GEMSTONE GUIDE: PRECIOUS STONES
What are precious stones?
Natural precious stones are defined as visually appealing gemstones created from rocks or minerals. Often used for jewellery and fashion accents, this term was created in the mid-1800’s to refer to four specific stones; diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
All precious stones are translucent and are valued by the richness of their color, except for the diamond, which has a higher value based on being colorless. Their rarity, beauty, and method in which they are produced all add to the allure of a precious stone.
Traditionally, any accessory containing a precious stone would be deemed sophisticated and worn by someone of ‘high class’.
What is the difference between a precious stone and a semi-precious stone?
Precious stones and semi-precious stones are terms that were created in the mid-1800’s to describe gemstones, which were categorized solely based on their rarity. Stones found in abundance were labeled semi-precious, and a stone that was rare would be categorized as precious and more valuable.
Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds were classified as precious stones. All other stones are classified as semi-precious stones. The distinction between precious and semi-precious stones is their rarity and their quality.
Despite this distinction and classification of precious stones vs. semi-precious stones, it is not necessarily true that a precious stones is always more valuable or rare than a semi-precious stone.
For example a green garnet known as Tsavorite is classified as a semi-precious stone, however, it is more valuable than an emerald, which is classified as a precious stone. Now, value is measured by several different factors, and precious stones often do not hold more value than semi-precious stones. However, the label is still valuable and is used worldwide to promote and sell jewellery.
THE MOST POPULAR PRECIOUS STONES
Diamond – The most popular of all gemstones, the diamond is the highest valued precious stone and takes millions of years to form. It is a mineral compound of pure carbon, is the hardest natural substance on the planet. Diamonds are so strong, they can only be cut or polished by another diamond. The name itself is derived from the Greek word “adamus,” which means “invincible.” Diamonds are typically colorless, but yellow, brown, green, gray, black, pink, blue, red, and purple stones can also be found along the diamond color spectrum. Jewelry-grade diamonds are rated based on color from bluish-white to yellow, and on clarity, which ranges from pure to various levels of flawed. The diamond is for the birthstone for April
Emerald – Known for its brilliant green color, emerald can also have blue or yellow undertones and loses all color when subjected to high heat. Their brittle exterior makes emeralds difficult to shape.The earliest emeralds were mined in Upper Egypt as early as 2,000 B.C. They were mined throughout the reign of Alexander the Great and were well-loved and collected by Cleopatra. The Aztecs and Incas also coveted emeralds, and the Moguls of India revered them so much they inscribed the gems with sacred text to be used to ward off evil. Historically, emeralds have been mined from Russia, Austria, Australia, and Norway. Today, the majority of emeralds are found in Brazil, Zambia, and Columbia. The emerald is the birthstone for May
Ruby – The ruby is a pink to deep red precious gemstone. The name comes from the Latin word for red, ruber. Rubies are said to attract good luck for the wearer. Ancient Hindus believed rubies were a sign of protection from evil. Today, the ruby has come to symbolize love and passion. Rubies were also highly prized by ancient Chinese warriors who were known to wear rubies on their armor. Most rubies today are mined in Africa and Southeast Asia. The largest mined ruby weighing in at four pounds, the Liberty Bell Ruby, was stolen in a heist in 2011. The ruby is the birthstone for July.
Sapphire – Sapphires come in a variety of colors, but are mostly associated with blue hues. A sapphire of another color, like pink, white or yellow, is generally called a fancy sapphire. The blue sapphire represents peace and serenity. It is seen many times in ancient religious writing to symbolize purity, wisdom, loyalty and faith. Sapphires are mined throughout Africa and Asia, but can be found in Australia and the U.S. The sapphire is the birthstone for September.
Alexandrite – Alexandrite is the the color-change gem, in daylight, it is a cool bluish mossy green. Inside in lamplight, it is a red gem with a warm raspberry tone. You can see this by switching from fluorescent to incandescent light. The value of the gemstone increases as the color change becomes more distinct. It’s said to strengthen intuition, aid in creativity and inspire the imagination. Originally discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the 1830s, it’s now found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil. It is both rare and valuable. Alexandrite is the birthstone of June.
Amethyst – For centuries, Amethyst has been associated with many myths and legends as well as religions in numerous cultures. Not only is it the beautiful color that makes this gem so popular but it is also widely available in difference shapes and sizes which makes it more affordable. Amethyst complements both warm and cool colors so it looks fabulous set in both yellow and white metals. This unique ability means it enhances almost every color in your wardrobe. Amethyst is the birthstone of February.
Aquamarine – The name Aquamarine speaks for itself, meaning seawater. For centuries, this timeless gemstone has been a symbol of youth, hope, health and fidelity. Since this gemstone is the color of water and the sky, it is said to embody eternal life. It was long thought that Aquamarine has a soothing influence on married couples, making it a good anniversary gift. Aquamarines are found in a range of blues; from a pale pastel to a greenish-blue to a deep color. Darker shades of blue are increasingly rare and in turn, make the value increase. Aquamarine is frequently a pastel gemstone but the color can be more intense in larger gemstones. Aquamarine is the birthstone of March.
Citrine – The name Citrine, which is French for “lemon”, fits well with its color range of juicy lemon yellow to a bright orangey brown. Most people choose a Citrine based on their personal preference, but some of the most sought-after Citrine gemstones have a clear, radiant yellowish to brownish red color. In ancient times, Citrine was carried as a protection against snake venom and evil thoughts. Today, Citrine is known as the merchant’s stone and is associated with success and prosperity. Citrine is one of the most popular and affordable gemstones. It is relatively plentiful and available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, including very large sizes. Citrine is a birthstone of November.
Garnet – This gem is available in a rainbow of colors, from the deep red Bohemian Garnet to the vibrant greens of the Russian Demantoid and African Tsavorite. We also see it appearing in the oranges and browns of Spessartite and Hessonite from Namibia and Sri Lanka and the subtle pinks and purples of Rhododendron. Legend says Garnets protect their owners from nightmares. Garnets have long been carried by travelers to protect against accidents far from home. Garnet is the birthstone for January but with its stunning variety of colors and its mystical powers it has been given as a gift for all occasions for centuries. Garnet is a birthstone of January.
Peridot – Peridot is named after the French word peritot, meaning gold, because the mineral can vary towards this colour. Peridot is the birthstone for the month of August. It is also the stone given to celebrate the 16th year of marriage. Peridot has a very long written history. Ancient papyri record the mining of these stones as early as 1500 BC. The main source of peridot in the ancient world was Topazo Island (now Zabargad or St. John’s Island) in the Egyptian Red Sea. Peridot is the National gem of Egypt. Ancient Egyptians knew it as “the gem of the sun.” Peridot was mined for over 3,500 years on St Johns Island.
Peridot was known in old times as chrysolite. The name chysolite however, was used at a time when we did not have the ability to so accurately identify stones as we do today. The word ‘chrysolite’ was also used for some colors of topaz until we began to be able to recognize the differences between these stones. Peridot has long been called ‘an Evening Emerald’ for under artificial light, the stone glows a brilliant green. Peridot is similar to the emerald but softer in intensity. Peridots of two or three carats are expensive, and a fine eight-carat stone is extremely rare. Peridot is a birthstone of August.
Tanzanite – Tanzanite is a member of the mineral family zoisite, which has been known about for nearly two centuries. Zoisite occurs in a number of varieties, the most sought after being tanzanite. Tanzanite changes colors when it is viewed from different directions. This shifting of colors has been said to facilitate raising consciousness. This mineral family was named zoisite in 1805. Centuries later, the discovery of a bright blue transparent variety that we now know as tanzanite, created a lot of excitement in the specialist world.
A prospector named Manuel d’Souza who was looking for sapphire discovered tanzanite in 1967 in northeastern Tanzania. By 1970, the royal blue find was soon the focus of American and European publicity. Tiffany and Co. named the new gem “tanzanite” and Tiffany’s began a marketing campaign to introduce it to the public. Now, tanzanite is the pride of the gem-rich East African country, Tanzania. Soon after word of this new precious stone got out however, a murderous attack put a swift end to exploitation of the mineral. A fake car accident, in which d’Souza died, interrupted any follow up supplies. As a result, supply was unable to keep up with demand during the following two years. Tanzanite has become one of the most popular gems in the market place. In fact, it is now the most popular gemstone after the “big four,” which consists of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emerald. At first, the gemstone was only available in smaller sizes, but now much bigger sizes are sold.
Tanzanite changes colors when it is viewed from different directions. This shifting of colors has been said to facilitate raising consciousness.
Peridot is a birthstone of August.
Topaz – Topaz is the stone given in celebration of the 4th and 19th anniversaries of marriage. Topaz is a symbol of love and affection, and has been said to be an aid to ones sweetness and disposition. It gets its name from the Greek word topazion, which may originate from the Sanskrit tapas, meaning, ‘fire’. The name may also come from the name of the Egyptian island of topazos (now St Johns island) in the Red Sea. The Latin writer Pliny the Elder used the island’s name for a yellowish green stone found there, and it soon became the name for most yellow stones. Topaz was once predominantly found there but is now also found in Brazil, Nigeria, Australia, Burma, and Mexico.
The majority of topaz is colourless. The next most abundant colour of topaz is blue and green. The most frequently seen stones in jewellery are the shades yellow or sherry brown, and pink. Clear, pink, blue and honey-yellow varieties of topaz are especially valued. The most sought after and expensive colours are called ‘imperial topaz’. In the past, it was thought that all yellow gems were topaz and that all topaz was yellow. We now know topaz varies in color from pale blue and colourless, to yellow, orange, brown and pink. The pink stones so popular in Victorian jewelry were produced by heat-treating golden-brown topaz from Brazil. Topaz is a birthstone of December.
Tourmaline – Tourmaline is the alternate birthstone for October, along with the opal. The stone was first discovered by Dutch traders off the West Coast of Italy in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s. The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese term “turmali,” which was the name given to all coloured crystals on the island of Sri Lanka at that time. This all inclusive name indicates the inability of ancient gem dealers to differentiate tourmaline from other stones. At one time in history, pink and red tourmaline were thought to be rubies. Their similarities in appearance are so strong that the stones in the Russian crown jewels believed to be rubies for centuries, are now thought to be tourmalines.
Pink tourmaline is an excellent stone for healers, therapists and counselors as it is thought to allow them to better listen to and understand their patients. It carries the virtue of unconditional love and friendship. In fact, it radiates the highest amount of love of all the different coloured tourmalines. It is thought to be calming. It also may have great value to people who have panic attacks. Tourmaline has been said to be good for keeping the digestive system healthy as well as strengthening teeth and bones. It is also recommended for the adrenal disorders and is used by modern practitioners to treat stress and trauma.
Tourmaline is a complex silicate that contains boron. It displays a greater range of colours than any other gemstone. In fact, it comes in every color of the spectrum. At one point in time, there was a different name for each color of tourmaline, but now they are all generally referred to as tourmaline, only with the color’s name added as a prefix. Tourmaline is a birthstone of October.
Onyx – Onyx is the birthstone for Leos and the anniversary gemstone for the 7th year of marriage and black Onyx is considered the anniversary gemstone for the 10th year of marriage. Onyx is a banded variety of the oxide mineral chalcedony. Agate and onyx are both varieties of layered chalcedony that differ only in the form of the bands: agate has curved bands and onyx has parallel bands. The colors of its bands range from white to almost every colour (save some shades, such as purple or blue). Commonly, specimens of onyx contain bands of black and/or white.
It has a long history of use for hard stone carving and jewelry, where it is usually cut as a cabochon or into beads. It has also been used for intaglio and hard stone cameo engraved gems, where the bands make the image contrast with the ground. Some onyx is natural but much of the material in commerce is produced by the staining of agate.
Onyx was used in Egypt as early as the Second Dynasty to make bowls and other pottery items. Use of sardonyx appears in the art of Minoan Crete, notably from the archaeological recoveries at Knossos. The onyx is a birthstone of July.
Opal – In ancient times, the Opal was known as the Queen of Gems because it encompassed the colors of all other gems. Each Opal is as unique as a fingerprint. With its rainbow of colors, as you turn and move the Opal the color plays and shifts. Australia’s Lightning Ridge is known for its rare and stunning black Opals. The opal is a soft stone, a hydrated amorphous form of silica; its water content may range from 3 to 21% by weight, but is usually between 6 and 10%. Because of its amorphous character, it is classed as a mineraloid. To maintain it’s lustre, take off your opals before washing your hands. The opal is a birthstone of October.