Gemologist Guide to Identifying Rhodonite

Rhodonite is a manganese mineral ranging in color from the lightest shade of pink to crimson red and has manganese oxide inclusions. These inclusions are known as dendrites and are easily recognizable because they display branches that resemble organic material.

Black markings or dendrites form within rhodonite through oxidation that causes the pink colors of the stone to darken. Rhodonite is found in large masses, due to the way the mineral crystallizes.

When looking to purchase rhodonite for your rock collection you might come across stones labeled as manganolite and manganese spar, these are commercial names for rhodonite.


gemstone testing lab


How to Identify Rhodonite Through Testing

There are various ways to identify rocks, minerals, crystals, and gemstones, but we will be using a method I learned while attending the Gemological Institute of America.  If you’ve learned a unique way to identify gemstones, then feel free to share it with us.

Let’s take a deeper look at identifying rhodonite like a pro.


Visual Inspection

The visual inspection starts with what form of rhodonite you have.  The questions below are relatively easy to answer, but each type will have its own process for identifying them.


Is it a cabochon? When dealing with a cabochon, it should have a medium polish with some pitting on the surface. You’ll want to look for the manganese oxide inclusions, known as dendrites, to help you with identification.


Is it faceted? If you have a faceted piece of rhodonite, it should be opaque and the facet design should resemble a briolette. The stone’s perfect cleavage makes faceted rhodonite rather delicate and rare.


Is it a specimen? Rhodonite is found in different forms. You’ll better identify these forms by looking at and inspecting this mineral over time. Here’s a list of characteristics rhodonite displays when it’s a specimen.

  • Pink to red exterior with hints of gray, black, brown, or a combination.
  • You’ll be able to do the streak test; keep reading below if you have a rough piece with no commercial value.
  • It can be found in crystal form, but it’s rarer, and you’re not likely to come across it very often.  These crystals are typically on the small to medium side.


rhodonite tumbled


Is it tumbled? Very common to find tumbled rhodonite. The tumbled stone will have a nice shine and is often marbled with black.


Physical Properties of Rhodonite

Let’s take a look at the physical properties of rhodonite. Knowing what to look for will help you more easily identify what you’re looking at.


Color: Pink, Red, Brownish Red, Gray

Clarity / Transparency: Transparent, Translucent

Luster: Vitreous, Pearly

Cleavage: Perfect Prismatic on 110 & 110, Good on 001

Fracture: Irregular/Uneven, Conchoidal


The Streak Test

This is a destructive test, so you need to ensure that you’re allowed to damage the specimen or stone if you choose to use this method.  Once you’ve developed robust knowledge in identifying rocks and minerals, you won’t be using destructive tests.

A mineral streak involves scraping the stone against a harder surface to see what color remains.  When dealing with Rhodonite, the streak will be white.

Tumbled specimens are tested by scraping a specimen across a piece of ungalvanized porcelain, typically known as a streak plate.


Magnet Test

Rhodonite is highly magnetic, and gems of average size are able to be picked up using an N52 magnet.


Hardness Test

I don’t recommend actively testing the hardness of a stone because it’s destructive in nature and doesn’t really provide a definite answer to what type of stone it is.  That said, Rhodonite has a hardness of 5.5 to 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale.


Refractive Index Test

Determining the refractive index, or RI as it’s referred to by gemologists, for rhodonite is reasonably straightforward, but you’ll need a specific piece of test equipment and the RI fluid to go with it.  Before you place the stone on the refractometer, you want to make sure you have a flat, somewhat polished surface to take a reading.


Rhodonite’s Refractive Index: nα = 1.711 – 1.738 nβ = 1.714 – 1.741 nγ = 1.724 – 1.751


Each gemstone has its own RI, so discovering a sample’s RI can help you figure out what sort of stone it actually is.

Step 1 – Place a small bead of RI fluid on the metal surface of the refractometer near the back of the crystal hemicylinder (the window on which the stone will sit).

Step 2 – Place the stone facet face down on the fluid dot and slide it toward the middle of the hemicylinder crystal using your fingers.

Step 3 – Look through the viewer lens without magnification. Continue looking until you see the outline of a bubble, then look at the bottom of this bubble. Take the reading from there, rounding the decimal to the nearest hundredth.


From time to time, you’ll run into the issue of not having a flat surface to work with.  In this instance, you’ll need to leave the top of the refractometer open and hold the rounded stone with your hand.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to pull a reading off the gauge.


Birefringence Test

Rhodonite has a low birefringence.

Consider testing the birefringence, as well. Birefringence is related to RI. While doing the birefringence test, you will turn the gemstone on the refractometer six times throughout the observation period and note the changes.

Perform a standard RI test. Instead of keeping the stone still, gradually turn it 180 degrees, making each separate turn about 30 degrees. At each 30-degree mark, take a new RI reading.

Subtract the lowest reading from the highest to find the stone’s birefringence. Round it to the nearest thousandth.


Birefringence: δ = 0.013


Single or Double Refraction

Rhodonite has a double refraction.

For this test to be accurate and beneficial, the stone needs to be transparent in nature.  If the light won’t pass through the stone, then there is no way to test for single or double refraction.

Check for single or double refraction. Use this test on translucent and transparent stones. You can determine whether the stone is only singly refractive (SR) or doubly refractive (DR) to help identify it. Some stones can also be classified as aggregate (AGG).

Turn on the light of a polariscope and place the stone face down on the lower glass lens (polarizer). Look through the top lens (analyzer), turning the top lens until the area around the stone looks darkest. This is your starting point.

Turn the analyzer 360 degrees and watch how the light around the stone changes.

If the stone appears dark and stays dark, it is likely an SR. If the stone starts light and remains light, it is likely AGG. If the stone’s lightness or darkness changes, DR is likely.


Checking The Diaphaneity

Diaphaneity refers to the mineral’s ability to transmit light. For instance, some minerals are transparent or translucent. When they’re thick, a small amount of distortion might occur, but light will pass through them relatively freely.

Rhodonite is transparent to translucent. However, its translucency depends on the form it has taken. If the rhodonite has an earthy form, there won’t be much light traveling through it. Still, if it happens to take on a crystalline structure, you should expect an opaque diaphaneity.


Finding The Specific Gravity

Every stone has its unique specific gravity, which helps us identify them. Specific gravity is one of the best properties to measure when identifying mineral specimens. Most minerals have a narrow range of specific gravity, so getting an accurate measurement can go a long way toward identification.

Specific gravity is a unitless number describing how heavy a mineral is compared to equal volumes of water. For example, if a mineral is three times as dense as water, it’ll have a specific gravity of three. This is useful because while two minerals might be the same size, they’ll each have a different specific gravity.

The larger the sample, the more precise the readings tend to be. Remember that this technique can only be used for single mineral or crystal masses. It will not work for minerals embedded in host rocks.


Rhodonite’s Specific Gravity: 3.57 – 3.76


As helpful as specific gravity is for identifying minerals, amateurs are usually constrained by the lack of necessary tools. However, one way to work around this is to hold the specimen and note how heavy or heft it feels compared to what you might expect a specimen of that size to weigh.

If you want to determine the specific gravity of your stone like a pro, then you’ll need to invest in a higher-end scale.  This is the one gemologists use OHAUS Density Determination Kit.


Identifying Rocks and Minerals Like a Pro

Hopefully, you feel confident in identifying a piece of rhodonite after reading and applying this guide.  You’ll be using the visual part of this guide the most, and you’ll get better as you interact with more gemstones.  Before you know it, you’ll be identifying stones like a gemologist.

If you run into any issues or get confused, feel free to reach out, and I’ll do my best to assist you in the identification process.

Jerred Morris
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2 Responses

  1. I have a rose pink polished egg. I feel that i have eliminated other possible minerals and am trying to confirm it is rhodonite although it has no black oxidation streaks. I would like to attach some pictures for your opinion.
    It is the only one of 30 different mineral eggs in my collection that I’m uncertain of its identification.


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