Gemstone Jewelry Guide
Vibrant and sparkling, gemstones add color and brilliance to any jewelry wardrobe. Gemstones are found and appreciated nearly everywhere around the world, and the perfect gemstone has the ability to perfectly express one's personal style.
Simply put, a gemstone is the naturally occurring form of mineral used for personal adornment. Throughout the ages, gemstones have represented wealth and power. Today, gemstones are an affordable way to shine.
Precious vs. Semi-Precious Gemstones
The impression that some gemstones are precious and others are only semi-precious is familiar to those who purchase colored stones. "Precious" stones were considered the big four - diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. These gemstones traditionally commanded higher prices due to their extraordinary color, brilliance and extreme rarity. All other gemstones were considered "Semi-Precious," as they were thought to be less commercially valuable. Today, however, this distinction is considered insignificant due to the range of quality, availability, size and cost of gemstones in today's marketplace.
Natural, Lab-Created and Simulated Gemstones
Genuine gemstones are those mineral varieties found or mined in natural settings. Like diamonds, natural gemstones contain impurities and imperfections that can diminish overall appearance and value.
Lab-created synthetic gemstones usually feature the same molecular composition to their naturally occurring mineral counterparts, but they are grown in a controlled laboratory environment. They are chemically, physically, and optically identical to gems found in nature, and there's really no way to tell them apart. Lab-created gemstones feature the same to better brilliance as a natural gemstone, however, the laboratory cultivation process leads to less impurities and fewer imperfections. Lab-created gemstones don't have the rarity of natural gemstones, which makes them more affordable.
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 uses both genuine and high-quality lab-created gemstones in its gemstone jewelry selections. All lab-created or simulated gemstones are clearly indicated in the product descriptions, so as to not deceive the consumer.
Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness
Created by German geologist and mineralogist Friedrich Mohs, the Mohs scale determines hardness based on 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 garnet. Harder stones are best for jewelry that's designed to be worn often. There are other ways of judging hardness, but the Mohs scale continues to be used in the gemstone and mineral industry.
Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness
||Scratch Test Results
||Very soft; used in talcum powder.
||Very easily scratched; used in plaster.
||A copper penny will scratch it.
||A steel file will scratch it.
||A steel file will scratch it if pressed hard.
||Will scratch a steel file.
||Will scratch a glass plate and all previous.
||Will scratch unglazed porcelain and all previous.
||Will scratch all but diamond.
||Will scratch everything.
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Gemstone Color, Clarity, Carat and Cut
Like diamonds, gemstones are graded according to specific factors.
COLOR – Color is also known as hue. 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 – Clarity is the appearance of inclusions or imperfections in the gem. 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 – Gemstones are sold by weight, not by size, and, like diamonds, prices are calculated per carat. It's important to recognize that some gems, like rubies, are denser than others, like emeralds, 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.
Gemstone Care and Cleaning
The very best way to keep your gemstone jewelry clean is to bring it in to your local Zales Jewelers store any time for a free cleaning and inspection. We're happy to keep your jewelry bright and shiny, and our expert Jewelry Consultants understand the best cleaning method for your jewelry. However, should you choose to clean your jewelry yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Start with the mildest treatment first.
- 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. You might even use an old cloth diaper.
- 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.
- Remember, if you clean your jewelry in a sink to be sure to cover the drain hole with a wash cloth. You don't want your gemstone investment to fall down the drain!
- There are ultrasonic jewelry cleaners that can be used at home, but check to make sure your gemstone can withstand such cleaning.
- Remember, pearls are not gemstones! Learn about caring for your pearls here.