Gemstone Guide
Precious Gemstone Guide
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Exotic Gemstone Guide
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Cubic Zirconia Guide
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Precious Gemstone Guide

Precious Gemstones

Only four gemstones in the world are classified as precious gemstones - emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. The term originates from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia, where the gemstones held ceremonial and historical importance. They were named "cardinal gemstones" for their use by royalty and religious figures.

Historically, precious gemstones were valued for their extreme rarity. Large gems with fantastic color and few inclusions were uncommon and very expensive. In fact, amethyst was considered a cardinal gemstone until the 19th century, when a large source in Brazil made the gemstone more accessible.

It's important to remember that the term "precious gemstone" is subjective today and is used merely out of tradition. A precious gemstone can be less expensive and more plentiful than certain semi-precious gemstones. Learn about colored precious gemstones below or read the diamond guide for more information on the clear precious gemstone.
Ruby
Ruby - Precious Gemstone

Ruby Characteristics

  • Color is the most important quality. Deep red Burmese rubies with a hint of blue are the most prized.
  • Rubies are graded on primary, secondary and even tertiary hues.
  • The gemstone is made of corundum and related to the sapphire. Chromium is what makes rubies different than sapphires.
  • Rubies get their red color from slight traces of iron, chrome, titanium or vanadium.
  • Chrome is also responsible for making rubies scarce. It creates cracks that break up large pieces, so rubies larger than 3 carats are incredibly rare.
  • It is common for rubies to have zones of color.

Ruby Origin

  • Ruby comes from the Latin word "rubens" meaning red.
  • Rubies have been a part of Indian culture for 1,000s of years and named the "stone of kings."

Ruby Folklore

  • Rubies have been deemed one of the most valuable gemstones throughout history.
  • The gemstones have represented passion and blood.
  • Its color has been described as a never-ending flame that creates passion and fire within.
Sapphire
Sapphire - Precious Gemstone

Sapphire Characteristics

  • Made of the mineral corundum, sapphires are Earth's second hardest natural gemstone.
  • Sapphires come in a range of blue shades, from soft baby blue to deep inky blue.
  • Chromium, iron and titanium give sapphires their color.
  • The gemstone is graded on color intensity, hue and tone. The most valuable are intense and pure blue with a tinge of violet and very little gray or green hues.
  • Ceylon Blue, Cornflower Blue, Electric Blue, Kashmir Blue (from Kashmir), Royal Blue, Sky Blue, Velvet Blue and Violet Blue are sapphire colors.
  • Sapphire fancies come in orange, green, purple, yellow and pink. There are no red sapphires because red corundum is a ruby.
  • Most sapphires have inclusions visible to the naked eye and have medium or strong bands of color zones.

Sapphire Origin

  • The oldest sapphire mines are in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Kashmir (present day India and Pakistan).
  • Historically, Kashmir mines produced the finest sapphires. The gemstones were discovered when an earthquake in 1880 created a landslide that revealed them. By the early 1900s, the source was depleted and Kashmir sapphires remain the most valuable varieties today.
  • The Mogok Stone Tract in Burma is home to more than 1,000 ruby and sapphire mines.
  • The world's largest sapphire was found in Burma in 1972 and is 63,000 carats!
  • The most high-quality sapphires 100 carats or greater come from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).

Sapphire Folklore

  • People once believed the earth sat on a giant sapphire and the sky was its reflection.
  • Historically, a sapphire gift is a pledge of loyalty and trust, which is why the gemstone is often given as an engagement ring. Princess Diana wore a sapphire engagement ring.
  • Sapphires represent truth, sincerity and consistency.
  • It's said kings wore the gemstone around their necks to protect themselves from envy and appeal to the divine.
Emerald
Emeralds - Precious Gemstone

Emerald Characteristics

  • Emeralds are the most precious of the beryl gemstones and related to aquamarine.
  • The word "emerald" is derived from the Greek word "smaragdos" and means "green stone."
  • Pure beryl is colorless. The signature grass green color of an emerald is due to trace amounts of chromium and vanadium.
  • Emeralds were created when plate tectonic movement moved these distant elements together. Most emeralds have inclusions because of the intense pressure and environment. Gemologists call emerald inclusions "jardin."
  • Emeralds with both good color and good transparency are very rare and valuable. Top-quality emeralds are more valuable than diamonds.
  • Color is a more valuable trait in an emerald than lack of inclusions. Dark green emeralds are the most valuable and their color is often distributed unevenly.
  • Most emeralds are coated with oil or resin and will be damaged by sonic jewelry cleaners and cleaning products.

Emerald Origin

  • Zimbabwe emeralds are 2,600 million years old and are among the oldest gemstones in the world.
  • The Incas and Aztecs considered the gemstone holy.
  • The oldest emerald mines are in the Sikair-Zubara region of Upper Egypt near the Red Sea. Egyptian pharaohs first mined for the gemstone as early as 3000 B.C. and the mine supplied ancient civilizations until the Greeks arrived.
  • After the area was conquered by Alexander the Great, it was known as "Mons Smaragdus" or "Emerald Mountains." Emerald acquisition peaked during the Ptolemaic period from 330 to 30 B.C. Later the area would be named "Cleopatra Mines" for the famed female who was an avid emerald collector.
  • Indian Moguls (including the builder of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan) inscribed sacred passages into the gemstone and wore these "Moghal emeralds" for good luck. The largest Moghal emerald recorded weighed 218 carats.

Emerald Folklore

  • Emeralds symbolize harmony, nature, life and springtime.
  • The "emerald cut" was created to bring out the beauty of the gemstone while protecting it from become damaged by the gemstones' inclusions and brittleness.
  • Indian holy scriptures regard emeralds as being good luck and providing well-being.
  • Emeralds are thought to be the emblem of faith, kindness and purity.
  • Ancients thought emeralds would heal eyes, cure poisonous wounds, drive away evil spirits, protect the wearers' chastity, strengthen memory, quicken intelligence and predict the future.