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Know Your Gemstones

Vibrant, sparkling, and full of color, gemstones are essentials in any jewelry wardrobe. From rich, red rubies to deep blue sapphires and every color in between, gemstones are a gorgeous way to sparkle.

So — how will you use gemstones to add color and meaning to your look?

Maybe you want to celebrate your family with a bracelet made of each member's birthstone. How about wearing a pendant or earrings with gemstones that represent your home team's colors? You can even add gemstones to your bridal jewelry.

The possibilities are as endless as the types of natural gemstones out there. Before you shop for your favorites, start here for more about each one.

Precious vs. Semi-Precious Gemstones

The term precious used to refer to the big four gemstones — diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. These gemstones commanded higher prices due to their extraordinary color, brilliance, and rarity.

All other gemstones were considered semi-precious — less rare and less valuable. Today, however, this distinction applies less and less. The range of quality, availability, size, and cost of every type of gemstone means all types are in higher demand than ever.

Natural, Lab-Created, and Simulated Gemstones

Genuine Gemstones

Genuine gemstones are mineral varieties found or mined from natural settings. Like diamonds, natural gemstones contain impurities and imperfections that can impact overall appearance and value.

Lab-Created Gemstones

Lab-created gemstones feature the same molecular composition as their naturally occurring counterparts, but are grown in a lab. They usually have fewer imperfections, but are not as rare as natural gemstones, so they are more affordable.

Simulated Gemstones

Simulated gemstones are look-alikes. They imitate gemstones, but are not made from the same minerals. They cost less and can differ from natural gemstones in brilliance, sparkle, hardness, and longevity.

Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness

Created by German geologist Friedrich Mohs, this scale measures the ability of a harder mineral to scratch a softer mineral.

For example, a diamond (hardness = 10) will scratch garnet (hardness = 6.5 - 7.5), but not the other way around. Therefore, a diamond is harder than a garnet.

It's important to know the hardness of the gemstones you wear — harder stones are better for jewelry you'll wear often.

Mohs Rating Mineral Scratch Test Results Jewelry Use
1 Talc Very soft; used in talcum powder. No
2 Gypsum Very easily scratched; used in plaster. No
3 Calcite A copper penny will scratch it. No
4 Fluorite A steel file will scratch it. Yes
5 Apatite A steel file will scratch it if pressed hard. Yes
6 Feldspar Will scratch a steel file. Yes
7 Quartz Will scratch a glass plate and all previous. Yes
8 Topaz Will scratch unglazed porcelain and all previous. Yes
9 Corundum Will scratch all but diamond. Yes
10 Diamond Will scratch everything. Yes

Gemstone Carat, Clarity, Color and Cut


Gemstones are sold by weight, not by size, and prices are calculated per carat. Some gemstones are denser than others, so similarly sized stones can differ greatly in cost. Also, larger stones of some varieties can be quite rare and much more expensive — like rubies, sapphires, and tourmaline.


After color, gemstone clarity is the next most important factor. Transparent gemstones with no visible flaws (inclusions) are the most valuable.

Some gemstones, such as emeralds and red tourmaline, are rarely seen without inclusions — that's why it's important to consider clarity within the gemstone variety, and not against other gemstones.


The color of the gemstone impacts its value and how it shows in your jewelry. The brighter and more vivid the color, the better. Avoid stones with color that is too dark or muddled.


The cut of a gemstone is critical to its overall beauty. A well-cut gemstone will reflect light evenly across its surface when held face up.

It's important to consider the 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.

The 4Cs of Diamonds

Nail down these diamond basics before buying, and make it easy to find your diamond.

Gemstone Care and Cleaning

The best way to keep your gemstone jewelry clean is to bring it to your Zales store anytime for a free expert inspection and cleaning. We're happy to keep your jewelry bright and shiny!

If you'd like to clean your jewelry yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Use a jewelry polishing cloth to gently wipe over the areas that need a polish. If you don't have a polishing cloth, any cotton or microfiber fabric will work. Do not use facial tissue or paper towels, as the fibers in paper can scratch your gemstone.
  • For best results, use a non-detergent soap and warm water to clean your jewelry. If you clean your jewelry in a sink, cover the drain hole with a washcloth — trust us on this one!

Need more info on keeping your gemstones sparkling? We've got you covered.

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