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Gemstone Jewelry Buying Guide

Found and appreciated around the world, colorful and sparkling cut gemstones share a universal appeal. The inherent allure of gemstone jewelry, with its myriad color and style combinations, is its ability to create, capture or reflect personal style. While most buyers likely choose gemstones for their beauty and to represent their feelings toward another, others choose gemstones for what they consider to be their therapeutic benefits, symbolism, or representation of wealth or position.

Gemstone Jewelry History

Featuring gemstones in jewelry dates back thousands and thousands of years. Gemstones and gemstone jewelry have a long and interesting history. The story of the "Breastplate of Aaron" chronicles gemstone use for tribal and spiritual purposes. Examples of gemstone use in ancient Christian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek and other civilizations is widespread recognizing gemstones for their mystical properties or their representation of wealth, cultural beliefs or religious affiliations.

In modern times, the practice of assigning meaning to stones associated to astrology, more specifically as birthstone jewelry, was first seen in 15th century Poland. In the early 1900s the connection of specific stones to birth months was formalized in the United States. Though criticized by gemstone purists as a commercially motivated effort, people worldwide embrace the concept of birthstones and appreciate the ability to place deeper meaning in the gemstone jewelry they wear.

As you search for the right gemstone jewelry, the folklore, myths, characteristics, or properties associated with each gem may offer you or its wearer greater interest, meaning and enjoyment.

Precious vs. Semi-Precious Gemstones

The distinction between precious and semi-precious gemstones probably most reflects the perceived availability of the respective stones in historic times. Stemming from the ancient Greeks, the traditional differentiation of precious and semi-precious gemstones was rarity: diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald were considered precious, while all other gemstones were considered semi-precious. In modern times, the terms in a commercial context are less likely, due to the significant range of quality, availability, size and cost of all gemstones in today's marketplace.

Lab-Created Synthetic and Simulated Gemstones

Resembling the beauty of more costly genuine gemstones, lab-created synthetic and simulated stones have been popular in jewelry for many hears. It is important to know, though, that the value of these imitations varies greatly, and their everlasting beauty depends on the kind of gem they are.

Lab-created synthetic gemstones are typically similar in composition to their naturally occurring mineral counterparts, but they are grown in a controlled laboratory environment to yield a similar result.

Simulated gemstones are look-alike substitutes for genuine gemstones. Because simulated stones are imitation and not made from the same minerals, they cost less and usually have no flaws, but they may not behave in the same way as their natural counterparts with respect to brilliance, sparkle, hardness or longevity.

Zales chooses high-quality laboratory-created gemstones for their affordability, beauty, excellent appearance and value. All synthetic and simulated stones will be clearly indicated in Zales product descriptions.

The Healing Properties & Effects of Gemstones and Gemstone Jewelry

While most may consider gemstone jewelry as attractive adornment, others believe gemstones possess special meaning and healing effects. Used in a form of therapy, gemstone energy medicine uses the unique properties inherent in each type of gemstone to help focus the body's own healing powers. Authorities on the subject state that to obtain the greatest benefit a gemstone must be of high quality and the proper shape, and that gemstone necklaces place the stone in a location that will benefit the entire body.

Some gemstones commonly integrated into jewelry that claim healing properties are:

  • Amethyst, known for its spiritual qualities and used for general healing and meditation. Sleeping with an amethyst beneath your pillow may promote intuitive dreams and inspired thought.
  • Diamond, considered a master healer. An extremely powerful stone, a diamond is thought to promote emotional strength and love.
  • Emerald, a calming stone, is said to improve intellect and memory. Thought to have wide-ranging positive properties - including relieving insomnia - emerald acts as emotional stabilizer to assist in the release of emotionally-based trauma.
  • Ruby, thought to increase energy and divine creativity. In addition, ruby is said to alleviate worry, lift spirits, and improve confidence, spiritual wisdom, and courage.
  • Sapphire, often sought for its calming effect on those prone to nervousness. Considered a stone of friendship and love, sapphire attracts good influences, and gives its wearer devotion, faith, imagination and peace of mind.

Gemstones are available in a wide range of varieties and are incorporated into many forms of jewelry including gemstone earrings, necklaces and rings.

Gemstone Jewelry Buying Tips

Know the "Quality" of the Gemstone

Identifying the quality level of the stones used within gemstone jewelry ensures that the gemstone rings, necklaces or other pieces you purchase retain their value. Colored gemstone valuation may be more subjective and can be more complicated than valuing diamonds. However, as with diamonds, starting with the Four Cs can be helpful:

  • Color The color of the gemstone affects its value and how it shows in the jewelry. Generally clear, medium-tone, intense and saturated colors are the most preferred. Avoid stones with color that is too dark or muddled. The brighter and more vivid the color, the better.
  • Clarity After color, gemstone clarity is the next most important factor. Clear, transparent gemstones with no visible flaws (inclusions) are the most valued. Clarity can be difficult to judge, but if flaws aren't visible in the face-up position, then they rarely matter. Some gemstone varieties, such as emerald and red tourmaline, are rarely seen without inclusions. It is important to consider clarity within the gemstone variety, and not against other gemstones.
  • Carat Colored gemstones are sold by weight, not by size, and prices are calculated per carat. It's important to recognize that some gems are denser than others, so similarly sized stones of different varieties may differ greatly in cost. In addition, larger stones of some varieties can be quite rare and much more expensive such as ruby, emerald, sapphire and tourmaline.
  • Cut Cut is an important factor in determining a stone's beauty and perceived value when it is set in gemstone jewelry. A good cut is something that may not cost more but can add or subtract substantial beauty. A well-cut faceted gemstone evenly reflects light back across its surface area when held face up. Many different cut shapes are available, and it's important to consider cut in relation to the jewelry style you're considering. The best way to judge cut is to look at similar gemstones next to each other.

Think Ahead

When searching for the perfect piece of gemstone jewelry, buyers often place too much concentration on the item itself without considering how the jewelry will be worn. Properly pairing jewelry with attire, or for a particular use or occasion is critical in ensuring the jewelry will be worn and enjoyed. For example, if you're buying a gift and you choose an ornate gemstone necklace but the intended wearer is most often in a formal business environment, a more subtle bracelet or ring may be a better choice if you want her to wear and enjoy her jewelry often. Also consider the hardness of the gemstone, the style of setting and how the gemstones are set, how often the jewelry piece will be worn, and what the wearer really likes. The most beautiful gemstone jewelry may never be worn if your loved one does not like the look or color of her birthstone, for example.

Ask Questions

While there is a great deal of information available about gemstone jewelry in books and online, ask questions of your jeweler. Regardless of the amount of information gathered during the purchase process, there always seems to be one more fact that can impact your final decision. Asking questions will help you find the perfect piece of gemstone jewelry, sure to be appreciated for years to come.