Minerals: Common Precious Stones

A guide to common precious and semi-precious stones used in jewelry, including descriptions of each.

Everyone knows what precious stones are, but not everyone knows which stones are precious. Beyond that, a lot of people become confused when it comes to semi-precious stones... after all, what does "semi-precious" mean in relation to gems, and which ones are semi-precious?

Precious stones are those stones which are both rare and beautiful... they're usually more expensive than other stones, because people want them more and they're harder to find. The true precious stones are diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Of course, there are lab-created versions of all of these stones, which duplicate the look of them for a fraction of the price.

Semi-precious stones are also prized for their appearance, but are easier to get ahold of than their precious counterparts. The price of a semi-precious stone is usually lower than that of a precious stone, and there have been times in the past when a stone that many considered to be precious fell to semi-precious when a large quantity was discovered in some part of the earth. (It should be noted, though, that both precious and semi-precious stones are often referred to simply as "precious" by some jewelers or gem sellers.)

Precious gems are usually easy to recognize. Diamonds are usually clear, and have a very crisp and clean appearance to them (though there are lower-grade diamonds that have visible defects or a yellow color to them). Rubies are usually a rich and brilliant red, though they may appear orange or brown in their rough form. Emeralds are usually a deep green, though their colors can range from a very light green to a dark blue-green. Sapphires are usually a very pure blue, though "fancy" sapphires can range in color from yellow to red, as well as green.

Many more semi-precious stones exist... after all, there are over 130 different minerals which are used as gemstones, and at least 50 of them are used with regularity. In addition, non-mineral organic components are sometimes cut and polished for use as semi-precious stones.

The most common semi-precious stones include minerals such as garnet, which is a lot like ruby in color though sometimes has a deeper red, and amethyst, a lavender-to-purple mineral that is prized for its beauty. Other semi-precious stones are jade (used extensively in ancient India and the Orient, an opaque stone that is most often seen is shades of green but can also be black or yellow), opal (a stone known for it's "fire", or internal shine, and that ranges in color from bright orange to white or black), tiger's eye (a beautiful stone that appears mostly black in light, but allows some of it's gold-to-yellow color to shine through in the middle and on the sides), quartz (a common mineral, often transparent, that is related to tiger's eye and amethyst and that comes in most colors), and turquoise (an opaque mineral that shares the blue color of it's name, as well as black veins within it.)

Organic materials sometimes used in gem work include amber (fossilized tree sap, often yellow or orange in color), bone, pearl, ivory, and coral.

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