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Gemstones Basic 101: The 9 Essentials for Gemstones

Gemstones come in many shapes, colors and forms and therefore are harder to define than a Diamond. As there are so many varieties and species, value are usually based on multiple factors assumed in the market. We tried summarizing the essential criteria for most gemstones below:

AESTHETICS:

Aesthetics or beauty of a gemstone has four categories

1) COLOR: 

Two pear shape emeralds pair in top color range
Top color emeralds like this pair can cost up to US$10,000 per carat

For most gemstones, color is the most important factor in determining the price.   This is especially true for the “big three gemstones”, rubies, sapphires, & emeralds.

For these gems, color can cause the prices to fluctuate from US$10 a carat to over US$10,000 per carat. Other stones also have beautiful shifting colors (e.g. an opal) and the price is base on how many unique colors it has.

2) SYMMERTY OR CUT: 

Another factor that defines gemstone’s beauty is its symmetry. Gemstones cut in their most appealing form defines how good the symmetry is.

In the natural rough state, gemstones look like rocks. But, an expert gemstone cutter can convert the rough to a different class of beauty.

Gemstones cut in correct shape and proportions will enhance its beauty and fire. Thus, premium cut gemstones command much higher prices than average cut stones.

3) LUSTER: 

Luster or the gem’s surface appearance also influence the beauty and price of the stone. Diamonds, for example, have the top adamantine luster. This factor contributes to its high price.

Other gemstones like ruby, sapphire or emeralds also have a high luster due to their hardness.  But, there are also cases like pearls in which luster plays a key role in its beauty. Thus, stones that shine are also usually more expensive.

4) TRANSPARENCY: 

In general, the more transparent a gemstone the more expensive it is.  Transparency defines the degree to which how much light can pass through a material.

Different degrees of transparency explained below:

Transparency of a natural blue sapphire
Sapphires like the other big three gemstones are usually transparent

a. Transparent: Light can pass through freely with little or no distortion like glass. Examples of transparent stones are the big three gemstones, garnet, tanzanite, zircon, etc.

b. Translucent: Light diffuses when it passes through the stone.   Frosted glass is a good example.   Examples of translucent stones are moon stone, jade, opal, etc.

c. Opaque: No light is allowed to get through.   A black sheet of paper is opaque. Examples of opaque stones are hematite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, black onyx, etc.

5) RARITY:

Rarity is a decreasing scale defining how difficult it is to find a gemstone as compared to others. Gemstones cannot be marketable if they are very rare. In fact, collectors’ are usually the only ones who have rarest gemstones.

For example, we recently sold a 1.20 carat blue Jeremejevite, which is the top ten rarest stone in the world. But, due to a lack of knowledge about this gemstone, the price sold was lower than the common blue sapphire.

In the market, most of the gemstones for sale are in the middle range of the rarity scale. This surprises many people.  In general, people believe rarest gemstones should be the most expensive.  This is not true.

Blue Namibian Jeremejevite rarest gemstones in the world
This Blue Namibian Jeremejevite is one of the top ten rarest stones in the world, but know one has heard about it!

Yet, the fact is shrewd marketing can actually change consumer preferences.

For example, tanzanite prices when up after the blockbuster movie “Titanic.” In the film’s last scene, Rose threw her tanzanite necklace in the ocean for her ‘lost love’ Jack. This emotional scene left a mark on the consumer mind and everyone wanted a ‘tanzanite.’

Natural diamonds are another classic example. In the rarity scale, they are in the middle range, but still expensive and highly-priced.

This is due to De Beers effective ‘Diamonds is Forever’ marketing campaign. It is actually easier to find a 5 carat D-flawless top grade diamond than a 5 carat top pigeon blood ruby. But, people still want to get the diamond over the top ruby.

In conclusion, to make gemstones saleable there should be enough supply of it. Or else it cannot be in public consciousness over the long haul.

DURABILITY

One reason why gems have lasted over the ages is because of their durability. Durability is combination of three factors shown below:

6) HARDNESS

Hardness measures how well a gemstone can resist scratching and abrasion. Diamonds are the hardest substance in the Mohs scale with hardness of 10, the highest it can be. While rubies and sapphires, have the Mohs hardness scale of 9. 

7) TOUGHNESS –

Princess cut diamond, diamond is hardest substance in the world
Diamond has hardness of 10 in Mohs scale

Toughness is the ability to withstand breaking, chipping and cracking. Diamonds are actually not toughest material and in fact, can chip if hit in a certain direction. Compare to jadeite which is very tough but has less hardness then topaz.

8) STABILITY –

If a gemstone can resist the effects of light, heat and chemicals, the more stable it is. Some chemicals or sunlight can cause some gemstones to damage or fade in color. For example, if we use cleaning solutions for sapphires on a peridot, it can damage the stone.

While if kunzite is expose by sunlight for a long period of time it can cause the stone color to fade.

CONCLUSION

The combination of all three factors defines how durable a gemstone material is.

Stones with low durabilities like fluorite or calcite are not safe to use in jewelry. They are very low in hardness scale so can scratch or damage.

Gemstones like diamonds, rubies, sapphires or emeralds have high durability. Thus they can withstand the everyday abuse of wear & tear when used in jewelry.

So, the simple rule is the more durable a stone is the more expensive and prized they are in the market.

9) COUNTRY OF ORIGIN

Certain country of origin command higher prices than others.  Gem mines with long traditions in producing important gemstones is most sought after.  Examples are Kashmir blue sapphires, Colombian green emeralds or Burmese red rubies.

But, this does not mean that all gemstones from the premium origins are the best or top color quality. In fact, some rubies from Tanzania or Madagascar can beat a lot of the Burma rubies.

Yet, due to their country of origin, they will almost always sell in discount.

“DETERMINING PRICE”

The above guide is a good foundation in learning how to determine gemstone prices. But, it still doesn’t provide a clear answer. As each stone is unique, standardizing a price list is almost impossible.

Determining the price of a gemstone is an art, sometimes luck and some negotiating skills.

There are times when I do find unbelievable beautiful gemstones at a good price. This is because the supplier got it very cheap. Yet, others will sell it at a much higher price.

Another way in learning “how to buy gemstones” is through the GIA website. The site provides images and some ‘brief’ helpful advice.  Link: https://www.gia.edu/gem-encyclopedia

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