Coloured Gems: Your Questions, Answered
Let's answer a few of your most frequently asked gemstone questions!
What is a gemstone?
A gem is a precious stone that possesses beauty, durability and rarity. Gemstones may be cut and polished or remain in their natural form and they may or may not be set in a piece of fine jewellery. Most gemstones are made of minerals, inorganic solids which occur naturally in the earth. On top of that, most minerals have a defined chemical composition and a clear atomic or "crystalline" structure.
And so, most gemstones are minerals. And yes, also diamonds are gemstones!
What is a coloured gemstone?
Coloured gemstones, more specifically, refer to any gem other than a diamond as diamonds are typically white.
Some diamonds can also be coloured but they will never be considered or called "coloured gemstones". They are called "coloured diamonds" or "fancy colour diamonds".
And so we make the sub-division between coloured gemstones on the one hand, and (colorless) diamonds on the other. But both groups are considered gemstones.
Precious vs. semi-precious gemstones... what's the difference?
Historically, "precious stones" referred to the Big Four of gemstones: diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, while "semi-precious stones" covered everything else. "Precious" used to signify a higher relative value. Today, these concepts have little application in terms of true value since gemstones exist at every quality level and must always be individually assessed.
For example, rubies and sapphires can sell for as little as $5 per carat in their lowest quality on the wholesale market, while the relatively unknown fine green garnet may fetch up to $5000 per carat or more.
In this example, it would be totally inaccurate to label the latter garnet "semi-precious"! Precious and semi-precious is a historic distinction which is no longer useful today. It doesn't take into account that there are younger fine-quality gemstones on the market today that have only been discovered in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. These younger stones, such as the green tsavorite garnet, simply miss the century-old marketing which the Big Four have undergone.
That doesn't mean, however, these younger gemstones should automatically be categorised as semi-precious stones! And so, gemologists don't use that distinction.
Are coloured gemstones of lower quality than diamonds?
Learn your stones before you buy one and get the know the pros and cons of each gemstone, including of diamonds. Because yes, also diamonds have their weak spots.
Also know that there are fine quality coloured gemstones, such as spinels, certain garnets, tourmalines and beryls and the finest rubies and blue sapphires that are extremely rare - much more so than most diamonds - and which can cost more than a diamond.
What is a "carat" (ct)?
Gemstones are weighed by metric carat, which is one fifth of a gram (so 1 carat = 1/5 gram and 1 gram = 5 carats).
Pro tip: height/depth x length x width in mm is also a useful measurement to indicate the size of a gemstone. This system will help you determine what size best suits your personal proportions.
Please note, a "carat" is distinguished from "karat," which is a measurement of gold purity.
Shopping for coloured gemstone jewellery vs. diamond jewellery... is there a difference?
First off, whether you select a diamond or a coloured gemstone, you should always choose a fine jewellery design that perfectly suits your personal style as well as your lifestyle.
Both diamonds and coloured gemstones share a quality grading system, based on the Four Cs: color, clarity, cut and carat weight.
But that's where the similarities between shopping for diamonds and coloured gemstones end.
Diamond grading is actually easier than coloured gemstone grading for the following reasons:
- Diamonds are almost entirely free of colour. They are mostly white, which largely simplifies their evaluation. Coloured gemstones however, are the opposite with millions of colour variations. What one person may call "orange-red" another may describe as "pinkish-red" which shows the subjective nature of the judgement and so, colour assessment is best done by an expert who has seen many coloured stones.
- Coloured stones often have a variety of inclusions, while the majority of diamonds feature little to no inclusions. While Inclusions tend to not be much loved by consumers, they actually prove the stone is natural and can show the stone's origin - and are generally considered a major bonus for gem connoisseurs!
- Most diamonds are cut as round brilliants, with only a slight variation in proportions and shape. On the other hand, coloured gemstones rarely feature a round cut. Colour stones are as unique as their wearer, and come in an endless array of cuts and facet patterns.
What is the best way to shop for coloured gemstones?
Two quick tips:
- Research the gemstones you think are beautiful. It really pays off to do some research on your own before you go to a jeweller. Get to know the names of the colour stones you love. Find out whether these stones tend to be natural and untreated or whether treatments are acceptable for that stone and if so, which type of treatments. Also know if the stone is rare (like a paraiba tourmaline) or whether you're dealing with a more common gemstone, such as amethyst. The rarity and beauty will have an impact on the stone's price.
- Consult a credible gemologist who can answer all of your specific questions and help you create precious jewellery that best suits your needs, budget and taste. I would of course love to help if you like!
Every gem starts with a unique story: working with a jewellery designer who is specialised in coloured gemstones can ensure that you will discover the perfect gemstone for your own colourful story.
Ready to take the plunge into the world of colour?!
Choose a jewellery piece from my curated collection of atelier jewellery or select a coloured gemstone and embark on a bespoke luxury adventure creating a piece of jewellery yourself that perfectly represents your singular style.