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Gemstones Buying Guide

Gemstones are luminous, unique and personalized treasures that enhance profiles, necklines and more. Owning one is an investment in beauty that will last a lifetime.

 

Beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Ancient. There is a seemingly limitless pool of words and expressions used to describe gemstones. But what are gemstones? By definition, a gemstone is a mineral, which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewellery, beads and other adornments. They can range from relatively easy-to-find in nature, to exceedingly rare. This guide is meant to give basic information on gemstones to help you navigate your way through researching a purchase.

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Gemstone Basics

Classifications

Gemstones are typically classified as either precious stones or semi-precious stones. The traditional distinction between precious and semi-precious gemstones focuses mainly on rarity; diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds are harder to find and considered precious, while all other gemstones are considered semi-precious. Some of the more well-known semi-precious stones include amethyst, aquamarine, citrine, garnet, peridot, topaz, tanzanite and quartz.

Types of Gemstones

Natural

Natural gemstones for sale as jewellery have been cut and polished, but they have not been altered or enhanced in any other way. Some natural gemstones can command incredibly high prices, while others are more affordable. The differences in price are due to a host of factors, including supply and demand. For example, natural rubies of a high quality are rare and demand for them is always high, whereas garnets, another red gemstone, while beautiful, aren't as rare. Thus a flawless natural garnet costs significantly less than a natural ruby of similar quality.

Enhanced

Treatments are often applied to improve the appearance of natural gemstones that might lack beauty. Treated gemstones are still considered genuine, but they are no longer regarded as natural. Heat and irradiation are common treatments and change or enhance a gemstone’s colour. Diffusion treatments deepen colour, but only within a gemstone's outer layers. While oil, resin and wax infusion treatments are used to fill in surface-breaking fractures and improve clarity and overall appearance. Heat treatments are permanent and require no special care for the piece. While other common treatments, like infusions, might require special care to avoid damage to the gemstone.

Synthetic

Synthetic gemstones share a natural stone's physical, optical and chemical properties, but are created in a laboratory. These gemstones are as stable in colour and composition as their natural untreated counterparts. Created to have as beautiful an effect as their natural inspirations they are available at a lower cost.

Imitation

Unlike synthetic gemstones, imitation stones are designed to simulate or resemble the appearance, but not physically duplicate the properties of a natural gemstone. Imitations are often fabricated from glass, ceramic or plastic. They are considered relatively inexpensive alternatives if the price of a genuine gemstone is not feasible.

A well-known simulated product is a cubic zirconia stone. It is a manufactured substance, created to simulate numerous gemstones – most notably diamonds. Cubic zirconia stones are simulated to be flawless and can contain even more flashes of colour than a typical diamond. Imitation pieces may require special care, and it is recommended that you avoid household chemicals, cosmetics, abrasives and sudden shocks when maintaining them.

Evaluating Gemstones

There are numerous characteristics that jewellers and buyers use to evaluate the quality of a gemstone. The following are three traditional methods currently used to determine a gemstone’s quality.

Colour

Often considered the most important standard of evaluation, colour is usually the first and perhaps most obvious way one evaluates a gemstone. Gemstones with the brightest, most vivid colours often command the highest price. Generally, clear, medium-light to medium-dark tone, intense and saturated primary colours are preferred. When evaluating a gemstone’s colour, compare each stone against others of its kind.

Clarity

Each gemstone has a unique set of flaws, or ‘inclusions’. Some varieties of coloured gemstones, such as aquamarine, blue topaz, and citrine, have naturally fewer inclusions while other gemstones, such as emerald and ruby, tend to have a higher rate of acceptable inclusions. Exceptional gemstones with few or no inclusions are available, but they can command very high prices. Similar to evaluating a gemstone’s colour, when considering a coloured gemstone's clarity, it is recommended that you compare each stone against others of its kind.

Cut

A gemstone’s cut can add or take away from its beauty. Whereas diamonds have an "ideal" cut geometrically configured for maximum brilliance, there isn’t a standard grading system for other gemstone cuts. With this noted, a high-quality gemstone cut is one that presents the most even colour, exposes the fewest inclusions, and displays the majority of the gemstone weight when set in jewellery. As with colour and clarity it is recommended that you compare each stone against others of its kind when evaluating its cut.

Birthstones

January: Garnet – Available in every colour except blue, garnet offers an excellent variety of choice and price range.

February: Amethyst – The most precious member of the quartz family, it has a permanent heat treatment, so no special maintenance is required.

March: Aquamarine – Closely related to the emerald, aquamarines range from nearly colourless with just a hint of blue to an intense, deep blue.

April: Diamond – Diamonds sparkling with intense colour are rare and may be priced higher than a colourless diamond of an equal size.

May: Emerald – Gentle cleaning with mild soapy water is the recommended way to keep emeralds looking their best.

June: Pearl, Alexandrite – Very few natural pearls are harvested today; cultured pearls dominate the market. Alexandrite changes colour depending on the light.

July: Ruby – Rubies are the rarest of the Corundum family of gemstones (of which sapphire is also a member).

August: Peridot – Its delicate green hue occurs naturally and without enhancement techniques.

September: Sapphire – This gemstone is available in every colour, except red.

October: Opal, Tourmaline – Opal possesses its unique “play of colour” naturally, without enhancement. Since tourmaline is available in a wide variety of colours, it’s well-suited to a spectrum of personal tastes.

November: Topaz, Citrine – In addition to the honey-like hue most associate with it, topaz comes in other colours, most notably blue. Citrine holds up well under normal daily wear, but rough treatment will diminish its luster.

December: Tanzanite, Zircon, Turquoise – A transparent gemstone, tanzanite’s colour varies from blue to violet to bluish purple while zircon is also transparent, but can be colourless, blue, yellow, green, brown, orange, red, and sometimes purple. Turquoise’s shining sky-blue hue is one of the most popular trend colours in jewellery.