The wonderful world of gemstones is vast and magical. And while we don’t have the time to break down all of the crystals known in existence(seriously, there are over 200), we can explore some gemstone basics and how they relate to the fine jewelry realm.
There are different gemstone meanings and histories that fascinate jewelry owners around the world. If you are interested in adding a beautiful gemstone jewelry piece to your collection, you have come to the right place. This article will detail three different categories used to classify gemstones. We’ll also dive into the top gems used in engagement rings and fine jewelry pieces and discuss how to make sure that the gemstone you’re about to purchase comes from ethical origins.
Different Categories of Gemstones
Precious and Semiprecious
If you’ve ever shopped for an engagement ring or piece of fine jewelry you’re probably familiar with the terms “precious” and “semiprecious” concerning jewelry. However, in recent years, gemologists have argued that using these two categories to divide different types of stones is inaccurate.
One reason for this is the price assumption that the terms evoke. For example, one would assume that a “precious gem” would be worth more than a “semiprecious gem” but this isn’t always the case. An article from the International Gem Society(IGS) put it this way, “Diamonds have traditionally been considered precious gems, yet some sell for $100 a carat. You can see them (with sufficient magnification) as accent stones on inexpensive jewelry. On the other hand, garnet gems have traditionally been considered semiprecious gems, yet some sell in excess of $1,000 a carat, ten times the price of a low-quality diamond.”
For this reason, people in the fine jewelry industry want to move away from referring to specific gem types as “precious” and all other gems as “semiprecious” as it is often misleading. Some would even go as far as to warn shoppers to beware of sellers using these terms to describe their stones. Keep this in mind the next time you are shopping for a colored gemstone.
Diamonds and Colored Stones
Another way that jewelers and gemologists classify gemstones is by placing them into two categories: diamonds and colored stones(also referred to as color stones). By this system, any gem that isn’t a diamond falls under the colored stones grouping. Rose Quartz, Blue Sapphire, Aquamarine, Tanzanite, and many other beautiful gemstone types fall into this category. Additionally, all diamonds, despite their color rating, are still referred to as diamonds by this classification. Similarly, all stones that are not a diamond are considered colored stones, even if they’re colorless.
Professionals do this for a few reasons.
Diamonds are the hardest jewel known to man, ranking as the strongest stone on the Mohs hardness scale. That being said, special tools that are too strong to use on most colored gemstones are required to cut and polish them. To avoid the unnecessary hassle of having two different sets of tools it makes sense to separate the two stone types into different groups.
Secondly, the supply and demand for diamonds and colored stones are vastly different. Thanks to expert marketing campaigns, diamonds are constantly coveted by people around the world looking to get engaged or to mark a special occasion. This is partially fueled by the diamond industry’s narrative that diamonds are rare in nature, a statement that isn’t necessarily true. Interestingly, colored gemstones are much rarer than diamonds, despite this, they are less desired.
The IGS explains it this way, “A near-monopoly controls diamond sales and marketing. Those in charge are careful not to flood the market. Thus, diamonds maintain their value. Meanwhile, excellent advertising has also convinced the public that diamonds are the premier gemstones for engagement rings.”
Natural, Synthetic, and Simulant Gems
The third category of gemstone classification that we’ll discuss is natural, synthetic, and simulant gems. While all three of these types of stones can be similar in appearance, they can have optical and chemical differences.
Natural vs Synthetic Gems
To start, natural gemstones are stones that occur in nature. This is in comparison to synthetic gemstones which are stones that are created in a controlled environment such as a lab. Sometimes the differences between earth gems and lab created gems are stark. However, other times lab grown diamonds and lab grown gemstones are designed to perfectly mirror their natural counterparts. Lab grown diamonds for example, are real diamonds that share the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as their natural counterparts. The only difference is that they’re created in a lab.
This is not the case with other gems such as moissanite, a man made stone that is often used in engagement rings and fine jewelry as a diamond alternative. While similar in appearance to a diamond to the untrained eye, moissanite offers different light refraction than a natural diamond and it is not as physically strong as the real deal.
Some people will argue that natural gemstones are more valuable than synthetic gemstones due to their rarity. An earth-formed diamond or precious gemstone can take millions of years to form vs a lab grown stone that can be created in a matter of weeks or even days. For this reason, natural gemstones are often considered more valuable due to their perceived rarity.
Natural vs Simulant Gems
Simulants are stones that are designed to mimic the appearance of another gemstone. The most common type of simulants are diamond simulants, lookalike stones that are sold as diamond alternatives. One might purchase a diamond simulant due to its appealing price point or for ethical reasons.
Simulants give shoppers another choice when it comes to choosing a center stone for an engagement ring or a gem for a piece of fine jewelry. However, things can get dicey if a retailer is selling a simulant in place of another stone without making it clear to the buyer. This is what we call imitation gems.
The IGS says this regarding imitation gems, “A CZ described as a cubic zirconia in a jewelry ad isn’t an imitation. In contrast, a CZ represented as a diamond “lookalike” is an imitation. Many vendors frequently sell imitation gemstones, typically for far less than the gems they imitate would cost. As long as consumers are aware they’re purchasing “fake pearls’ or “fake diamonds” for example, there’s nothing unethical about this. However, selling an imitation gem as the real thing is unethical.”
Natural vs Simulant Gems
Top Gems Used in Jewelry
Of course, the number one precious gemstone used in fine jewelry is the diamond. This precious stone is incredibly durable and pairs well with every setting style and metal type. If you have your eye on an engagement ring or piece of fine jewelry the chances are that it features at least one or more diamond.
However, if you’re looking for something a little more colorful you might find yourself asking which other gems are popular in engagement rings and fine jewelry designs. Bright greens, deep blues, and dramatic red hues, colored gems have had their place in the fine jewelry world for centuries.
Purple amethyst dates back to the Victorian era when Queen Victoria herself wore bracelets and lockets featuring the magical stone. The stunning green emerald was adored by the Ancient Egyptians who believed that the crystal represented rebirth and fertility. Fiery ruby touts a rich red color that portrays a feeling of power and romance. Lastly, blue sapphire has been a fine jewelry staple ever since Princess Diana made an appearance wearing her stunning engagement ring that now sits on the finger of Kate Middleton, the Dutchess of Cambridge.
Choosing Ethically-Sourced Gemstones
No matter which gem suits your fancy, it’s important to seek an ethically sourced stone for your engagement ring or piece of fine jewelry. When it comes to diamonds we recommend choosing lab grown over mined. Why? Because lab grown diamonds have the same chemical and optical properties as mined diamonds minus the negative ethical and environmental implications.
If you decide to go the natural route, be sure to research the origins of your desired stone. This is especially true for diamonds which can be mined under harsh working conditions and can cause great harm to the environment. Know where your stone is coming from and if possible, request a GIA Diamond Origin Report to help give you peace of mind before making any major purchases.