What’s a gem? When someone has characteristics we deem virtuous and beloved, we might call them a gem. Similarly, a gem marks the benchmark for something special, something to be treasured with great respect. Pirates set out to pilgrimage the seven seas in search of treasure containing gold and precious gemstones. As you can gather, gems are regarded as the yardstick by which things of beauty and great importance are measured.
So, what exactly is a gem? Sure, we’re familiar with rubies and sapphires, but what makes them gemstones? Let’s get right down to the facts of what makes a gem more than a sparkly stone, but a treasured token of our affection.
There are a myriad of beautiful stones that fall under the umbrella of the term “Gemstones.” So, how do we actually define such stones? Keep in mind that gems are individually chosen to be used in jewelry or as ornaments. While there exists a plethora of stones in nature, only a select elite are chosen to be used for decoration.
And that’s essentially how we define gems. Of course, the gemological definition of gems is a bit more complex, but in general we define gems as:
Let’s dive deeper into each of the characteristics that make a stone a gem.
We’ve established a broad definition of gems, but are all gems minerals? Not exactly. That’s because, while most gems are actually minerals, some of them are organics. What are organics, you ask? Organics are gems that are formed by living organisms. For example, a pearl is a gem, but it’s made by another living organism: an oyster or mollusk, making it an organic.
You can see how organics differ from minerals, which get their start in the earth. Technically, the classification of organics as gems can be a little fuzzy, as some organics still contain minerals, but are generally still regarded as gems. Really, the only reason this matters is for gemologists to most accurately handle and asses gems. When it comes to labeling a mineral or organic as a gem, those technicalities don’t exactly hold up if a stone is heavily marketed as a gem.
Although stones are typically thought of as something strong and unbreakable, some of the most popular and sought after gemstones are rather fragile, including pearls and opals. While both remain beloved gemstones, over time they gradually lose their strength and can crack and even shatter.
Does that mean you shouldn’t invest in pearls and opals? Certainly not. However, delicate gemstones require a level of care and maintenance greater than other stones.
Now let’s talk about durable gemstones. You might be familiar with the hardest gemstone in the world? You know, it’s super sparkly and adorns nearly every engagement ring you’ve seen? That’s right, we’re talking about diamonds! Diamonds are incredibly durable, making them optimal candidates for centerstones and decorations in jewelry.
Next to diamonds, the most durable gemstones are rubies, sapphires, topaz, and quartz.
As you’ve likely noticed, gems come in a variety of colors. From fiery amber to emerald green to the deep ocean blue, one of the reasons we love gemstones are because they come in a rainbow of gorgeous colors.
How do gems get their unique colors? The way the stone absorbs light dictates what color that stone will be. Most gemstones get their color from flaws and elements in their structure. One stone can appear colorless, but when a trace element is added, it can transform itself to a brilliant blue or flaming red. Such is the case for rubies and sapphires.
And this summarizes why gems are not all the same color. First, it depends on which wavelengths of light the stone absorbs, then it depends on which trace elements are added to its crystal structure.
For years the trend of wearing gemstones involved stones that were cut and polished. However, the emergence of raw, organic materials in jewelry is growing increasingly popular. Especially considering that gemstones are gorgeously crafted by nature’s skilled hand. As such, it’s actually more common now to find gemstones that are whole and untouched.
That said, if gems are placed in a necklace pendant or jewelry set, they are often cut and polished to be consistent in their shape and size.
While there are thousands of minerals in nature, only a select amount of them are practical to use in jewelry. There are extensive collections of unique gemstones, however these stones are typically much too fragile to be used in jewelry.
Speaking of which...
Now that we’ve addressed all the main features of gems, what do characteristics like durability and beauty have to do with jewelry?
Well, of all the gemstones in the world, about 100 are used in jewelry. Which are the most common? Chances are, you’re already familiar with them.
However, the most popular gems for jewelry are of course, diamonds. In addition, beloved gems include rubies, sapphires, opals, pearls, and emeralds. Although these stones might be the most popular, that doesn’t mean other gorgeous stones aren’t used. In fact, some very common stones for rings, earrings and pendants include amethyst, topaz, citrine, tourmaline and Tiger’s Eye.
As you can see, learning about gems is so interesting it is actually a science! Gemology dives into the specifics of color, light, composition, structure and more. Studying stones is fascinating because the more you know, the better you become as a buyer.
But you don’t have to be a scientist or gemologist to appreciate the glittering beauty of a precious stone! Truth is, for centuries gems have been a beloved token of nature that humans have cherished and adorned.
Whether you’re looking for a beautiful new gemstone jewelry item or have an appreciation for gemstones, it’s easy to appreciate their vast beauty. While it’s difficult to provide a singular summary for such a multi-faceted natural wonder, gems are a unique and enchanting gift from the natural world.
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