Journey to the stone podcast with Don Kogen about Sphene


In this episode of Journey to the Stone, we talk about one of my favorite gems. It is such a phenomenal gem, such an important discovery. I named my son after this stone! Yes, one of my children is named Sphene. Because sphene disperses more than a diamond. It pops. It sparkles. It shows dispersion coming out of the crystal structure that diamond wishes it could. It has fire and luster and colors and characteristics and personality that diamonds only wish they could find. This is one of the rarest phenomena that Mother Nature has ever produced, and it is not common. Let’s talk about the sphenes of the world.

I would say the greenest variety of sphene that I’ve ever discovered was in Russia. Kola Peninsula, the most Western part of Russia. This particular area is cold. You’re in the Arctic Circle. This particular area can only really mine a few months of the year. They do mine a lot of phosphate in the area, and I know a lot of the geologists — they also mine different minerals and, you know, different metallic elements as well. But every once in a while, they unearth this green gem. They didn’t know what the heck it was. So, of course, I was called in to look at it, and they only find about five or ten stones a year. I went there, I met the guy, and look, you should have seen the airport I landed in. I mean you’re talking about a plane that’s landing in one of these remote, literally crazy destinations. This was about 14 years ago that I went in for the first time to look at this sphene. It was crazy days. But that’s just the story of my life, this is what I do.

So I’m looking at this sphene, and I’m thinking, holy moly, this stuff is green! And it’s not normal, because I discovered sphene in the northern part of Madagascar. That’s where I named my son after sphene. Because my son was being born right at the same time that I discovered this mine. Yes, I know. Not tricky. Did I get back in time? Yes, I got back in time. Back in time that he was one day old. One day old! Right? But anyway — people, don’t judge me, I am a gem hunter. I can’t control all the forms of transportation I have available to me at different times. Anyway, he got the lovely name “Sphene.” One of the most dispersive gems in the world.

OK, back to Russian sphene here. The Russian sphene — so I’m looking at this material, I’m thinking, what the heck is going on here? Because I’ve seen sphene before, it disperses like no other gem in the world. So I’m thinking — I start pulling out some of my equipment and looking at it, and can’t figure it out. Buy it all, right? And they’ve been collecting this for several years. So I got about 30-35 pieces out of the deal. Brought the crystals back to Thailand, started chopping them up, looking at them, putting them under the refractometer, looking under the microscope, different equipment, getting readings on the spectroscope, et cetera. And then basically I came to the realization that, holy moly, this gem has a rare earth element within the crystal structure called cerium. Now cerium is interesting because it’s a metallic element that can be cut with a butter knife. I mean, how rare is that? I’ve never seen it in any other gem, except for bastnäsite that has come out of Japan. But it’s an opaque, ugly stone; it looks more like a rhodochrosite with no transparency. So it wasn’t something spectacular, but it seems like when cerium penetrates the crystal structure of sphene, which is titanium — it’s titanite, which is basically titanium base — so you’ve got cerium and titanium combined together, you get this super effect. So that is the Russian sphene of the world. Do you know there’s less than 100 stones in the world, in circulation? And I get about five a year that come out of the Kola Peninsula, I buy them all, and collectors are dying for them. Now, I named my son after sphene, it’s very close to my heart, so I’m one of the largest collectors of sphene in the world. Not in quantity, but in quality. I focus on the best of the best. And I give Kat only the best.

That is one location of sphene. Now if you like more of the amber colors and greens and yellows and amazing sparkle and dispersion, and that whole spectrum of the rainbow: Madagascar sphene. That stuff pops. You get life, you get luster, you get dispersion, you get fire. Where the material that comes out of Russia tends to be more on the greenish side, Madagascar covers the whole spectrum. There is one other locale that has been discovered. We’ve discovered sphene in Zimbabwe. It’s very very limited, it’s not usually clean, and I only deal with clean, so I bought the rough and I’ve sold the rough. I never really cut these stones because I can’t get a darn clean out of it. I want it clean! Because sphene is dispersive, and when you got the fire, you got the luster, and when you got the luster, you got the brilliance. Sphene is a happy, happy gem. If you like gems that make you happy, then you can sphene all day long because it has more brilliance than diamond. Extremely rare, extremely collectible.

Anyway, Zimbabwe, we don’t get the clean. Madagascar will blow your head off. That stuff is brilliant. It’s dispersive, it’s alive, it’s vibrant, and I go after it. Now, the mine in the northern part of Madagascar that I discovered put it on the map. Unfortunately it’s no longer available, which is common in my world. Right? So we’ve looked for sphene in different locales. Sphene was also discovered in Capelinha in Brazil, there’s a small town in Brazil that produced some sphene. We also found some sphene in India. But really small, sporadic pockets of this material. And once again, I only deal with the best. I only deal with the finest quality sphene. Because what I’m looking for is the superpower that sphene has. What’s that superpower? I want to see dispersion more than a diamond. You know, I don’t get this whole idea of buying a gemstone that doesn’t have sparkle. I mean, what’s the point, right? You buy a diamond, I’m wearing a 5.00 carat diamond, and it looks like frozen spit. It looks like a frozen ice cube. It doesn’t even have sparkle. What’s the point of that? Diamonds should sparkle, baby. And so should sphene. They should sparkle. Right? Because they have the power to.

I sell off all the rough, and don’t get me wrong, there’s a market for included sphenes. It’s a big market, people are always asking me for more rough material, but I cherry-pick out the clean and the nice stuff. And I like them in green, I like them in greenish-yellow, I like them in that golden color — a lot of times you’ll see them like a champagne rich, orangey-red, and they disperse green. They disperse yellow. They disperse blue. They disperse all the colors of the rainbow. Really a phenomenon when it comes to rarity.

And I’ve made this particular episode all about sphene, of course, because I love Sphene Kogan, he is my son, he also works with me every once in a while. I just sent him to Colombia. That was an interesting experience for him. I sent him on an emerald mission, into the Bogotá Highlands. Sphene Kogan, named after one of the most dispersive gems in the world — you’ll meet him one day, I’ll bring him on the podcast. I’m digressing here, but you know, he’s my son, I named him after the discovery of sphene, so I might as well get into it, right? But I sent him to Colombia, I’ve sent him to India, I’ve sent him to different parts of the world to hunt down rare gems. He’s only 21 right now. But he’s getting good. Better start late than never start, right? That’s my theory. He graduated from the Gemological Institute of America, and I said, “Son, now let me send you into the real world.” And that’s where it is.

Anyway, if you have a sphene, or you want a sphene — you’re looking for sparkle, you’re looking for dispersion. Now when Kat Florence gets a sphene, please understand you’ll see that the Kat Florence cutting on her sphene is the most unforgiving cut in the world. Which means she’s losing 50% of the weight compared to any other sphene you see in the world. But it will blow your head off. The quality of Kat Florence’s sphenes — I mean, there is a transformation when those sphenes go to the Kat Florence spa. And there’s a reason I call them the Kat Florence spa: you go in with a big booty, you come out with a sharp booty. The Kat Florence spa makes you lose the booty. She basically cuts it like a diamond, she puts on that edgy Kat Florence cut, and she brings out the dispersion, the life, the vibrance, the intensity, that nobody else has ever done.

I’d like to also, at some point, bring on some of her technical engineers that do her cutting with her. They’re actually primarily based out of Israel, most of them, or they’re Israelis that are in her workshop that work with her and basically have cut diamonds most of their lives — and they’re just the edginess and the perfection and the detail and the knowledge. I mean look, I’ve cut gems my whole life. This is what I do. But what they do is a whole other thing than what I do. I cut it like a gemstone dealer; they cut it like, bring out the beauty, baby. Bring out the dispersion. Bring out the fire. Well, I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Remember, if you want a lot of bling in your ring, go sphene. Because you ain’t gonna top it. It is crystal, it is beautiful, and if you get a Kat Florence piece, prepare to wear your sunglasses. It becomes a RayBan moment. It will sparkle. Not only for you, but also for the person having dinner with you, and the three other tables behind the person having dinner with you. Hope you enjoyed this episode about sphene. I’ll be coming back to you with a new discovery shortly.

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