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
Gemstones for Everyday Wear
J. Briggs & Co.
The saying “diamonds are forever” has its basis in fact. Among the sturdiest of gemstones, diamonds stand up to punishment better than many other stones. In fact, diamonds rate a score of 10 on the Mohs gemstone hardness scale, the highest rating of any gem. That’s one of the reasons that diamonds are the timeless, popular choice for all types of jewelry, from engagement rings to diamond studs.
But hardness is not the only measure of a gemstone. Toughness is also a factor to consider when deciding whether to wear your gemstone out to a certain occasion or during everyday activities. While hardness refers to a gem’s resistance to scratching, it doesn’t necessarily describe its durability. A gem’s toughness relates to its resistance to cleaving, chipping, or wearing. Some gems simply crack or wear down more easily than others.
In addition to hardness and toughness, it’s important to consider the piece of jewelry in which a gemstone is set. Rings see the most abuse of any jewelry because we use our hands so much and the gems end up being exposed to more bumps and bruises. Other pieces, like earrings and pendants, are less likely to come into contact with other surfaces, keeping the stones within them safer than those in a ring.
When considering gemstones that are most suitable for rings, a Mohs hardness rating of 7 or higher is generally deemed suitable for mounting in a ring setting, but toughness does come into play. For example, while emeralds rate an 8 on the Mohs scale, they are prone to fracturing easily. Certain types of settings can prove protective to vulnerable gems, so choosing the right setting in which to mount your gemstone is a conversation to have with your jeweler when designing a ring.
Gemstones that don’t rate high in hardness and toughness can still be mounted in rings, but should be worn occasionally and with greater care than a ring would normally see in everyday wear. After all, a ring sees very different action during a night out on the town than it does while cooking or cleaning at home.
It’s important to know the specifics of your gemstones. Some, like pearls, can be susceptible to chemicals because they are porous. Others, like peridot and aquamarine, shouldn’t be exposed to acids. Opals are very susceptible to damage being low on both hardness and toughness. To better understand your gemstones, their wearability, and how to care for them, consult your jeweler (or certified gemologist). If you’re designing a new piece, your jewelry designer can help you take into account the features of the gemstone you are mounting and work with its unique features to design a setting and piece that is the most protective.
Diamonds are both hard and tough (plus they go with just about everything!), making them ideal for wearing on most occasions. And you might not realize that diamonds come in more than one color, but that’s a topic for a future blog! Below is a short list for your reference. If you have questions about the suitability of your gemstones for everyday wear or if you’re looking to set a stone in the an appropriate setting to get the most use from it, contact designer and certified gemologist J.Briggs to set up a consultation.
The long-standing fascination with emeralds may simply lie in their intense, radiant green color. Although rare in the gemology word, imperfections and inclusions are often tolerated in this beautiful stone, happily overlooked by many in exchange for the visual pleasure that this May birthstone brings. The bigger issue affecting the significant price and marketability of emeralds is the presence of a rich, dark green color.
Emeralds have a good hardness of 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale and belong to the large gemstone family of the beryls. Pure beryl is colorless. The colors do not occur until traces of another element are added. In the case of the emerald, it is mainly chromium and vanadium, concentrated (unusually) in different parts of the Earth’s crust. The tension created during this process produces some minor flaws in the stone – and some major ones. Only seldom is a large emerald with good color and transparency found, which is the primary reason emeralds are so valuable.
Rubies, sapphires and emeralds form the “big three” of colored stones, generating more economic activity than all other colored stones combined. In the last several years, the value of emeralds imported into the U.S. exceeded the value of rubies and sapphires combined.
Today, many emeralds are enhanced with colorless oils or resins. Although a common industry practice, it is done so with the caution of consequence, as these green treasures react very sensitively. While the hardness of emeralds protect it from scratches, its many fissures can make cutting, setting and cleaning rather difficult. When cutting takes place, the substances used or applied seals the fine pores in the surface of the gem. Removing them gives the stone a “matte” appearance. Emerald rings should also always be taken off before the wearer puts his or her hands in water containing cleansing agent and they cannot be cleaned in an ultrasonic bath.
A hard, but not tough stone, perhaps the lure of the emerald can be summed up by Roman Philosopher Pliny the Elder’s writing that “green gladdened the eye without tiring it.” True enough, the love affair with emeralds continues to evoke emotions in jewelry lovers everywhere.
Adopted from the Greek work “adamas,” meaning invincible, diamonds come in a wide range of colors such as black, blue, green, pink, red, purple, orange and yellow.
If you have a hard time remembering what different cuts of diamonds look like or are called, here’s your perfect cheat sheet for the Top 10 Cuts for the birthstones of our April babies:
ROUND: The most popular shape — owning nearly 75% of all diamonds sold — round cuts are considered superior to ornate shapes. At the proper reflection of light, their maximum potential brightness outshines the competition.
PRINCESS: The princess cut diamond is the most popular ornate diamond shape, especially for engagement rings. Like rounds, princess cuts are practical choices because of their flexibility in working in almost any style of ring.
OVAL: The oval diamond has an elongated shape often creating the illusion of being a larger diamond.
MARQUISE: This cut is football-shaped. Because the marquise diamond is long and narrow, it can also create the illusion of greater size. Carat for carat, the marquise diamond has one of the largest surface areas of any diamond shape.
PEAR-SHAPED: The pear-shaped diamond is a combination of a round and a marquise shape, with a tapered point on one end. In a perfect world, this type of diamond should have very good symmetry, with the point lining up with the apex of the rounded end, and the shoulders and wings (the upper and lower curves on the right and left side of the diamond) should be uniform.
CUSHION: The cushion cut diamond combines a square cut with rounded corners, much like a pillow (its namesake!). This classic cut has been around for almost 200 years. Refinements have led to a resurgence in popularity for this lovely cut.
EMERALD CUT: The emerald cut is quite unique. Although not designed to sparkle, by interchanging light and dark planes during refinement, a “hall-of-mirrors” effect is achieved — a beautiful illusion that creates extraordinary broad flashes of white light to contrast the dark planes. This “step cut” process varies from the more traditional “brilliant cut” method, which provides more sparkle. Emerald cut diamonds will make inclusions or body color easier to see.
ASSCHER CUT: First produced in 1902 by the Asscher Brothers of Holland, an asscher cut diamond is similar to the emerald cut, but in a square shape with larger step facets, a higher crown, and a smaller table (the uppermost, flat surface of a diamond). This combination often produces more brilliance (sparkle!) than the emerald cut.
RADIANT CUT: The radiant cut creates a vibrant and lively diamond with a modified square shape, a nice bridge between a cushion and a princess cut, making it look stunning when set with both rounded or square cornered diamonds.
HEART SHAPED: There’s no mistaking a heart-shaped diamond. Popular in solitaire pendants as well as rings, heart-shaped cuts are best utilized with diamonds more .50 carats in size, since the heart shape is more difficult to recognize in smaller stones, once set in prongs.