Gemstones 101

Hello darlings.  It’s me, Ruby and I want to talk to you about stones.  Gemstones to be specific. You see, every single stone is that is chosen for use in the jewelry in my mom’s store is special, so get out your pencils, because today, I’m taking you to school.

A pair of earrings from Claire's on the left, and a pair of Ashka Dymel earrings on the right that feature garnet and pink and green tourmaline.

A pair of earrings from Claire's on the left, and a pair of Ashka Dymel earrings on the right that feature garnet and pink and green tourmaline.

So let’s just say you picked out a pair of Ashka Dymel earrings from my mom’s fabulous yellow case and set them down next to a pair of earrings you bought at Claire’s (it’s ok – we love Claire’s too.  It can be our little secret.)  Ashka’s piece has an array of stones as does Claire’s.  They appear somewhat similar, so why do Ashka’s earrings cost $75 and Claire’s earrings cost $12.99?

What we aren’t going to focus on today is the fact that one is sterling silver and the other is some sort of tin-foil, turn-your-ear-holes-green situation OR the fact that one is lovingly handmade by a jewelry artist while the other is produced en masse in a foreign country where child laborers are paid pennies to work 78 hours a day.

Nope – today we’re talking about those stones. Those rocks.  The minerals. The semi-precious, and the precious (like me!)

I did a little research in preparation for this article and here’s what I came up with: science is hard.  I’m going to save you lots of details and boil things down for you.

First, there’s minerals, aka “rocks” or “stones.” These are inorganic materials characterized by crystalline structures. Any mineral used for jewelry is also referred to as a gemstone. There are about 3000 minerals admired for their beauty, but only about 200 of them are used in jewelry

“Organics” are gemstones created by a living thing, like opals, pearls and amber.

Are you with me so far? Good, because here’s where things get confusing.

“Precious” basically means that it’s really pretty and really rare.  Currently, the precious stones are diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and tanzanite.  BUT – this list changes.  Once upon a time amethyst was considered precious, but then someone found a whole bunch of it and so now it’s considered…

Emerald, Tsavorite, Chrome Tourmaline, Tourmaline, Beryl, Zircon, and Peridot.  Can you tell which is which?

Emerald, Tsavorite, Chrome Tourmaline, Tourmaline, Beryl, Zircon, and Peridot.  Can you tell which is which?

“Semi-precious” which is all the other gemstones.  Except for that sometimes there are semi-precious stones that are more rare, more beautiful and more valuable than precious stones.  For example, Tsavorite is a semi-precious stone that is more valuable than emerald, a precious stone. Other semi-precious stones include onyx, turquoise, amethyst, quartz, lapis, jade and tourmaline.

Some people think that making a precious/semi-precious distinction is just a sales tool since there isn’t always a correlation between the value and the label given to the stone.  Others feel that the term “semi-precious” is derogatory considering how beautiful and valuable some of the stones are that fall in this category.  And we all know how popularity can play into things.  If Caitlyn Jenner decides to wear nothing but a hematite necklace in her upcoming nude photo shoot for Sports Illustrated, one can deduce that hematite will become screamingly popular and in turn, prices could rise.

We’re getting to the good stuff, I promise, but let’s cover one more subject about the cost of gemstones.  Ethics are a hot topic when it comes to gem mining.  My mom uses suppliers that tell her their stones are ethically mined.  It’s easy for someone to say that, but since there are no mandates or guidelines, there’s just no stinkin’ way to prove the claim is true.  If ethics are a concern for you, you may just want to leave the naturally occurring gemstones in the mines and consider a created or a synthetic stone instead.

Created means that the mineral is grown in a lab, but it is chemically identical to the gem that grows in a mine. 

Synthetic means that the stone has no relation to the actual mineral.  It is completely simulated using an alternative material to just LOOK like the mineral. 

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  Some people say that synthetic diamonds are MORE beautiful that mined diamonds! What do you think? 

Another cost factor? Let’s not forget that those beautiful gemstones we see in a finished piece of jewelry made a verrrryyy long journey.  First someone had to guess where they might be found, then they had to be mined.  Once they are brought to the surface they have to be cut and cleaned and polished.  Then, a jeweler has to buy just the right stone, come up with a design for it, and create a masterpiece.  Sheesh.  No wonder this stuff is expensive!

On the left is an opal that has been cut & polished. On the right is a natural opal.

On the left is an opal that has been cut & polished. On the right is a natural opal.

So what ARE those “stones” you see in the jewelry at Claire’s?  Most of the time what you see is glass or plastic.  Occasionally, you might find some of this “cheap” jewelry made with crystals.

In conclusion (I learned that phrase from my dad, who is an English teacher), gemstones are expensive because of their beauty, rarity and the work it takes to get them from the ground on to your finger. Gemstones will last.  They will become family heirlooms that are passed down from generation to generation. If cared for, gemstone jewelry will retain its beauty for years and years.

Costume/fake jewelry is cheap because the materials used are inexpensive and the labor used to produce them is even cheaper. This type of jewelry is meant to be lost.  We don’t bat an eye or shed a tear if it breaks.  We don’t bother spending money to have it resized or repaired. 

Let’s finally move on to the advice part of this blog.

My advice to you this: don’t worry about labels.  Worry about what you LIKE.  Most people are drawn to a color, so if your favorite color is red, who cares if you’re wearing a ruby, a garnet, or a red tourmaline?  Buy what you like and what fits your budget.

It’s worth mentioning that some people believe that gemstones have special meaning and maybe even healing qualities.  That’s cool.  If you want a little something to give you courage, bring you luck, or help you find harmony in your life a gemstone might be just what you’re looking for.  Here’s a cool website that will tell you the meanings and qualities of all kinds of stones.

My other advice? Talk to my mom.  Chrissy is a pro.  She will take all of the science out of the conversation and just help you find, or create, a piece that is going to make you, or the person for whom you’re buying, happy.  She’ll work with your budget, your style and your vision to make the most perfect necklace, ring, earrings, or bracelet just for you or your loved one. 

One more thing, I won’t judge you if you tell people that your garnet is a ruby.  Guess what? NO ONE will know the difference.  Except for my mom.  Because she is super smart.

About the author: Ruby Polczynski is a year-ish old Chihuahua-ish dog with red fluffy hair and a curly tail. Born in the ghetto, she now resides in the Centre Park Historic District with mom Chrissy, dad Ethan, sister Maeta, and mortal enemy, Walter the Cat. When she’s not giving jewelry advice, Ruby enjoys napping in the sun, eating salmon treats, and deconstructing stuffed animals. Stop by and meet Ruby!