its sulfur content comes from the predominance of lazurite in the stone. Lazurite actually contains both sulfur and sulfate, along with chloride, and different types of sulfur can make lazurite blue, yellow, or green. 

Sulfur Specifications & Characteristics

As a native mineral, sulfur’s formula is simply S (the elemental symbol for sulfur). Native minerals (or native element minerals) are composed of only one element, as opposed to a compound of two or more elements. 

Some examples of non-metal native minerals like sulfur are carbon (i.e. diamonds and graphite) and selenium. Most metals — such as gold, platinum, silver, etc. — are also native minerals, with the exception of rare earth metals. 

Typically, sulfur will occur as a sulfate or sulfide rather than pure sulfur. 

Unfortunately for gem lovers, sulfur is extremely soft — ranking between talc and calcite on the Mohs mineral hardness scale. A copper penny and even fingernails may scratch sulfur crystals.

Sulfur has at least 56 known crystal habits. You may find it as tabular or pyramidal crystals, massive or granular aggregates, powdery coatings, or druzy-like encrustations. 

When melted at 200℃ (392℉) or higher, sulfur will turn red. Sulfur flames will look blue in dim (or no) lighting. 

Here are the sulfur mineral properties listed:

  • Mohs hardness: 1.5-2.5

  • Color: Typically shades of yellow; Can be brownish-yellow, greenish-yellow, yellowish-gray, reddish, greenish, white, or orange

  • Crystal structure: Orthorhombic

  • Luster: Resinous to greasy (crystals); Dull to earthy (powder)

  • Transparency: Transparent to translucent

  • Refractive index: 1.958-2.245

  • Density: 2.05-2.09

  • Cleavage: Imperfect on [110] & [111]

  • Fracture: Conchoidal or irregular/uneven

  • Streak: Yellow

  • Luminescence: None

  • Pleochroism: Present & distinct in shades of yellow

  • Birefringence: 0.287-0.291

  • Dispersion: 0.155

In everyday life, what is sulfur used for? 

Sulfur Stone Uses

You might associate sulfur with bad “rotten egg” smells. You wouldn’t be wrong, as it’s partly behind the smells of rotten eggs and skunk spray. 

But pure sulfur is actually odorless, while sulfur compounds like hydrogen sulfide — formed when sulfur is exposed to moisture — create those nasty odors. 

That stench can often be helpful, though. Utility companies add smelly sulfur compounds (odorants) to your gas so you can smell if there’s a leak

Beyond its smell, sulfur is essential to all living beings, from plants to humans. Two of the nine essential amino acids in our diets need sulfur to make proteins. 

Other industrial sulfur applications include:

  • Rubber vulcanization

  • Matches

  • Insecticide

  • Fungicide

  • Fireworks

  • Gunpowder

  • Batteries

  • Detergents

  • Copper & zinc manufacturing

  • Cleaning steel sheets used for food canning

Arguably the most important use of sulfur today is sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid helps make essential compounds, such as phosphoric acid and ammonium sulfate, most of which are used in fertilizers. 

sulfur mineral specimen rough

Sulfur Meaning & History

Sulfur symbolizes transformation, purification, and energy. The crystal is a fire element stone, representing protection, vitality, and power. 

Ancient History

Sulfur has been around for millennia, with uses dating prior to 2,000 BC. 

According to medical writings dating to 1550 BC, ancient Egyptians used sulfur in ointments to treat infected eyelids. Homer’s Odyssey mentions Greeks using sulfur fumigation around 800-500 BC. 

Roman scholar Pliny the Elder also made note of sulfur’s use for fumigation, along with medicinal and textile bleaching applications, in his 77-AD work Natural History. Ancient Romans and Greeks also used sulfur to create pyrotechnics for the circus and explosive weaponry. 

In China, sulfur has been known since 500-600 BC and is called shiliuhuang. They extracted it from pyrite, then mostly used it for black gunpowder and medicine. 

Starting around 900 AD, alchemists in India recorded using sulfur and mercury together. In Ayurvedic medicine, sulfur is called gandhaka, meaning “the smelly.”

During the 1300s, Crusaders brought Eastern knowledge of using sulfur for gunpowder to Europe, leading to a sharp increase in European demand for sulfur. 

Naming and Official Discovery

Ever heard the phrase “fire and brimstone” before? Those who practice Judaism or Christianity probably know it as a metaphor for the wrath of God, even describing Hell as smelling like the putrid stone. But did you know that “brimstone” is actually sulfur? 

In Old English, solid sulfur was called “brimstone,” meaning “burning stone.” Similarly, the word “sulfur” derives from the Latin sulpur (later sulphur in Greek), meaning “to burn.” The new spelling of sulfur over sulphur first came around 600 AD. 

Officially, who discovered sulfur? French chemist and nobleman Antoine Lavoisier first recognized the element sulfur in 1777. 

However, it wasn’t until 1809 that French chemists Louis-Joseph Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jacques Thenard were able to prove sulfur was an element. 

Modern History

Most sulfur from the 1500s onward came from Sicily. During the 1700s, melted sulfur started being used for decorative inlays and ornamental casts, while powdered sulfur gained use as a laxative. Sicily exported copious amounts to France in the 1700s and Britain starting in 1824. 

However, Sicily’s place as the top sulfur supplier didn’t fix its economy, and Britain started taking over Italy’s sulfur industry. The affair led to a conflict dubbed the Sulfur Crisis of 1840. 

By 1867, miners found sulfur deposits in the US and sped up production with the Frasch process in 1894. 

Shifting to present times, most sulfur comes from removing it from fossil fuels like petroleum. This is beneficial in both preventing pollution (specifically acid rain) and creating a huge supply of sulfur that doesn’t require mining for it.

yellow sulfur gemstone crystal rawImage credit: Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0

Sulfur Healing Properties

Like the ancients, you can use sulfur as a healing stone today. As a yellow gemstone, sulfur inherently offers joy, enlightenment, and creativity. 

Sulfur is a chakra stone for opening the two energy centers that similarly govern creativity and emotions: the sacral and solar plexus chakras. An open sacral chakra brings greater emotional balance and facilitates intimacy. Meanwhile, an open solar plexus chakra brings confidence, creativity, and purpose. 

What about sulfur crystal’s benefits physically and emotionally?

Physical Healing

Traditionally, sulfur has been used in creams to treat skin diseases like eczema and acne along with parasites like ringworm. Though not scientifically proven, oxidized sulfur can form sulfurous acid, which is slightly antibacterial. 

Another option from indigineous peoples of Uruguay are cylindrical sulfur stones for pain relief called “sulfur sticks” or “sulfur rods.” Some crystal healers or traditional medicine practitioners recommend rubbing the sticks on areas of pain or inflammation or putting broken pieces into your bath. 

Emotional Healing

Emotionally, sulfur is believed to reduce negative feelings like anger or impatience. They can also improve self-confidence and dispel any negativity — internal or external — preventing your personal growth. 

Sulfur Gemstone Properties

Sulfur isn’t cut and sold as a gem often enough to have established grading criteria. That said, we’ll still go over its main traits in the typical gemstone value factors categories below.

  1. Color: Mineral specimens with a pure, bright yellow hue are considered most attractive.

  2. Cut: The rarity of facetable material and high level of expertise required to cut the stone makes faceted sulfur gems a rare and valuable commodity. Sulfur in quartz may be sold tumbled or as cabochons. Melted sulfur can be cast into intricate designs and shapes. Collectors also seek out attractive, uncut specimens. 

  3. Clarity: Though inclusions don’t affect sulfur’s value much, certain ones (e.g. hydrocarbon) can authenticate a desirable source. 

  4. Carat Weight: Small faceted gems may be cut from crystal shards. Though gemmy sulfur crystals could be cut into stones weighing 50 carats or more, they’re more practical for display. 

Now, how does sulfur form?

sulfur gemstone crystals rough specimen

Image credit: Mike Beauregard | Pxhere

Sulfur Formation & Sources

Sulfur often forms near volcanic openings or hot springs, where it forms after vapor deposits it and evaporates. A small amount of material forms when sulfur-containing minerals undergo weathering. Some of these minerals may turn into native sulfur due to anaerobic bacteria. 

Miners usually find sulfur in salt domes, within sedimentary rocks, or around sulfur ore deposits. Salt domes in particular are rife with sulfur. 

Mining Locations

Where is sulfur found? The top producers of sulfur worldwide as of 2021 are China, USA, and Russia, though sulfur is found worldwide. 

Sulfur crystals are more limited. Specimens from Sicily are highly sought-after, though mining has ceased. Significant sources for attractive crystals are:

  • Italy

  • Bolivia

  • Russia

  • Chile

  • Mexico

  • Namibia

  • Poland

  • Spain

  • Ukraine

  • USA (California, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming)

Thinking about browsing some sulfur stones for sale? Then let’s go over pricing. 

Sulfur_crystal_step.jpgImage credit: Rory Hyde | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Sulfur Stone Price & Value

Most sulfur stones are relatively inexpensive, with a couple of exceptions. One exception is faceted gems, which typically fetch $35 to $165 per carat. 

Sulfur quartz cabochons are significantly lower, at around $5 each. 

Rough specimens vary by size, type, and source — larger, transparent crystals without, particularly from Sicily, are most valuable. Small crystals start at $10 and most crystals are around $30 to $50. 

Large, well-formed specimens from Sicily can go for $400 to $900 each. 

Sulfur Care and Maintenance

Before going over gemstone care, let’s cover personal safety first.

Is sulfur toxic? As a powder, sulfur has low toxicity, though inhaling or ingesting too much can lead to negative side effects like diarrhea or irritation. 

Can you touch sulfur crystals? Yes, it’s not dangerous to touch sulfur crystals. But here’s where the gemstone care comes in. 

Sulfur is extremely sensitive to heat, thermal shock, and moisture. Even holding a sulfur crystal may cause it to crack, and most materials will scratch it. Moisture won’t necessarily damage it immediately, but wet sulfur will emit a rotten-egg stench and it will cause gradual corrosion.

If you need to clean a sulfur crystal, you can gently dust it off with a soft, dry toothbrush. 

Store it in a cool, dry place away from other gems and out of direct sunlight. 

Burn Bright with Sulfur Crystals!

Sulfur may not be the first crystal you think of when browsing for gems, but it’s an underrated choice. Beyond its importance in keeping us alive, the crystal’s vibrant yellow coloring and healing vibrations are perfect for bringing joy, confidence, and purpose.

Buy sulfur gemstones today!

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