What’s the Difference Between a Diamond and a Gemstone?
“Aren’t gemstones just lower quality diamond alternatives?”
And is that even the right distinction to make?… A brief insider explanation of the difference between a diamond and a gemstone.
To start with a boring gemological definition 😉
A gem or gemstone is a precious stone that possesses:
- durability and
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 jewelry or they can remain in their natural form and they may or may not be set in a piece of jewelry.
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, diamonds are also gemstones!
And to make a distinction between a diamond and a gemstone is incorrect. The right distinction to make is between a diamond and a colored gem(stone) - or sometimes we just call them ‘color stones’ - as most diamonds are colorless.
Now as you know, diamonds can also come in colors… Where do they fit in this picture?
We will never call them ‘colored gemstones’ but refer to them as ‘colored diamonds’ or ‘fancy color diamonds’.
Color in Diamonds
The color of diamonds is typically described and graded through the color 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 colors range from the best colorless (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 color becomes more evident.
Now fancy color diamonds is another story. These are yellow and brown diamonds that exhibit colors beyond the Z range (so more intense yellows and browns) or diamonds of another color altogether. They can come in any color, the ‘least valuable’ of the fancy color 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 color 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 color diamonds or just owned a few pieces).
Most fancy diamond colors are not intense or pure in color 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!
So, colored gemstones simply refer to any other gem species than diamonds and are not per definition of lesser quality.
Both diamonds and color 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.
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 25.59ct Burmese ruby from the famous mountainous area of Mogok.
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.
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