The term “gemstone” refers to any rock, mineral or organic material that can be cut, polished and used for making jewelry. There are several different types of gemstones and, in the 1800s, they were divided into two main categories: semi-precious and precious. At the time, stones were divided into these categories based on monetary value alone.

Today, however, experts evaluate gemstones on much more than just their value. Factors like rarity, quality and provenance all must be taken into consideration. As a result, understanding which category a particular stone falls into can be difficult. If you are unsure of the differences between semi-precious and precious gemstones, keep reading to learn more.

Precious Gemstones

In the world of gemstones, only four are classified as precious: diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. These are the four most expensive and sought-after stones in the world, and the “precious” label is largely a marketing tool. By labeling certain stones as precious, those who sell the stones are able to sell them at higher prices.

Sometimes, jade, pearl and opal are listed as precious gemstones. This categorization is not widely accepted, though, and those stones are mainly regarded as semi-precious. Generally speaking, diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald are the only true precious gemstones.

Keep in mind that “precious” does not necessarily mean “rarer” or “more desirable.” Several semi-precious stones, like red beryl, tsavorite garnet and several others, are much rarer than any of the precious stones. Desirability largely comes down to the wearer. While some people prefer diamonds or sapphires because of their “precious” status, there are many others who prefer semi-precious stones, which are no less beautiful or exquisite.

Semi-Precious Gemstones

Any stone that isn’t classified as precious is considered semi-precious. This category is, of course, much larger and contains hundreds of different gemstones, including amethyst, quartz, turquoise, pearl, garnet, aquamarine and many, many others.

It is important to note that semi-precious gemstones are not necessarily less valuable than precious ones. For example, a high-quality green garnet (a semi-precious stone) has more monetary value than a mid-quality sapphire (a precious stone). Also, remember that the entire notion of value is a human concept and that our tastes and perceptions change over time. While diamonds are currently some of the most valuable gemstones on the market, there was a time when amethyst held that honor.

One of the benefits of semi-precious gemstone beads is that they offer more variety than their precious counterparts. While diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires come in different shades and, sometimes, different colors, there are semi-precious stones in just about any color you can imagine. They form in all colors of the rainbow and they are a great option when you want to create beautiful and unique pieces.

A Note on Grading

Many people mistakenly believe that stones are classified as precious or semi-precious based on their grade. In truth, though, the grade is a measure of the gemstone’s quality, color, clarity and potential value. As a result, you can have highly graded semi-precious stones that are worth a significant amount of money and low-grade precious stones that are worth considerably less. Grading has absolutely nothing to do with whether a stone is considered precious or semi-precious.

Which Stones Are Best?

It is easy to assume that precious stones are the “best,” but this isn’t necessarily true. In many ways, the terms “precious” and “semi-precious” have become arbitrary and rather meaningless. In fact, many experts have pushed for these terms to be removed from use in the gemstone industry. When the terms first originated, the value differences between the four precious stones and the other gemstones of the world were vast. Today, however, there are semi-precious stones that can be worth more than precious ones, as previously mentioned.

When you are shopping for gemstones for your own projects, don’t get too hung up on labels. Choose the ones that are most appealing to you and/or your customers. Consider your preferences as well as your budget. If, for example, you are looking for a clear stone but cannot afford diamonds, there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with choosing clear quartz instead.


Both precious and semi-precious stones are prized for their beauty and, in some cases, their metaphysical properties. Rather than getting overly hung up on labels that are largely outdated, choose the stones that are well-suited to your tastes and your budget.
July 21, 2015 — Arun Yadav widget logo