When it comes to fine jewelry, gemstones are the alluring stars that often steal the show. Although diamonds typically take center stage, an array of other gemstones offer a wide spectrum of colors and symbolism. Colored Gemstones originate from all over the word; This guide will delve into some of the most common gemstones you’ll see in fine jewelry, offering a new appreciation to the variety and beauty of these precious and semi-precious stones.
Recognized for their deep, rich green color, emeralds are members of the Beryl family of minerals. Highly prized in fine jewelry, the value of an emerald can often surpass that of a diamond due to its rarity and color. They symbolize rebirth and love, and their vibrant hue brings elegance and sophistication to any piece.
The majority of the world’s emeralds are mined in Colombia and Zambia. Colombia’s emeralds are highly sought after for their pure green hue, while Zambian emeralds are known for their deep, bluish-green color.
Rubies are revered for their fiery red color, representing passion and protection. They belong to the Corundum mineral family, and their durability is second only to diamonds, making them excellent choices for everyday wear. Fine rubies with little to no imperfections are incredibly rare and highly valued.
Historically, the Mogok region of Burma, now Myanmar, has produced exquisite rubies with a pure, saturated red color known as ‘pigeon’s blood’. However, Thailand’s Chanthaburi and Trat districts are also significant ruby sources, producing stones with a darker, more garnet-like color.
Sapphires, famed for their royal blue color, are part of the corundum family and come in nearly every color except red. They symbolize wisdom and nobility, making them a popular choice for ceremonial jewelry and engagement rings. These gemstones are mined worldwide, including locations such as Madagascar, Australia, the United States, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Kenya, and Tanzania. However, the three most prominent sources, known for their high-quality sapphires, are Kashmir, Burma, and Sri Lanka.
The sapphires mined from Kashmir are the most rare and valuable. The Kashmir mines were active for only about 40 years between 1880 and 1920, which contributes to the rarity and high value of these stones. Sri Lanka, previously known as Ceylon until its independence from Britain in 1948, is a significant source of vibrant sapphires. The blue sapphires from Sri Lanka, referred to as Ceylon Sapphires, are renowned for their lighter, brighter, and more vivid hues compared to the darker blue sapphires from other regions. These Sri Lankan or Ceylon Sapphires have a rich history dating back to the second century A.D., making Sri Lanka home to some of the world’s oldest sapphire mines. Their popularity peaked during the fourth and fifth centuries when they were extensively traded internationally, establishing their lasting appeal and importance in the gemstone market.
These charming purple stones are a variety of quartz, known for their wide range of purple shades. Once as expensive as rubies and emeralds, amethysts became more accessible once large deposits were found in Brazil. They are believed to promote calmness and balance, making them a popular choice for spiritual or meditation jewelry.
Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state is one of the world’s leading amethyst producers, with mines extracting the gem from volcanic rocks. Uruguay’s Artigas region also has large amethyst deposits, with the stones often found inside geodes in the area’s basalt flows. With a hardiness rating of 7 on the Moh’s scale, Amethyst and it’s fellow quartz varieties are ideal for pendants and earrings.
Opals are truly unique gemstones. They exhibit a range of colors in a single stone through a phenomenon known as “play-of-color.” The presence of tiny silica spheres within the stone diffracts light to create this dazzling effect. Opals symbolize hope, innocence, and purity.
Coober Pedy in South Australia is known as the opal capital of the world, with the town’s opal fields producing an abundance of precious white opal. The Lightning Ridge area, also in Australia, is known for its rare and valuable black opal.
The Boulder Opal is another variety of Opal that is quite lovely. These distinctive gemstones are unique in that the opal forms in a thin layer within the fissures and cavities of ironstone boulders. The opal layer is often left attached to the ironstone backing when cut and polished, providing a dark and dramatic backdrop that enhances the opal’s vibrant play-of-color.
The Queensland mining fields in Australia are a primary source for these beautiful boulder opals. Their captivating interplay of color and unique patterns, framed by the raw, rugged ironstone, makes each boulder opal a unique piece of art.
While technically not gemstones, pearls have been an integral part of fine jewelry for centuries. Formed within mollusks, pearls are the only gems derived from a living creature. They come in various colors, including white, black, grey, and pink, and symbolize wisdom and integrity. The deep green & rose ‘oil slick color combination known as Peacock is highly desirable among Tahitian Pearls
Natural pearls are most commonly sourced from the Persian Gulf, especially around Bahrain. Japan, however, revolutionized the industry in the early 20th century by developing methods to cultivate pearls, making them more widely available. Natural pearls are now extremely rare.
Known for their captivating sea-blue color, Aquamarines are the blue to blue-green variety of Beryl, the same mineral family that emeralds belong to. These gemstones have been cherished for their tranquility and soothing characteristics, symbolizing harmony and trust.
Historically, the most famous deposits of aquamarine have been in the country of Brazil. However, other significant sources include the African countries of Madagascar, Kenya, and Nigeria. Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains are also well-known for producing stunning aquamarines, often found in pegmatite deposits. As with Emeralds, Aquamarines are best suited for pendants and earrings or light wear in a ring.
Tourmalines are among the most versatile of gemstones, owing to their availability in an almost endless variety of colors. From luscious greens to deep reds and even multi-colored specimens, tourmalines are beloved for their unique chromatic range. They are also known for their durability, making them suitable for all types of jewelry.
Historically, the most significant tourmaline deposits are found in Brazil and Africa, specifically Nigeria and Mozambique. However, they are also found in several locations in the United States, predominantly California and Maine. The unique watermelon tourmaline, with its green exterior and pink core, is one of the most sought-after varieties. Symbolically, tourmalines are believed to promote inspiration and happiness, lending an emotional depth to their physical beauty.
Peridot is one of the few gemstones that come in a single color: a vibrant, olive green. These gems are formed deep within the Earth’s mantle and are brought to the surface by volcanic activity. Their green hue represents nature and is believed to bring healing and protection.
Peridot is one of the few gemstones found in meteorites, though these extraterrestrial specimens are extremely rare. The world’s largest peridot deposit is located on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, USA.
Garnets are a group of minerals that come in a rainbow of colors, but they are most commonly known for their deep red hue. They are believed to represent commitment, honesty, and hope. Their durability and versatility make them suitable for various types of jewelry.
Garnets are found worldwide, with major deposits in Africa, India, and Sri Lanka. Russia’s Ural Mountains were historically the leading source of garnets, known for their distinctive emerald-green variety called demantoid. Tsavorite is also a beautiful green variety, and Spessartite is a vibrant orange!
There is a world of gemstones beyond diamonds, each with its unique characteristics, color, and symbolism. Next time you’re shopping for fine jewelry or working with a designer to create a custom piece, consider these captivating gemstones. Consulting a Certified Gemologist is also always helpful. They not only add color and individuality to your collection but also carry stories and meanings that can make your jewelry truly special.
Thanks for reading,
J. Briggs and Co Team
Everyone approaches the world of jewelry in their own way. With so many wonderful options, it is the perfect medium to express your personal style, commemorate a life event, send a message or simply accessorize. But let’s face it; things change. Trends go in and out, families get larger or smaller, relationships fizzle, new ones ignite…what to do with the jewelry? I assure you, it does no one any good to leave it in a box unseen for years. And check this out: diamonds are between one and three BILLION years old! They do not expire. Let’s talk options.
The opportunities for re-designing older jewelry and giving it new life are endless. Taking a stone from a necklace and turning it into a ring, for example, can be an affordable option. Removing stones from several dated jewelry pieces and combining them into one modernized, custom pendant that fits your look and lifestyle, is another way to give your gems a new home. And as an added bonus, the metal from the old jewelry can be traded in as credit toward the new piece. Having a box of unworn jewelry is like having a box of cash just sitting there!
In other instances, you may receive gorgeous heirloom jewelry that has been passed down from generation to generation, yet you want to change a few aspects of it to make it your own and think, “How can I make this my own without losing Grandma along the way?” Preserving the integrity of the piece while customizing it to the current wearer takes a jewelry artist who can envision the bridge between the two.
Here are some tips on transforming your estate jewelry into works of art:
1. Don’t sell it! Make it your own…and work it. Selling your jewelry only yields 30-40% of its value, on average. Instead, turn it into something you’ll be excited to show off. This is especially true for diamonds, where the return can be even lower.
2. Gift it to your daughter. There is nothing more special than creating a custom design to give to your child. Engraving can add a special touch, as can adding birthstones.
3. When in doubt…remount! Remounting is a great way to preserve your jewelry. It gives you the opportunity to merge estate jewelry with your current pieces to create a new specialty design.
Taking your jewels from ho-hum to heavenly is worth the time and effort it takes. Mother earth has given us the gift of these beautiful treasures, and they are perfect for recycling, & reinventing. Seeking out a professional designer and certified gemologist who concentrates in this genre will ensure you end up with a stunning piece that represents you, the wearer.