Gemstones & Jewellery - Reference Information and Learning
Gemstones have been prized by mankind since prehistory, being treasured for their beauty, colour, transparency, brilliance, and durability. In modern times new discoveries have brought exciting new stones to the market and lab produced gemstones have expanded the possibilities even further.
Gemstones are often associated with hidden meaning and symbolism, and some believe them to possess certain healing or spiritual properties. Gemstones are also valued for their historical and cultural significance, they have been used as currency, religious artifacts, and royal insignias for centuries. Learn more about gemstones below, use the links to jump to sections.
The Big Four - Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald
What is a Gemstone?
In basic terms a gemstone is a mineral crystal, usually polished and/or cut to enhance its beauty and used in jewellery or used as an adornment. In technical terms gemstones can be described by their chemical composition, for example diamond is pure carbon (with trace elements) and ruby is crystalline aluminium oxide. The composition and colour help classify gemstones, but some gem names exist due to historical inaccuracies as gemmologists were unable to accurately test gems until modern times. Did you know - sapphires and rubies are the same basic composition - ruby contains traces of chromium making them red and sapphires contain iron and titanium making them blue.
Precious or Semi-Precious?
Gemstone classification has changed over the years with some gems changing category from precious to semi-precious as larger deposits were found. Today most consider diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald to be precious and all other stones to be semi-precious. It is also interesting to note that there are numerous gems which are much rarer than the four 'precious' types such as alexandrite.
Natural, Lab-Grown, Synthetic or Simulated Gems
The origin and creation of gemstones is perhaps one of the areas which causes most confusion for buyers. To make matters worse many companies now also use trade names which can include the name of a genuine precious gemstone but which is actually not related to that gem at all.
Natural - a gemstone formed in the earth by natural processes and recovered by man (usually by mining). A natural gemstone may be treated to enhance it's colour or clarity, but is still considered natural but should also be labelled treated or enhanced.
Lab-grown - this is a genuine gemstone grown in a laboratory or factory. A lab-grown ruby will test as a ruby, is made from the same basic chemical composition and has the same physical properties as a ruby. Lab-grown gems are cheaper than natural gems and usually much clearer and free of defects/inclusions. Lab-created and synthetic are other names for lab-grown and mean the same thing.
Simulant / Simulated - simulants are gems made to look like another gem. They may be man made or natural. Perhaps the most well known example is cubic zirconia (cz) which is a man made gem and a common simulant for diamond. For example Diamonique is QVC's trade name for cz. Natural gems such as clear spinel can be used to simulate diamond, and would be classed as a simulant if intended to mimic diamond.
Each form (natural / lab-grown / simulated) all have their own benefits and may be the right choice depending on the situation. Do be aware there are many simulated diamonds available under numerous trade names often marketed to sound like natural gems. When purchasing take care to ensure you understand what you will be buying and if it isn't clear then ask!