ALL GEMSTONES ARE PRECIOUS

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An argument could be made that all gemstones are precious. Some are just more precious than others. The terms “gems” or “gemstones” are not actually scientific terms, but are rather common terms for any ornamental stone that may be polished for jewelry and cut to specific shapes to make it more aesthetically pleasing.


In other words, “gems” are stones we shine up and slice up to make them look more beautiful. Any stone that is cut and polished for the purpose of using it to make jewelry, either as beads or pendants or cabochons, is considered a “gemstone.” This classification of stones can include minerals, rocks, organic materials like coral, and even meteorites.

IS IT PRECIOUS OR SEMI-PRECIOUS?


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The most valuable gemstones are usually described as precious gemstones. These are the stones that are usually cut into facets and which are transparent when they’re polished. In scientific terms, most precious gemstones have a hardness of 8 or higher on the Mohs scale of hardness. A gemstone with a hardness of 7 or higher is usually hard enough for normal jewelry use. These stones have the durability to stand up to the normal wear and tear to which they’ll be subjected if used in jewelry.


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Precious stones are generally the colored stones: rubies, emeralds, sapphires and, of course, diamonds. The undisputed kings of the precious stones are the diamonds.


Any gemstone that is not considered a precious gemstone falls under the semi-precious gemstone label. These gemstones generally allow some light to pass through, meaning they are translucent. Or they may be opaque, meaning no light passes through. A semi-precious stone can be organic (such as amber), a mineral, a rock (meaning a conglomerate of different minerals), or even a meteorite. Most semi-precious gemstones have a hardness of 7 or lower on the Mohs scale.


Semi-precious gemstones are usually not cut into facets but rather into cabochons. They are popular choices for beads. One of the best-known semi-precious gems is turquoise. Other commonly recognizable semi-precious stones are tiger’s eye, malachite, and common opal.

OUTDATED TERMS precious-gemstone-divider


 

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The classification of gemstones into different categories began in the mid-1800s. The terms precious stones and semi-precious stones rapidly grew in popularity and are now universally used throughout the world. The terms are household words, both among people who buy and wear jewelry, as well as those who sell gemstones and jewelry. The terms are not without controversy, however.


The practice of classifying some gemstones as precious and some as semi-precious has led many people to the conclusion that some stones, the precious ones, are more important and valuable than their semi-precious kin. This impression has been bolstered by the fact that over 98 percent of the dollar value of gemstone imports into the United States is found in imports of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. So it may be fair to say that the term is correctly applied if value is the only factor included in the equation. If other factors, such as color, texture, and availability are taken into account, the term could become questionable in some instances.


The semi-precious categorization is applied to all varieties of gemstones that don’t fall into the precious designation, even though some may be harder to come by. Meteorite would be a prime example. Although some consider the term semi-precious to be a derogatory or misleading term, it isn’t likely to disappear from the nomenclature any time soon.

THE PROBLEM OF VALUE


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Classifying gemstones according to their economic impact can be misleading. Precious stones are generally considered to be more valuable, more beautiful or desirable, and harder to find. The problem with this idea is that actual marketing examples don’t bear out the validity of that argument.


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For example, a spectacular opal from Australia sold for over $5500 per carat in 2004. Gems cut and fashioned from red beryl have sold for over $10,000 per carat in the past. These semi-precious stones sold at higher per carat values than their precious stone counterparts. Thus, to relegate semi-precious stones to the mark-down aisle can be an inaccurate classification.

HOW RARE IS RARE? precious-gemstone-divider


 

 

Rare generally means something is hard to find or of a very limited quantity. Precious stones are generally considered to fall in this category, but in actuality many stones classified as semi-precious are more rare in the gemstone world. Red beryl, gem silica, and demantoid garnet are all located and produced in smaller quantities than any stones on the precious list. In fact, these stones are incredibly rare, in comparison to gems such as diamonds and emeralds.

BEAUTIFUL IS DESIRABLE


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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We’ve all heard that old saying. It is appropriate to apply that sentiment to the gemstones we like to have in our jewelry. Where one person may find the sparkle of a diamond to be the most beautiful, and therefore most desirable, another may pick the fire and depth of an opal as the must-have stone.


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The perception of what is beautiful, and therefore desirable, determines how much we are willing to pay for that stone. Anyone who is versed in basic economics understands the effect that demand has on a market. It is conceivable, therefore, that a semi-precious stone such as opal could, in some cases, be more expensive than a precious stone like diamond.

STONES ARE GRADED, TOO


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Not only are stones separated into piles marked “precious” and “semi-precious,” they also get graded, just as if they were in school. To grade a stone means you measure the gemstone’s quality and marketability. Factors taken into consideration are color, clarity, and how much it may end up costing when sold. A lower grade means a potentially lower price. That doesn’t mean these stones are not beautiful or desirable; it simply means you may be able to afford more of them.


ALL GEMSTONES ARE PRECIOUS


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It would be fair to argue that the terms “precious” and “semi-precious” when applied to stones are basically meaningless and arbitrary. If we didn’t call them by these terms, the gemstone market would not collapse tomorrow, and we wouldn’t stop wearing our beloved gemstone jewelry.


If you’re interested in creating your own jewelry or purchasing an item created by another craftsman, don’t let the labels on the stones influence your decision. Focus on the gemstone and why it appeals to you. Do you find the stone beautiful and desirable? Will the stones suit your needs? Can you use them in the way you intend to? Are you willing to pay the price asked? If your answer is yes to these questions, then the characterization of precious or semi-precious just became irrelevant.


A gemstone is a mineral or other natural material, such as a pearl, that is beautiful and which has the durability needed to be used as a personal ornament or body adornment. Any stone that meets this criterion should be considered precious.

THE PRECIOUS FOUR


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Since we currently labor under the precious vs. semi-precious designations, you may be surprised to learn that there are actually only four stones considered precious, while semi-precious stones number in the hundreds. A look at these four special gemstones gives some clues as to why they get their classification.


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Diamond


Diamonds are the hardest gems and, therefore, the most enduring. They are also the costliest of the precious gems. Colored or fancy diamonds are the costliest of the costly. Diamonds are a crystalline form of carbon. When cut, faceted, and polished, diamonds have a brilliant sparkle like no other. Other stones are rarer than diamonds, but none are as tightly controlled as diamonds. Diamond sales are regulated worldwide to keep their value at a premium. If a large number of them were released on the market, the price would drop. That’s basic economics of supply and demand.

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Emerald


Emerald is the green member of the beryl family. They are one of the rarest of the precious stones. Their rich green pigment has made them a highly coveted stone for centuries. While traditionally pictured in shades of deep green, emeralds can range from a bluish green to a spring green with a yellow tinge.

Ruby


The brilliant red of rubies has historically fetched a higher price than diamonds. A high-quality ruby on today’s market would probably surpass all but the rarest of the colored diamonds in value. Rubies have a velvety luster when faceted. As a member of the corundum family of gems, their hardness makes them durable. The color of a ruby can range from a rich maroon to a brilliant fuchsia. The most valuable, however, are the deep blood red rubies.

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Sapphires


These stones are cousins of the ruby, found in gem-quality corundum stones. Sapphires are not red, however. Only two colors of sapphires are classified as precious stones. The most well-known sapphires are the dark, purple-tinged blue ones. The most sought-after of the sapphires are the natural padparadscha sapphires. These are the ones called “lotus flower” sapphires and are an orange-pink color that resembles the hues of fresh lotus blossoms.

POPULAR SEMI-PRECIOUS STONES


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There are hundreds of stones which fall into the semi-precious category. Crafters of handmade jewelry use these stones to give their creations flair, class, and a uniqueness that is all their own. Some of the most popular semi-precious stones, in no particular order, can be used to make outstanding beaded jewelry, each a one-of-a-kind creation.

Amethyst


Legend has it that wearing amethyst protects the wearer from bad luck. The signature purple color has been a longtime favorite with kings and queens. It can be found in the British Crown Jewels. Amethyst was a popular stone among Catholic Church clergy throughout the Middle Ages. The royal purple of the gemstone symbolized piety and celibacy, and was a symbol for Christ. It is not uncommon for bishops to still wear amethyst rings.

Known for its purple hues, in its purest form amethyst is actually colorless. It can be found in a range of colors, with tones from deep violet to a pale reddish-violet. The crystalline structure of amethyst causes its color to be uneven in most stones. Large cuts of amethyst with dark, single-tone shading are rare.

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Citrine


In ancient lore, citrine was carried as a protection against evil thoughts and the effects of snake venom. It was thought that wearing this gemstone would help remove toxins from the body and improve digestion. People thought that placing citrine on the forehead would bestow them with psychic powers or enhance an ability that was already there. It was also thought to improve memory and creativity.

This stone’s name is a play on the French word citron, meaning “lemon.” It was originally called this because of its deep yellow color. It can be found as a light yellow or a rich dark tone, or a golden orange that ranges to a brownish-orange. Citrine is a type of transparent quartz that gets its yellow color from iron.


Natural citrine is a rare find. In the 1700s, it was discovered that smoky quartz or amethyst could be heated to between 470 and 560 degrees. Baking it to these temperatures caused it to become citrine. Most of the citrine on today’s market began as an orange-brown amethyst or smoky quartz.

Turquoise


Turquoise has been a desirable stone since the ancient Persians first mined it as early as 2000 B.C.E. Turquoise is a versatile stone; it can be engraved or carved into large cabochons, or drilled as beads. It will rarely be faceted.

Turquoise is known by its distinctive color. The gemstone can range in color from a pure sky blue, to blue-green, to a pale green. A sample of turquoise with an even, robin’s egg blue color will carry the highest price tag. Most turquoise includes black or brown veining. This matrix is the remains of the original stone. This veining is called spider web matrix, cobweb, edisonite, or eggshell.


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To find turquoise, the best place to look is inside fracture lines in volcanic rock. It is one of the oldest of the gemstones. It is an extremely popular gemstone in Native American tribes, and is even considered sacred by some. It has traditionally been used as a healing stone, as it was thought to block disease and promote the growth of healthy tissue. Turquoise’s soothing blue color was thought to bring happiness and good fortune to the wearer, especially when the gemstone was given to another as a gift.


Turquoise that is sky blue or a dark royal blue with no matrix visible is called Sleeping Beauty turquoise. Stones with a green tint are usually the least valuable. Turquoise is a relatively soft stone and is usually sold with a wax coating to protect it.

Garnet


Most people think of garnet as a dark red color, but this gemstone can be found in all colors of the rainbow, with the except of blue. Garnet is an umbrella term used to include a group of common silicate minerals such as almandine, carbuncle, and pyrope. Garnet has been a popular stone for jewelry craftsmen for thousands of years because it is relatively easy to cut, is durable, and has a brilliant color. The gemstone’s name comes from the Latin word meaning “many seeds” because it was often compared to a pomegranate seed.

In folklore, garnet was worn to increase the wearer’s confidence and courage. It was said to endow the wearer with energy and security. Among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, garnet was thought of as a protective stone. It was believed the stone would light the night to protect its wearer from evil and impending doom.

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Peridot


Peridot is actually pronounced “PAIR-uh-dough.” It is one of a very few gemstones that are found in only one color. In peridot’s case that color is its signature green. Iron in the stone makes it green, with the color varying depending on the amount of iron present. Its color can range from yellow-green, to a darker olive-green, to a brown-green. The deep lime green is the most prized of the peridot colors. While the olivine mineral from which peridot comes is abundant, gemstone-quality samples are not so prevalent.

The ancient Romans called peridot the “evening emerald” because of the colorful glow it emitted under candlelight. It was believed that wearing peridot could lessen depression and protect the wearer from evil spells and spirits. It was also worn as an aid to restful sleep and to slow the progression of the aging process.

Topaz


Of all the silicate minerals, topaz is the hardest. Pure topaz is clear, but it can be found in an array of colors. These varying hues are a result of impurities that tint the topaz to colors such as blue, red, green, yellow, brown-yellow, brown, and pink. A topaz gemstone usually will have very few inclusions that can be seen with the naked eye. The clarity of the stone is also generally high quality. Yellow topaz is the most common color found. Natural blue topaz is extremely rare.

In ancient civilizations, topaz was thought to cool hot heads and turn boiling pots to cold water. Blue topaz was worn as a way to cure insanity and insomnia. It was believed to relieve the symptoms of asthma. Some even believed that wearing topaz when confronted with danger would make the wearer invisible. In mysticism, giving blue topaz as a gift is said to symbolize love and fidelity.