Information About Gemstones


Buying gemstones and gemstone jewelry can be intimidating. This page contains useful information on how to assess the value of jewelry so that you can be a brilliantly empowered gemstone shopper. Be sure to check out the pages specific to any gemstone you are interested in.

The quality of a gemstone depends on many different characteristics. Four of them can be easily remembered as the 4 C’s: Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat.

Color

This refers to the color of a gemstone. In general, the more vibrant, strong and beautiful the color is, the more valuable the stone. This strength in color is often called “Intensity” Examples of color intensity:

Another aspect of a stone’s color that can effect its value is its rarity. For example, a golden-pink topaz (Imperial Topaz) is more valuable than a blue topaz, all other characteristics being equal. This is because it is harder to find topaz of this color.

Notice how color effects the value of Amethyst.

Too Light Amethyst: This stone is a very pale, dull unattractive color. It is therefore, relatively less valuable. Better Color Amethyst: The color here is stronger and more attractive, though not “top color.” Some people like this color better. It is easy to find. Best Color Amethyst: This is the ideal and most valuable color for amethyst. It is intense, dark and beautiful. Rare Color in Amethyst. The flashes of red in this amethyst make it very rare and valuable. A large stone of this color will command top prices.

Clarity

Clarity refers to the amount of “inclusions” or impurities there are in a stone. If you can see through the stone with an unobstructed view of the bottom facets (called the pavilion), it is a clear stone. Inclusions are usually another mineral that has been trapped inside the crystal as it was forming. Clarity is also affected by internal cracks.

Generally speaking, the clearer the stone, the more valuable it is:

Here are some examples of the differences in clarity sapphire

Poor Clarity: This stone is almost opaque. We can not see into it, nor can we see any light reflecting or glowing from the inside because of the thick mineral deposits (inclusions) inside it. Sapphires of this clarity are common and less valuable Decent Clarity: We can see into this sapphire somewhat: depth of color and light reflecting from a few facets. The white cloudy areas still impede its beauty and make it less valuable. Typical Clarity: This sapphire is not perfectly clear, but we can catch light from most of the bottom facets. This is representative of what is widely available in the market and medium priced (depending also on color, cut and size) As Good as it Gets. Wow. A very nice sapphire, which as far as the eye can tell is very clear. We see into the whole stone and catch a lot of reflected light. Sapphire like this are rare and command top prices.

 

There are some exceptions however. Certain gemstones such as emeralds are hardly ever perfectly clear , therefore clarity plays a small role in its value. There are even instances where certain inclusions can make a stone worth more.

 

Cut
The cut of the stone is also very important. It is more common to see a bad cut than it is to see a good cut, especially in very precious stones. A good cut is one that is symmetrically and beautifully proportioned, perfectly polished and makes the most out of the stones natural beauty.

There are several different forms in which gemstones can be “cut”

Faceted

This is the most common method in fine jewelry. Faceting allows for the most sparkle and light reflection. . Simply put, you can tell a good cut (faceted stone) by how well it sparkles. A properly cut stone has its facets at particular angles to reflect the most light possible. This is because cutting a stone at the best reflective angles often means reducing the size and weight of the stone.

This is cut badly: we can see through it (“fish eye”) and it does not sparkle. This is cut badly: There is a dark spot in the middle where light does not reflect. This cut is better. However some light is still lost through th bottom This is a perfect cut. See how much more it sparkles?

 

 

 

Only relatively clear stones can be faceted.
Within faceted stones, there are many different cuts. Here are some examples:
Princess, round brilliant, cushion, oval, marquis, heart, emerald, barrion, fancy

Bezel (reflects more surface light)

Example of fancy cuts: lone star, concave, star
A well proportioned gemstone should look more or less like this:

 


Cabochon

Another style of cut found in gemstone jewelry are cabochons. Cabochon cuts are widely used for gemstones that are 1) of lower clarity and therefore will not reflect much light. And/or 2) are of exceptional color and/or 3) are opaque in nature (such as opal or onyx) and or 4) have special optical properties or inclusions that are best displayed in cabochons (e.g. cat’s eye or star ruby) 5) are too soft to be cut in facets (moonstone, opal)

Show cab vs. faceted vs bead of same material

Show star ruby, opal, malachite, low quality amythest, emerald (color), moonstone
(underneath each, say why it is a cabochon)

Play of Color: Opals are usualy cut en cabochon because their “play of color” is more important than clarity and sparkle. They are also soft and faceting makes them more vulnerable. Poor clarity: This ruby (of the very best color) is too included (not see through) to make a sparkly faceted stone. So its cut en cabochon too show the color and keep it as large as possible. Special Traits: Star sapphires are cut into cabochons to maximize the natural star made by rare inclusions. If this stone were faceted, it would lose the star. Opaque: Some stones are inherently not transparent, such as turquoise. Here the goal is to show the color and interesting patterns. Opaque stones are always cut into cabs and not faceted.

Beads

Gemstones are also found in jewelry in the form of beads. Beads come in all shapes and sizes and have a hole in the middle that allows them to be strung. Gemstone beads are similar to cabochons in that they use stones that are not clear enough to be faceted, and generally are less valuable. There are always exceptions however: one of them is pearls. Pearls are as valuable as beads as they are simply set. (link to pearls).

How to spot valuable beads. Look for:
Regularity in shape
Symmetry (the hole should be exactly in the middle or obviously to one side for a reason)
Smoothness of polish (no chips, scratches or otherwise unpolished parts)

Here is the same kind of stone, Aquamarine, cut into different forms.

Beads: These beads of Aquamarine are cloudy (poor clarity) and dull color. They were made into beads because of this and their small size. Cabochon: This stone looks better cut en cabochon because the inclusions would reduce its sparkle, but in this cut they make it interesting. Faceted: This stone is perfectly clear and of high enough quality to be faceted. The facets make the stone sparkle and shine at its best.

Carat

When it comes to gemstones, size matters. All else being equal, the bigger the stone, the more valuable it is. In wholesale gem trading, gems are often priced per carat. It would make sense therefore that the more carats, the more its worth. However, it doesn’t stop there. An additional factor in the value is the rarity of large stones. This means that the larger the stone, the higher the price per carat. For example, a 1 carat ruby with a nice color and cut might cost $700. But a 5 carat ruby of similar cut and color will not cost $3500 (5 X $700); it might cost $10,000. This is because it is very rare to find a ruby that is 5 carats. The effect that size has on price and value is determined by how rare large stones are. For example, very large pieces of amethyst and topaz are relatively easy to find meaning that the price of large stones is not exponentially higher.
Well which of these C’s is most important? Should you choose the most intensely colored stone or the biggest stone? It depends on the kind of stone. Each of the C’s have varying degrees of importance depending on the stone, but all of them play a role to some degree.
Rarity/ Uniqueness
Another factor in a gemstone’s value is its uniqueness. This means unusual colors or patterns in the stone or rare and interesting inclusions or impurities. These things are often appreciated and valued by custom, fine jewelers, but overlooked by wholesalers. It may be hard to “get a really good deal” just going by the 4 C’s because everyone who buys and sells gemstones and gemstone jewelry professionally goes by them to assess value. But if you are a careful observer, you may be able to spot something special in a stone that someone else has missed.

Interesting inclusions: This is a simple peice of quartz: not at all rare. However, any observer of this stone would notice the garden like inclusions of other minerals and pay a high price for something so unique and interesting. Color Bands: The way color plays in a stone can make a material special, unique and therefore valuable to the right person, as is the case with this watermelon tourmaline. Rutile inclusions: Another simple peice of quartz, but the star shaped inclusions of rutile make it interesting and more valuable to a fine jeweler or collector.

 

Myths
“cut affects value not in style of cut, but quality of cut, except for very complicated fancy cuts.

 

Symbology

When shopping for gemstones or gemstone jewelry, you might consider taking into account the meaning of different stones. Precious stones have always had special deep significance for nearly every culture of humans in every era. If you are buying a gemstone or gemstone jewelry for someone as a gift, you can make it extra special by choosing one whose deeper meaning reminds you of them. Read through the symbology pages of the gemstones on this website to explore the deeper powers and significances of each stone.

Real or Fake?

A very common concern when shopping for gemstones (especially from risky venders such as garage sales) is whether the gemstone jewelry is “real.”
It turns out that it is not so simple to say a stone is “real” or fake”: there is a continuum regarding the degree to which humans influence gemstones. Some of them can be spotted if you know what to look for, others need trained gemologists and special equipment. Here is a summary of the different points on the continuum between fake and real:
Imitation: This is what can most fairly be called “fake”. When something is made to look like a gemstone that is actually a totally different substance – that is imitation. For example, imagine you are at a flea market and you see a ring with a pretty red “stone” and the seller tells you it is a ruby. However, when you take it to get appraised you find out it is glass. You were sold an “imitation” or a “fake.” A note about fakes: this scenario sounds disastrous and might make you very afraid to ever buy gemstone jewelry, but the truth is, it happens rarely. Selling fake jewelry (and claiming it is real) is fraud. Because gemstones are such a sensitive product (expensive and mysterious), reputation is everything. Selling one fake stone even after 25 years of selling good jewelry can ruin a seller’s livelihood by destroying their reputation forever. Therefore, rest assured that most people who are professional jewelers or gemstone sellers will do everything possible to make sure they don’t sell you something fake. For more information on how to identify imitations of gemstones, read more on the individual gemstones pages.

“Synthetic/ “Created”: Synthetic gemstones are “real” gemstones in that their mineral composition is exactly the same as those in nature. The only difference is that they are made by humans in a short amount of time versus by nature over hundreds of thousands of years. Created stones are always less valuable than natural stones because they are less rare. Generally, created stones are only available for more expensive gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. One example of a widely accepted created gemstone is the cultured pearl: very prevalent even in the most elite jewelry.

A reputable seller (anyone with anything to lose) will always state whether the stone is synthetic. But if you aren’t sure, one way to form an educated guess is to observe the clarity. Man made stones are usually much cleaner and clearer than natural stones. So if you see a bright clear sparkling ruby, sapphire or emerald that isn’t extremely expensive, you can bet that it is synthetic.

Pick of synthetic emerald and real emerald.

Fair substitute: Some people might say that a CZ (Cubic Zirconium) is a “fake diamond”. Actually, Cubic Zirconium is a (man made) gemstone in its own right. It can only be called “fake” if the seller labeled it as a diamond. If someone has given you jewelry with a CZ it is not fake: it is a real CZ.
Treated/enhanced: Many gemstones will undergo some kind of treatment between the time they are mined and the time they reach you. These treatments are carried out in order to improve the appearance of the stone (color or clarity). Treatments include exposure to very high temperatures, irradiation, heat or irradiation combined with another chemical (e.g. titanium), oiling, and waxing. Treated gemstones are not considered less valuable as long as the treatment is considered “permanent” by relevant gemological organizations. That means that the treatment will not “wear off” with time. In some kinds of gemstones, treatments are so common that it is nearly impossible to find an untreated one. Rubies are an example of this. Other gemstones could not exist without treatments, e.g. Mystic topaz. Read more about treatments on the pages of individual gemstones.
Natural: The word natural is usually used to mean that the gemstone came is not man made. It does not necessarily mean untreated. This word, however, does not have a standardized meaning and is often abused. So if you see the word “natural” in the description of a gemstone you are interested in buying, keep reading or asking questions.

Genuine: This word usually means that it is not “fake”. It has no implications of being from the earth “natural” or “untreated”. For example, it is common to see descriptions of jewelry that contain the words “Genuine created ruby.” It just means that it is mineralogically a ruby.

Untreated: When you see this word in a jewelry description, you can know that you’re seeing something rare (depending on the stone). If you see an “untreated” ruby for sale, it will be extremely valuable and expensive. “Untreated” aquamarine or topaz of intense color is also rare and very special. However, if you see “Untreated” amethyst, it’s not such a big deal because amethyst is very available untreated. Learn more about treatments of individual gemstones on the relevant pages of this site.

 

An Untreated Ruby: Untreated rubies are almost always very included (unless they are in museums or with 6 digit price tags). Untreated rubies are rare and valuable A Typical Treated Ruby: This is what you usually find in the market for rubies: Natural, treated, and with imperfect clarity. Clarity ranges quite a bit: we realy on the seller to tell us what about treatments. A Synthetic Ruby. This ruby is too good to be true. When you’re in Wal-Mart and you see ruby earings that are perfectly clear and bright red for $59, you know they are synthetic (the tag will usually say so as well)

Where you buy it:
The store or the brand of the jewelry has an effect on the value. A Cartier or Tiffany ring is going to be more expensive than a Zales or Benolds ring, even if they contain the same “quality” of stones. This is of course because of the brand and the design. However, the value of designer gemstone jewelry is more likely to retain its high value through the ages than a middle range brand. Therefore, though it seems counter intuitive, it may provide a higher value for money in the long run to buy the more expensive designer piece.

Appraisals vs. Resale: How much is the gemstone you bought worth?

It is fairly popular to have jewelry “appraised” in order to see how much it is worth. Usually the appraiser will evaluate and measure the metal and the various characteristics described above and assign it a fair retail value. This price could represent what you would/should have paid for it.
However, there is another perspective on value. A finance professor once said, “Something is only worth what someone else will pay for it.” In gemstones, the resale price is often significantly lower than the appraised value. This means that even though you “got a great deal” because you paid less than the appraised value, it doesn’t mean you could turn around and sell it at a profit. In fact, you’d more than likely take a loss. This is mostly because the secondary market for gemstones and gemstone jewelry is perceived to be riskier and without the non-tangible feel good factors of shopping for new jewelry in a jewelry store.

This also means that very good deals can be found in buying second hand jewelry.

Your own Taste:
The final aspect of a gemstone that determines its value is how much you like it. A gemstone is for your enjoyment. If you think it is beautiful and it makes you happy or it reminds you of someone you love or something special in your life, it is very valuable. Gemstones are very old, sometimes millions of years old: they can be powerful energetically and emotionally so it is important to choose the gemstones that you feel drawn to and connected to, even if it’s not so rare or expensive. For example, many people love dark blue sapphires: they seem deep and mysterious. People with such taste are in luck because the stones they love are plentifully available!

Select from the menu to the left to learn more about each gemstone.

Still have questions? Post it in our gemstone forum