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Cinnabar is named from the
Medieval Latin cinnabaris, traceable to the Persian zinjifrah, apparently meaning dragon’s blood, for the red color.

Discovered around 800 AD; IMA status: Valid (pre-IMA; Grandfathered)





Chemical Formula:



Mercury Sulfide

Molecular Weight:

232.66 gm



86.22 %






13.78 %






100.00 %









Mineral Classification:


Strunz 8th Ed. ID:


Nickel-Strunz 10th Ed. ID:



2 : SULFIDES and SULFOSALTS (sulfides, selenides, tellurides; arsenides, antimonides, bismuthides; sulfarsenites, sulfantimonites, sulfbismuthites, etc.)
C : Metal Sulfides, M: S = 1: 1 (and similar)
D : With Sn, Pb, Hg, etc.

Related to:

Trimorphous with Metacinnabar and Hypercinnabar




Cinnabarite (of Dana), Llimpi, Merkurblende, Minium (of Pliny), Vermeil



Crystal Data




Trigonal - Trapezohedral

Crystal Habit:

Rhombohedral crystals, to 10 cm; thick tabular {0001}; stout to slender prismatic || [1010]. Also as incrustations, granular, and massive.


Twin plane {0001}, twin axis [0001], to form simple contact twins.



Physical Properties




Perfect on {1010}


Sub-Conchoidal, Irregular/Uneven


Slightly Sectile

Moh's Hardness:

2.0 - 2.5

VHN Hardness:

82–156 (10 g load)


8.176 - 8.200 (g/cm3)


Not Fluorescent


Not Radioactive

Health Warning:

CAUTION: Contains Mercury - always wash hands after handling. Do not inhale dust and use caution when breaking. Do not lick or ingest. Do not heat in unventilated environment - emits toxic Hg fumes. Mercury Sulfide is, however, relatively insoluble and toxicity of the pure material is low. But be aware that many samples of Cinnabar, especially those which are 'massive' rather than crystalline, also contain traces of native mercury, and this is far more easily absorbed by the body.



Optical Properties




Vermilion red, brownish red, lead gray


Transparent to Translucent; Transparent in thin pieces


Adamantine; inclining to metallic when dark; dull to earthy in massive varieties

Refractive Index:

nω = 2.905; nε = 3.256  Uniaxial ( + )
R1–R2: (400) 30.0–33.5, (420) 28.8–32.1, (440) 27.4–30.9, (460) 26.4–29.9, (480) 25.7–29.5, (500) 25.2–29.4, (520) 24.6–29.4, (540) 24.2–29.1, (560) 23.9–28.6, (580) 23.7–27.9, (600) 23.4–27.3, (620) 23.0–26.8, (640) 22.6–26.3, (660) 22.4–26.0, (680) 22.1–25.7, (700) 21.9–25.5 




Strong; over 0.40










Geological Setting:

Formed from low-temperature hydrothermal solutions in veins, and in sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic host rocks.

Common Associations:

Mercury, Realgar, Pyrite, Marcasite, Stibnite, Opal, Chalcedony, Barite, Dolomite, Calcite

Common Impurities:


Type Locality:

Ancient; probably India

Year Discovered:

Ancient; around 800 AD

View mineral photos:

Cinnabar Mineral Photos and Locations



More Information




Cinnabar is a beautiful mineral with intense color in varying shades of red and with adamantine luster. Faceted gems are very rare since Cinnabar is extemely soft and fragile. Although Cinnabar is found at several locations worldwide, the source of the world's finest Cinnabar crystals is Hunan Province, China. The most common use of Cinnabar has been in carved Chinese lacquerware, a technique that may have originated in the Song Dynasty. It has been used by the Chinese for centuries to make a red pigment which is applied to carved objects similar to a lacquer. In the modern jewelry industry, the toxic pigment is replaced by a resin-based polymer that approximates the appearance of the pigmented lacquer. Cinnabar was also mined by the Roman Empire for its mercury content and it has been the main ore of mercury throughout the centuries. Some mines used by the Romans are still being mined today.

Because of its mercury content, Cinnabar can be toxic to human beings. Overexposure to mercury, called mercurialism, was considered by the ancient Romans as an occupational disease for miners. Mining in the Spanish Cinnabar mines of Almadén was regarded as being a death sentence due to the shortened life expectancy of the miners, who were slaves or convicts.

Distribution: The most common ore of mercury world-wide, so only a few localities for exceptionally abundant or well-crystallized material can be mentioned. In the USA, in California, notably at New Almaden, Santa Clara County and New Idria, San Benito County; in Texas, at Terlingua, Brewster County; in Nevada, at the Cahill mine, Poverty Peak district, Humboldt County, and near Lovelock, Pershing County At Charcas, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. In Spain, from Almadén, Ciudad Real Province, and Mieres, Asturias. At Hydercahn, in the Fergana basin, Kazakhstan. From Tongrin, Wanshanchang, and elsewhere in Guizhou Province, and in exceptional twinned crystals from the Tsar Tien mine, Hunan Province, China. As fine crystals at Mount Avala, near Belgrade, Serbia. From Idrija (Idria), Slovenia.

Cinnabar gems for sale:

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