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For other uses, see Gemstone (disambiguation).
"Precious Stone" redirects here. For the James Bond character, see Hurricane Gold.
"Gem", "Gems", and "Jewels" redirect here. For other uses, see Gem (disambiguation),
Gems (disambiguation), and Jewels (disambiguation).

Group of precious and semiprecious stones—both uncut and faceted—including

(clockwise from top left) diamond, uncut synthetic sapphire, ruby, uncut emerald, and
amethyst crystal cluster.

A gemstone (also called a gem, fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or semi-precious
stone) is a piece of mineral crystal which, in cut and polished form, is used to make
jewelry or other adornments.[1][2] However, certain rocks (such as lapis lazuli, opal, and
jade) or organic materials that are not minerals (such as amber, jet, and pearl) are also
used for jewelry and are therefore often considered to be gemstones as well. Most
gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewelry because of their luster or
other physical properties that have aesthetic value. Rarity is another characteristic that
lends value to a gemstone.

Apart from jewelry, from earliest antiquity engraved gems and hardstone carvings, such
as cups, were major luxury art forms. A gem maker is called a lapidary or gemcutter; a
diamond worker is a diamantaire. The carvings of Carl Fabergé are significant works in
this tradition.

 1 Characteristics and classification
 2 Value
 3 Grading
 4 Cutting and polishing
 5 Colors
 6 Treatment
o 6.1 Heat
o 6.2 Radiation
o 6.3 Waxing/oiling
o 6.4 Fracture filling
 7 Synthetic and artificial gemstones
 8 List of extremely rare gemstones
 9 See also
 10 Notes
 11 External links

Characteristics and classification

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A selection of gemstone pebbles made by tumbling rough rock with abrasive grit, in a
rotating drum. The biggest pebble here is 40 mm (1.6 in) long.

The traditional classification in the West, which goes back to the ancient Greeks, begins
with a distinction between precious and semi-precious; similar distinctions are made in
other cultures. In modern use the precious stones are diamond, ruby, sapphire and
emerald, with all other gemstones being semi-precious.[3] This distinction reflects the
rarity of the respective stones in ancient times, as well as their quality: all are translucent
with fine color in their purest forms, except for the colorless diamond, and very hard,
with hardnesses of 8 to 10 on the Mohs scale. Other stones are classified by their color,
translucency and hardness. The traditional distinction does not necessarily reflect modern
values, for example, while garnets are relatively inexpensive, a green garnet called
tsavorite can be far more valuable than a mid-quality emerald.[4] Another unscientific
term for semi-precious gemstones used in art history and archaeology is hardstone. Use
of the terms 'precious' and 'semi-precious' in a commercial context is, arguably,
misleading in that it deceptively implies certain stones are intrinsically more valuable
than others, which is not necessarily the case.
In modern times gemstones are identified by gemologists, who describe gems and their
characteristics using technical terminology specific to the field of gemology. The first
characteristic a gemologist uses to identify a gemstone is its chemical composition. For
example, diamonds are made of carbon (C) and rubies of aluminium oxide (Al

3). Next, many gems are crystals which are classified by their crystal system such as cubic

or trigonal or monoclinic. Another term used is habit, the form the gem is usually found
in. For example, diamonds, which have a cubic crystal system, are often found as

Gemstones are classified into different groups, species, and varieties.[5] For example,
ruby is the red variety of the species corundum, while any other color of corundum is
considered sapphire. Other examples are the emerald (green), aquamarine (blue), red
beryl (red), goshenite (colorless), heliodor (yellow) and morganite (pink), which are all
varieties of the mineral species beryl.

Gems are characterized in terms of refractive index, dispersion, specific gravity,

hardness, cleavage, fracture and luster. They may exhibit pleochroism or double
refraction. They may have luminescence and a distinctive absorption spectrum.

Material or flaws within a stone may be present as inclusions.

Gemstones may also be classified in terms of their "water". This is a recognized grading
of the gem's luster, transparency, or "brilliance".[6] Very transparent gems are considered
"first water", while "second" or "third water" gems are those of a lesser transparency.[7]


Spanish emerald and gold pendant at Victoria and Albert Museum

Enamelled gold, amethyst and pearl pendant, about 1880, Pasquale Novissimo (1844–
1914), V&A Museum number M.36-1928

There is no universally accepted grading system for gemstones. Diamonds are graded
using a system developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the early
1950s. Historically, all gemstones were graded using the naked eye. The GIA system
included a major innovation: the introduction of 10x magnification as the standard for
grading clarity. Other gemstones are still graded using the naked eye (assuming 20/20

A mnemonic device, the "four Cs" (color, cut, clarity, and carats), has been introduced to
help the consumer understand the factors used to grade a diamond.[9] With modification,
these categories can be useful in understanding the grading of all gemstones. The four
criteria carry different weight depending upon whether they are applied to colored
gemstones or to colorless diamonds. In diamonds, cut is the primary determinant of
value, followed by clarity and color. Diamonds are meant to sparkle, to break down light
into its constituent rainbow colors (dispersion), chop it up into bright little pieces
(scintillation), and deliver it to the eye (brilliance). In its rough crystalline form, a
diamond will do none of these things; it requires proper fashioning and this is called
"cut". In gemstones that have color, including colored diamonds, it is the purity and
beauty of that color that is the primary determinant of quality.

Physical characteristics that make a colored stone valuable are color, clarity to a lesser
extent (emeralds will always have a number of inclusions), cut, unusual optical
phenomena within the stone such as color zoning (the uneven distribution of coloring
within a gem) and asteria (star effects). The Greeks, for example, greatly valued asteria
gemstones, which were regarded as powerful love charms, and Helen of Troy was known
to have worn star-corundum.[10]

Aside from the diamond, the ruby, sapphire, emerald, pearl (not, strictly speaking, a
gemstone), and opal[11] have also been considered to be precious. Up to the discoveries of
bulk amethyst in Brazil in the 19th century, amethyst was considered a precious stone as
well, going back to ancient Greece. Even in the last century certain stones such as
aquamarine, peridot and cat's eye (cymophane) have been popular and hence been
regarded as precious.
Today such a distinction is no longer made by the gemstone trade.[12] Many gemstones
are used in even the most expensive jewelry, depending on the brand name of the
designer, fashion trends, market supply, treatments, etc. Nevertheless, diamonds, rubies,
sapphires, and emeralds still have a reputation that exceeds those of other gemstones.[13]

Rare or unusual gemstones, generally meant to include those gemstones which occur so
infrequently in gem quality that they are scarcely known except to connoisseurs, include
andalusite, axinite, cassiterite, clinohumite and red beryl.[14]

Gemstone pricing and value are governed by factors and characteristics on the quality of
the stone. These characteristics include clarity, rarity, freedom of defects, beauty of the
stone, as well as the demand for them. There are different pricing influencers for both
colored gemstones, and for diamonds. The pricing on colored stones is determined by
market supply-and-demand, but diamonds are more intricate. Diamond value can change
based on location, time, and on the evaluations of diamond vendors. [15]

Gem prices can fluctuate heavily (such as those of tanzanite over the years) or can be
quite stable (such as those of diamonds). In general per carat prices of larger stones are
higher than those of smaller stones, but popularity of certain sizes of stone can affect
prices. Typically prices can range from US$1/carat for a normal amethyst to US$20,000–
50,000 for a collector's three carat pigeon-blood almost "perfect" ruby.[citation needed]Gem

There are a number of[12] laboratories which grade and provide reports on gemstones.

 Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the main provider of education services

and diamond grading reports. And also Colourstone reports.
 International Gemological Institute (IGI), independent laboratory for grading and
evaluation of diamonds, jewelry and colored stones.
 Hoge Raad voor Diamant (HRD Antwerp), The Diamond High Council, Belgium
is one of Europe's oldest laboratories. Its main stakeholder is the Antwerp World
Diamond Centre.
 American Gemological Society (AGS) is not as widely recognized nor as old as
the GIA.
 American Gem Trade Laboratory which is part of the American Gem Trade
Association (AGTA), a trade organization of jewelers and dealers of colored
 American Gemological Laboratories (AGL), owned by Christopher P. Smith.
 European Gemological Laboratory (EGL), founded in 1974 by Guy Margel in
 Gemmological Association of All Japan (GAAJ-ZENHOKYO), Zenhokyo, Japan,
active in gemological research.
 The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (Public Organization) or GIT, the
Thailand's national institute for gemological research and gem testing, Bangkok
 Gemmology Institute of Southern Africa, Africa's premium gem laboratory.
 Asian Institute of Gemmological Sciences (AIGS), the oldest gemological
institute in South East Asia, involved in gemological education and gem testing.
 Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF), founded by Henry Hänni, focusing on
colored gemstones and the identification of natural pearls.
 Gübelin Gem Lab, the traditional Swiss lab founded by Eduard Gübelin.

Each laboratory has its own methodology to evaluate gemstones. A stone can be called
"pink" by one lab while another lab calls it "padparadscha". One lab can conclude a stone
is untreated, while another lab might conclude that it is heat-treated.[12] To minimise such
differences, seven of the most respected labs, AGTA-GTL (New York), CISGEM
(Milano), GAAJ-ZENHOKYO (Tokyo), GIA (Carlsbad), GIT (Bangkok), Gübelin
(Lucerne) and SSEF (Basel), have established the Laboratory Manual Harmonisation
Committee (LMHC), for the standardization of wording reports, promotion of certain
analytical methods and interpretation of results. Country of origin has sometimes been
difficult to determine, due to the constant discovery of new source locations. Determining
a "country of origin" is thus much more difficult than determining other aspects of a gem
(such as cut, clarity, etc.).[16]

Gem dealers are aware of the differences between gem laboratories and will make use of
the discrepancies to obtain the best possible certificate.[12]

Cutting and polishing

Raw gemstones
A diamond cutter in Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 2012

A few gemstones are used as gems in the crystal or other form in which they are found.
Most however, are cut and polished for usage as jewelry. The picture to the left is of a
rural, commercial cutting operation in Thailand. This small factory cuts thousands of
carats of sapphire annually. The two main classifications are stones cut as smooth, dome
shaped stones called cabochons, and stones which are cut with a faceting machine by
polishing small flat windows called facets at regular intervals at exact angles.

Stones which are opaque or semi-opaque such as opal, turquoise, variscite, etc. are
commonly cut as cabochons. These gems are designed to show the stone's color or
surface properties as in opal and star sapphires. Grinding wheels and polishing agents are
used to grind, shape and polish the smooth dome shape of the stones.[17]

Gems which are transparent are normally faceted, a method which shows the optical
properties of the stone's interior to its best advantage by maximizing reflected light which
is perceived by the viewer as sparkle. There are many commonly used shapes for faceted
stones. The facets must be cut at the proper angles, which varies depending on the optical
properties of the gem. If the angles are too steep or too shallow, the light will pass
through and not be reflected back toward the viewer. The faceting machine is used to
hold the stone onto a flat lap for cutting and polishing the flat facets.[18] Rarely, some
cutters use special curved laps to cut and polish curved facets.


Nearly 300 variations of diamond color exhibited at the Aurora display at the Natural
History Museum in London.

The color of any material is due to the nature of light itself. Daylight, often called white
light, is actually all of the colors of the spectrum combined. When light strikes a material,
most of the light is absorbed while a smaller amount of a particular frequency or
wavelength is reflected. The part that is reflected reaches the eye as the perceived color.
A ruby appears red because it absorbs all the other colors of white light (green and blue),
while reflecting the red.

A material which is mostly the same can exhibit different colors. For example, ruby and
sapphire have the same primary chemical composition (both are corundum) but exhibit
different colors because of impurities. Even the same named gemstone can occur in many
different colors: sapphires show different shades of blue and pink and "fancy sapphires"
exhibit a whole range of other colors from yellow to orange-pink, the latter called
"padparadscha sapphire".[19]

This difference in color is based on the atomic structure of the stone. Although the
different stones formally have the same chemical composition and structure, they are not
exactly the same. Every now and then an atom is replaced by a completely different
atom, sometimes as few as one in a million atoms. These so-called impurities are
sufficient to absorb certain colors and leave the other colors unaffected.

For example, beryl, which is colorless in its pure mineral form, becomes emerald with
chromium impurities. If manganese is added instead of chromium, beryl becomes pink
morganite. With iron, it becomes aquamarine.

Some gemstone treatments make use of the fact that these impurities can be
"manipulated", thus changing the color of the gem.[5]

Gemstones are often treated to enhance the color or clarity of the stone. Depending on the
type and extent of treatment, they can affect the value of the stone. Some treatments are
used widely because the resulting gem is stable, while others are not accepted most
commonly because the gem color is unstable and may revert to the original tone.[20]


Heat can improve gemstone color or clarity. The heating process has been well known to
gem miners and cutters for centuries, and in many stone types heating is a common
practice. Most citrine is made by heating amethyst, and partial heating with a strong
gradient results in “ametrine” – a stone partly amethyst and partly citrine. Aquamarine is
often heated to remove yellow tones, or to change green colors into the more desirable
blue, or enhance its existing blue color to a purer blue.[21]

Nearly all tanzanite is heated at low temperatures to remove brown undertones and give a
more desirable blue / purple color.[22] A considerable portion of all sapphire and ruby is
treated with a variety of heat treatments to improve both color and clarity.

When jewelry containing diamonds is heated (for repairs) the diamond should be
protected with boric acid; otherwise the diamond (which is pure carbon) could be burned
on the surface or even burned completely up. When jewelry containing sapphires or
rubies is heated, those stones should not be coated with boracic acid (which can etch the
surface) or any other substance. They do not have to be protected from burning, like a
diamond (although the stones do need to be protected from heat stress fracture by
immersing the part of the jewelry with stones in water when metal parts are heated).


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Virtually all blue topaz, both the lighter and the darker blue shades such as "London"
blue, has been irradiated to change the color from white to blue. Most greened quartz
(Oro Verde) is also irradiated to achieve the yellow-green color. Diamonds are irradiated
to produce fancy-color diamonds (which occur naturally, though rarely in gem quality).


Emeralds containing natural fissures are sometimes filled with wax or oil to disguise
them. This wax or oil is also colored to make the emerald appear of better color as well as
clarity. Turquoise is also commonly treated in a similar manner.

Fracture filling

Fracture filling has been in use with different gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds and
sapphires. In 2006 "glass filled rubies" received publicity. Rubies over 10 carats (2 g)
with large fractures were filled with lead glass, thus dramatically improving the
appearance (of larger rubies in particular). Such treatments are fairly easy to detect.

Synthetic and artificial gemstones

It is important to distinguish between synthetic gemstones, and imitation or simulated

Synthetic gems are physically, optically and chemically identical to the natural stone, but
are created in controlled conditions in a laboratory.[23] Imitation or simulated stones are
chemically different than the natural stone but may be optically similar to it; they can be
glass, plastic, resins or other compounds.

Examples of simulated or imitation stones include cubic zirconia, composed of zirconium

oxide and simulated moissanite, which are both diamond simulants. The imitations copy
the look and color of the real stone but possess neither their chemical nor physical
characteristics. Moissanite actually has a higher refractive index than diamond and when
presented beside an equivalently sized and cut diamond will have more "fire" than the

Synthetic, cultured or lab-created gemstones are not imitations. For example, diamonds,
rubies, sapphires and emeralds have been manufactured in labs to possess identical
chemical and physical characteristics to the naturally occurring variety. Synthetic (lab
created) corundum, including ruby and sapphire, is very common and costs much less
than the natural stones. Smaller synthetic diamonds have been manufactured in large
quantities as industrial abrasives, although larger gem-quality synthetic diamonds are
becoming available in multiple carats.[24]

Whether a gemstone is a natural stone or lab-created (synthetic), the physical

characteristics are the same. Lab-created stones tend to have a more vivid color to them,
as impurities are not present in a lab and do not modify the clarity or color of the stone,
unless added intentionally for a specific purpose.[citation needed]

List of extremely rare gemstones

 Painite was discovered in 1956 in Ohngaing in Myanmar. The mineral was named
in honor of the British gemologist Arthur Charles Davy Pain. In 2005, painite was
described by the Guinness Book of World Records as the rarest gem mineral on
earth.[25][page needed]
 Hibonite was discovered in 1956 in Madagascar. It was named after the
discoverer the French geologist Paul Hibon. Gem quality Hibonite has only been
found in Myanmar.[26]
 Red beryl or bixbite was discovered in an area near Beaver, Utah in 1904 and
named after the American mineralogist Maynard Bixby.
 Jeremejevite was discovered in 1883 in Russia and named after its discoverer,
Pawel Wladimirowich Jeremejew (1830–1899).
 Chambersite was discovered in 1957 in Chambers County, Texas, USA, and
named after the deposit's location.
 Taaffeite was discovered in 1945. It was named after the discoverer, the Irish
gemologist Count Edward Charles Richard Taaffe.
 Musgravite was discovered in 1967 in the Musgrave Mountains in South
Australia and named for the location.
 Grandidierite was discovered by Antoine François Alfred Lacroix (1863–1948) in
1902 in Tuléar province, Madagascar. It was named in honor of the French
naturalist and explorer Alfred Grandidier (1836–1912).
 Poudretteite was discovered in 1965 at the Poudrette Quarry in Canada and named
after the quarry's owners and operators, the Poudrette family.
 Serendibite was discovered in Sri Lanka by Dunil Palitha Gunasekera in 1902 and
named after Serendib, the old Arabic name for Sri Lanka.
 Zektzerite was discovered by Bart Cannon in 1968 on Kangaroo Ridge near
Washington Pass in Okanogan County, Washington, USA. The mineral was
named in honor of mathematician and geologist Jack Zektzer, who presented the
material for study in 1976.

See also
 Book: Gemstones

 Gemology and Jewelry portal

 Gemology
 List of gemstones
 List of gemstone species
 Assembled gem


 The Oxford Dictionary Online Archived 2007-06-05 at the Wayback Machine. and
Webster Online Dictionary Archived 2007-06-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  Alden, Nancy (2009). Simply Gemstones: Designs for Creating Beaded Gemstone
Jewelry. New York, NY: Random House. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-307-45135-4.
  Precious Stones, Max Bauer, p. 2
  Wise, R. W., 2006, Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To
Precious Gemstones, Brunswick House Pr, pp. 3–8 ISBN 0-9728223-8-0
  Frangoulis, George (18 April 2015). "GEM HUNTER".
  Concise Oxford English dictionary online.
  Desirable diamonds: The world's most famous gem. by Sarah Todd.
  Wise, R. W., 2006, Secrets of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To Precious
Gemstones, Brunswick House Pr, p.36 ISBN 0-9728223-8-0
  Wise, R. W., 2006, Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To
Precious Gemstones, Brunswick House Pr, p. 15
  Burnham, S.M. (1868). Precious Stones in Nature, Art and Literature. Bradlee
Whidden. Page 251 URL: Helen of Troy and star corundum Archived 2010-10-13 at the
Wayback Machine.
  Church, A.H. (Professor at Royal Academy of Arts in London) (1905). Precious
Stones considered in their scientific and artistic relations. His Majesty's Stationery
Office, Wyman & Sons. Chapter 1, Page 9: Definition of Precious Stones URL: Definition
of Precious Stones Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  Secrets of the Gem Trade; The Connoisseur's Guide to Precious Gemstones, Richard
W Wise, Brunswick House Press, Lenox, Massachusetts., 2003
  "HowStuffWorks""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-06.
Retrieved 2014-11-06.
  Monthly, Jewellery (2015-04-02). "A complete guide to Gemstones". Jewellery &
Watch Magazine | Jewellery news, jewellery fashion and trends, jewellery designer
reviews, jewellery education, opinions | Wrist watch reviews - Jewellery Monthly.
Archived from the original on 2017-08-28. Retrieved 2017-08-28.
  Dictionary of Gems and Gemology. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
pp. 50–50. ISBN 9783540727958.
  "Rapaport report of ICA Gemstone Conference in Dubai". 2007-05-
16. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
  Introduction to Lapidary by Pansy D. Kraus
  Faceting For Amateurs by Glen and Martha Vargas
  "Padparadscha Sapphires : 10 Tips On Judging The Rare Gem". The Natural
Sapphire Company Blog. 2015-04-06. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  Gemstone Enhancement: History, Science and State of the Art by Kurt Nassau
  Nassau, Kurt (1994). Gem Enhancements. Butterworth Heineman.
  Tanzanite Heating - The Science Archived 2016-06-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  Jewelers' Circular-keystone: JCK. Chilton Company. 1994.
  "New Process Promises Bigger, Better Diamond Crystals". Carnegie Institution for
Science. Archived from the original on 1 December 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  Folkard, Claire; Freshfield, Jackie; Masson, Carla; Dimery, Rob (12 December
2017). "Guinness World Records 2005". Guinness World Records Limited.


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