Were you ever wondering why some gemstones are more expensive and valuable than others? What is the difference between precious and semi-precious gemstones? These and many other question were violating my peace each time I was buying something in the jewelry store. Unfortunately, jewelers never had a good answer for me, so I decided to dig deep by myself. And here is what I found…
What is gemstone?
Well, before going deep into the classification of gemstones, let’s see what is a gemstone itself.
Gemstone is a piece of mineral crystal. In cut and polished form it is used to make jewelry or other adornments. It can be both a precious or semi-precious stone.
Nevertheless, jewelers with equal success use certain metamorphic rocks (such as lapis lazuli) or organic materials that are not minerals (such as amber, jet, and pearl) in their masterpieces. That is why they are gemstones as well, while in fact they are not exactly stones. Amber is, for example, a fossilized resin of prehistoric trees.
What is precious and semi-precious gemstone classification?
The traditional classification as we know it now appeared back in times of Ancient Greeks, when naked eye was the main instrument in grading stones. Stones received classification of precious and semi-precious according to few simple and very basic principles. The most important for the following grading were rarity of the gemstone and its physical characteristics.
By physical characteristics Ancient Greeks meant the visual effects and characteristics of the certain stone. Among them were – color, clarity to a lesser extent (emeralds always have a number of inclusions), form and cut, unusual optical phenomena within the stone such as color zoning (the uneven spread of color within a gem) and asteria (star effects).
The Greeks itself, for example, greatly valued asteria gems, which they regarded as powerful love charms. Even Helen of Troy was enjoying wearing star-corundum.
Gaston Bussiere – Helen of Troy (1900) and 60 carat sky blue star sapphire and diamond necklace designed by Marcus & Co.
Why precious and semi-precious gems classification is misleading?
Nowadays, only four gemstones belong traditionally to the list of precious – diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. All other gemstones considered semi-precious.
Following division reflects and is solely based on the rarity and quality of the respective stones in ancient times. Diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald are glassy with fine color in their purest forms, except for the colorless diamond. According to the Mohs scale they are very hard, with hardnesses of 8 to 10.
Mentioned above classification does not reflect nowadays situation completely, for example, while garnets are relatively cheap, a green garnet called tsavorite can be far more valuable than a mid-quality emerald.
Therefore, terms ‘precious’ and ‘semi-precious‘ are misleading. They falsely imply that certain stones are in fact more valuable than others. This is not necessarily the case. This drives me to the idea that precious/semi-precious classification is a commercial based in some kind and was a division that marketers created years ago.
Moreover, as a proof to said above, Ancient Greeks considered opal and pearls among precious. And pearls are not, strictly speaking, a gemstones. Amethyst was in the precious list as well up to 19th century, when Brazilians discovered bulk amethyst. Aquamarine, peridot and cat’s eye (cymophane) were very popular in last century and that is why people seen them precious.
Unfortunately, nowadays gemstone traders do not make following differentiation anymore. Therefore, typical customers tend to perceive tens of amazingly beautiful gemstones as a second-rate products.
A lot of famous designers and brands use semi-precious gems in their the most expensive jewelry. But, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds still have a reputation that exceeds those of other gemstones.
Don’t value semi-precious gemstones less than precious!
So, this is my call to all our beloved readers, please, don’t value semi-precious gemstones less than precious as they can be far more beautiful, far more interesting, far more individual and even far more expensive.
Some of them, like lapis lazuli and amber are in use since the beginning of times, the times of pharaons and imperators. Even the King Solomon, “the mightiest and wisest ruler of the earth that ever was or shall be. Wealthy beyond measure.” was wearing a ring with lapis lazuli and not a diamond.
Following classification, is a concept that puts misleading ideas of truth into consumers’ minds. Don’t be like they want you to be, but be yourself! Open your heart to the semi-precious stones, and I promise, you will never regret it!
Photo References: martinnagel.com, bnsec.bluenile.com, lanmijewel.com,