Is a Diamond a Gemstone? What's the Difference?

"Aren't gemstones just lower quality diamond alternatives?"

And is that even the right distinction to make? Read on for a brief explanation of the differences between a diamond and a gemstone.



The Definition

To start with a boring gemological definition ;)

A gem or gemstone is a precious stone that possesses 

  • beauty, 
  • durability and 
  • rarity. 
Gemstone Engagement Ring Alternative: Diamonds vs. Gemstones

  Lavender Breeze ring with rare lilac spinels. 

If these 3 conditions are fulfilled we call stones ‘gem-quality’ stones vs. stones that are used for industrial purposes. Gemstones may then be cut and polished (and often treated as well) to be prepared for use in jewellery or they can remain in their natural form and they may or may not be set in a piece of jewellery.

More precisely, most gemstones are: 

  • made of minerals, 
  • which occur naturally in the earth,
  • with a defined chemical composition and 
  • a clear atomic structure. 
So according to this definition, is a diamond a gemstone? Yes!

And to make a distinction between a diamond and a gemstone is incorrect.

The right distinction to make is between a diamond and a coloured gem(stone) - or sometimes we just call them ‘colour stones’ - as most diamonds are colourless.

Now as you know, diamonds can also come in colours… Where do they fit in this picture? 

We will never call them ‘coloured gemstones’ but refer to them as ‘coloured diamonds’ or ‘fancy colour diamonds’. 

 Gemstone Diagram: Difference between a Diamond and a Gemstone
 Gemstone diagram: difference between a diamond and a gemstone.

Colour in Diamonds  

The colour of diamonds is typically described and graded through the colour grading scale of D-to-Z which was invented by the GIA (the Gemological Institute of America, the biggest gemological institute in the world with a focus on diamonds in particular).

The colours range from the best colourless (or ‘white’) D-diamonds through light yellow, with Z being a heavily tinted yellow diamond.

But all diamonds along this D-to-Z scale are still considered ‘white diamonds’.

So, a Z-diamond is a heavily tinted white diamond. 

Diamonds in the D-to-Z range generally decrease in value as the colour becomes more evident.


Discover Coloured Gemstones: Diamonds vs. Gemstones

  Me at a pop-up during New York Fashion Week! 

Now fancy colour diamonds is another story.

These are yellow and brown diamonds that exhibit colours beyond the Z range (so more intense yellows and browns) or diamonds of another colour altogether.

They can come in any colour, the ‘least valuable’ of the fancy colour diamonds are the intense yellow and brown ones, and red, green, purple and orange diamonds are considered the most rare, followed by pink and blue diamonds. 

These fancy colour diamonds are extremely rare and very valuable; we are talking about Sotheby’s and Christie’s type of quality (or Liz Taylor, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez kind of quality who either got engaged in fancy colour diamonds or just owned a few pieces).

Most fancy diamond colours are not intense or pure in colour however, but rather muted.

For instance, a good quality ‘pink diamond’ is still very pale pink compared to a good quality pink sapphire or spinel!   

Coloured Gemstones

So, coloured gemstones imply refer to any other gem species than diamonds and are not, per definition, of lesser quality.

Both diamonds and colour stones can come in lower and in the highest quality but they need to be graded on a case-by-case basis and with their own respective grading system. 

Gemstone Earrings: Diamonds vs. Gemstones
Dangling Lavender Breeze earrings, great to pair up with the ring...
For example, there are rubies that sell for $10/carat in the wholesale market and rare, fine-quality rubies that can sell for millions - the most expensive ruby being the “Sunrise Ruby”, a Cartier ruby ring that was auctioned at Sotheby’s Geneva May auction in 2015 for $30,335,698 for a 25.59 carat Burmese ruby from the famous mountainous area of Mogok. 

Also lesser well-known coloured gemstones like red and pink spinels, tsavorite garnets, paraiba tourmalines can sell for several tens of thousands of dollars, wholesale… 

When you realise on top of that that most diamonds up to 3 - 4 carat are not rare at all and of average quality, with inflated profit margins and prices that are kept artificially high through supply and demand being controlled by a cartel of the diamond producing companies, you see nothing is as straightforward as you might have thought.

Are you thinking about taking the plunge into the world of colour but aren't quite sure whether you're ready to steer away from the plain diamond? Let me know if I can help with any questions about precious coloured gemstones!

And if you're ready to start your journey with a bespoke rare gemstone jewellery piece, let's arrange a complimentary, virtual or physical, consultation to discover the jewel that's best for you!


Until next time, 

Eva xxx