How to Identify Gemstones: 3 Helpful Tips

Whether you collect crystals for their purported healing properties or you are a jewelry maker with a wide assortment of precious or semi-precious beads, knowing how to identify gemstones is a valuable skill. Because many stones are visually similar, though, they can be quite difficult to tell apart. 

The good news? 

Collection of many different natural gemstones

You don’t have to be an expert gemologist in order to identify the gems in your own collection. There are a few tricks that can help you figure out exactly what crystals you have. In this blog post, we’ll be going over a few helpful tips on how to identify gemstones. 

 

Invest in a Good Book


Before you even begin trying to identify a particular gemstone, we recommend investing in a good book. There are several options out there that provide detailed photographs along with descriptions of various stones. In many cases, you will be able to simply refer to your book to determine what type of gemstone you are working with. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper. 

 

Examine the Physical Characteristics


Take a close look at the stone in question and determine its color. In most cases, color narrows down the potential options and provides you with a potential list of suspects. Next, pay attention to the tone (whether it’s light or dark) and the intensity of the color. If the stone displays more than one color, make note of that, too. 

Determine whether the stone is transparent, translucent or opaque. You may need to look at it under a light to determine this. Lightly bounce the gemstone in your hand to assess its weight. Does it feel unusually heavy or light for its size? Or does its weight feel how you would expect it to? The answers to these questions will help you determine if the stone has a low or high specific gravity. 

These characteristics are all ones that you can assess without any special equipment or knowledge. And in many instances, you can put all of these clues together and then refer to your book (or an Internet search) to figure out what type of stone or gemstone beads you have. This is especially true if you are attempting to identify a relatively common gemstone. If you still aren’t sure what type you have, you will need to do a bit more investigating. 

 

Dig Deeper


Jeweler examining gemstone in workshop

At this point, you’ll need a few tools–including a penlight, tweezers and a 10x loupe–to more thoroughly investigate the gemstone in question. Grip the stone with tweezers and then pass your light across its surface to check for special characteristics, such as color changes, sparkle or a cat’s eye appearance. 

Next, check the luster. Hold the stone so that light is reflecting off its surface, and you should be able to see if it’s metallic, shiny, waxy, dull, glass-like, silky or greasy. Examine both with your naked eye and with a 10x loupe. 

If you are trying to identify a rough specimen or a crystal with a chip, take a close look at the rough edge or chipped area. Is the surface splintery, granular or straight like stairs? Or does it simply look uneven? This can give you an idea of the stone’s cleavage and fracture, which can also be used to help identify it. 

By this point, you should have a list that outlines several of the gemstone in question's physical properties. Use this information to narrow down the options and determine which stone you have. Once you think you’ve made an identification, it never hurts to search for multiple photographs to make sure the piece you have has a similar appearance. 

 

What to Do If You Can’t Make an Identification


Women working with various gemstones in a shop

Some gemstones are easy to identify. Lapis lazuli, for example, is an opaque blue stone with gold-colored flecks. It has a distinct appearance that makes the identification process simple. Other stones, however, aren’t so easy. Some people find tourmaline difficult to identify because it forms in so many different colors and often resembles other gemstones. 

If you are unable to identify a stone using the tips listed above, you may need to ask an expert. There are Facebook groups that are dedicated to helping people identify gemstones. You simply need to post a clear picture and ask for advice. You may also be able to get help identifying your stones by visiting a gem and mineral show, a crystal shop or a professional jeweler. It may take some perseverance, but someone out there will be able to lend a hand.