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If you are looking to find information on diamonds, there is no shortage of it online and in print. Learning about gemstones, on the other hand, can be more of a challenge. With a very long history of adorning royalty and being a contemporary, colorful alternative to diamonds, gemstones also have an appeal that is undeniable.
In this guide from Bright Blue Dot Jewelry, we’ll take a look at the factors that go into determining gemstone quality, take a look at some of the more popular gemstones and, finally, discuss the practice of color treating and other enhancement techniques.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Determining Gemstone Quality.
The four Cs have long been the criteria by which diamonds are graded. It’s not just diamonds that are measured this way, however. When it comes to determining gemstone quality, the four Cs are critical. For a quick refresher, the four Cs are: color, clarity, carat, and cut.
Let’s look at them all in further detail here.
It’s only natural that a conversation about gemstone quality should start with color. While gemstones come in many colors—in fact, some gemstones come in multiple colors—the criteria upon which gemstone color is graded include: hue, tone and saturation.
When discussing gemstones, it is important to keep these terms in mind to ensure you get just the gemstone jewelry you are looking for. As mentioned, sapphire comes in hue besides blue. This is not uncommon. Garnet, for instance, comes in all colors, though red is its most recognized hue.
When we talk about the clarity of a gemstone, we are talking about the pureness of the gemstones and the amount of “inclusions” the stone has. Inclusions are small imperfections in a gemstone. Because they are natural, all gemstones are subject to inclusions. Ideally, however, the fewer the inclusions the greater the value of the gemstone as these inclusions can alter the path of light through a gemstone and potential reduce its overall brilliance.
Gemstones with a lighter color are more subject to the effects of inclusions, which is another reason why deeper-colored stones are usually preferred by buyers. That said, however, some gemstones are more subject to inclusions than others.
Gemstones more prone to inclusions are emeralds and red tourmalines. On the other hand, gemstones less prone to inclusions are citrine, red tourmaline and aquamarine. Remember, however, the number of inclusions should not be seen as a deciding factor on its own. The ways color and cut affect gemstones can help to minimize the effects of the inclusions, leaving you with a pretty clear looking gemstone that has plenty of sparkle.
Carat and Rarity
The blanket term “gemstones” encompasses many different individual gemstones and some are naturally rarer than others. Rarer gemstones, as you can probably predict, are worth more and carat for carat their price reflects it. Before we get too much further, however, let’s talk about carat weight and just what it is.
Carat weight, in its most basic sense, is the unit of measurement given to the weight and, often related, the overall size of the gemstone. A carat is 1/5 of a gram. Gemstones all have their own densities so that a sapphire and a topaz, for example, may have the same carat weight, but different overall sizes and vice versa. Gemstones, then are sold by carat weight instead of overall size. Some savvy buyers, knowing this, are able to get big, beautiful red garnets for the price of much smaller red rubies. If you keep your options open, you can find beautiful gemstone jewelry in all carats and sizes.
The term “cut” is one of the more misunderstood terms in relation to jewelry. When we talk about a gemstone’s cut, we are actually talking about two different, but related, aspects: shape and precision.
It goes without saying that a gem cutter takes a raw gemstone and sets to cut it precisely and in the shape that brings out the most possible brilliance of the gemstones. Let’s look a little more closely at both of these terms:
All of these factors together create a balance of factors that result in the overall value of gemstone jewelry. Keeping them in mind when shopping for gemstone jewelry will help you find the perfect match for you.
As mentioned earlier, there are many different varieties of gemstones. This is due, in part, to the number of different types and gemstones and, more commonly, the chemical makeup of certain gemstones to come in more than one color. For instance, topaz comes in a handful of very popular colors.
The tradition of birthstones has led us to understand some of the more popular gemstones. Indeed, if not for birthstones, how many people would be familiar with a gemstone such as peridot? Here, then, we will take a close look at some of the more popular gemstones among retailers.
Ruby – A ruby is the red color of gemstone family known as “corundum.” The presence of chrome in its mineral makeup is what gives it that signature red color that is different from other stones in the corundum family. It’s the chrome that also gives ruby its inherent strength and hardness. You may also recognize ruby as the birthstone for the month of July.
Sapphire – We just mentioned that the ruby is from the corundum family. Well, every other member of the corundum family is a sapphire! While you may instantly recognize that deep blue color that characterizes so many sapphires, these gemstones actually come in a wide range of colors, including: pink, yellow, orange, green, purple and, yes, even white. Sapphire is the birthstone for the month of September.
Tourmaline – We now know that sapphire comes in a variety of colors, but tourmaline comes in more colors than any other stone. The range of colors combines with a hardness that is very resistant to everyday wear makes tourmaline a popular choice among jewelers and buyers alike.
Citrine – Quartz is a stone that comes in many forms—one of which is citrine. You’ll identify a citrine by its warm color that ranges from yellow, to orange, to light brown and just about any shade in between. November babies will recognize the citrine as their birthstone. It’s also the anniversary stone for the lucky 13th anniversary.
Aquamarine – The name “aquamarine” echoes watery sentiment that is echoed by the lovely blue or turquoise color of this gemstone. This particular gemstone is from the beryl family of minerals and often presents very clean with little-to-no inclusions that leads to absolutely brilliant gemstone jewelry. Aquamarine is the birthstone for the month of March.
Garnet – Whereas other gemstones are often part of a larger mineral group, garnets are a collection of a group of closely related minerals. The minerals are plentiful and allow garnet gemstones to sell at a very affordable rate. They come in nearly every color of the spectrum, which makes them popular among jewelers as they transcend trends. In addition, red garnet is the January birthstone.
Emerald – Long revered as the gemstone of choice in many cultures, emerald is a member of the beryl family, just like aquamarine. The deep green color can attributed to the presence of chromium in the mineral. In addition to being the birthstone of the month for May, it is the gemstone for 20th and 35th wedding anniversaries.
Amethyst – Noted for its varying shades of purple, amethyst is from the quartz family. The beautiful purple color has a cult following of people who love purple as it also look nice in a variety of metals, from white gold, to yellow gold, to silver. It is the birthstone for the month of February and the gemstone for the 6th anniversary.
Peridot – Sporting a color that ranges from deep green to yellowish-green, peridot is a very clear stone that is sometimes used when emeralds are unavailable. It’s a very hard stone that holds up well to everyday wear. In addition, those born in August will recognize this as their birthstone.
Smoky Quartz – Another member of the quartz family, smoky quartz is characterized by its brown color and clear transparency. This gemstone is seen more as sultry or sophisticated than more colorful stones. This appearance is often its biggest advantage and, often, its biggest setback as there isn’t much of audience for smoky quartz, but those who like it tend to love it.
Topaz – Another gemstone that comes in a wide variety of colors, topaz is one of the most popular gemstones in the world when you total up the prominence of popular topaz colors, such as blue topaz, pink topaz and white topaz. Beyond that, however, topaz comes in yellow, flax, brown, green, red and more. The geological name for topaz is fluorine aluminum silicate and the blue version of topaz is the birthstone for the month of December.
Color Treating and Enhancing.
Now that we have learned about what goes into determining gemstone quality, as well as the qualities of some of the most popular gemstones, we are going to look at color treating and enhancement techniques that aim to produce more desirable gemstones.
So, what makes a more desirable gemstone? Well, taking what we already know, certain colors of a particular gemstone are more popular than others. Some gemstones are harder than others. Still further, some gemstones are more resistant to scratches and nicks. That said, there are techniques that can address all of these qualities.
Irradiation – This technique is aimed to alter the color of a gemstone by exposing it to high levels of neutrons or heat. This type of treatment can, for example, make a lighter colored sapphire darker.
Bleaching – This technique used to lighten the color of a gemstone. In some cases, this bleaching can take advantage of some gemstones’ natural clarity and result in a more brilliant gemstone.
Dyeing – This is yet another technique used to alter the color of a gemstone. Instead of changing a gemstone’s overall hue or tone, dying can be used to create a more uniform color in stones that present an uneven tone.
Coating - With this technique, the end results is often defined by the chemical reaction between the gemstone and the coating agent. Using film, enamel of foil to cover gemstones can alter the color or add certain effects.
Laser Treatment – As we learn that too many inclusions in a gemstone can dull the overall appearance, laser treatment aims to reach deep into a gemstone and alter inclusions to achieve greater clarity.
Bonding – Porous gemstones are more brittle and, as a result, more susceptible to breaking. Bonding is a technique that fills in the holes of porous gemstones with a clear substance—most often plastic—in an effort to make the gemstone stronger.
Waxing/Oiling – This technique is somewhat similar to bonding in that it aims to improve porous stones. Instead of focusing on strength, however, it is more concerned with appearance. In this technique, wax, oil or paraffin is infused into the pores of the gemstones to create a more desirable consistency that play better with light.
While some people prefer the end result of these treatments, others are purists and consider it tampering. We’ll leave the final word on that matter to you.