A-Z of Gemstones
Gemstones have dazzled and mesmerized ever since they were first discovered. Here find our A-Z of the most venerated gemstones from Agate to Zircon.
Agate is a variety of chalcedony, a cryptocrystalline form of quartz. Translucency, patterns of colour or moss-like inclusions may distinguish this stone from other forms of chalcedony. Agates can show a wide variety of vivid colours. All agates take a wonderful polish and are tough enough for most jewellery uses.
“Emerald by day, ruby by night”, alexandrite is well known for displaying one of the most remarkable colour changes in the gem world – green in sunlight and red in incandescent light. Alexandrite is the June birthstone and is so rare and expensive that few people have seen a natural gem.
Amber is a hardened resin from ancient pine trees. This organic substance is most well known for the incredible inclusions of insects that can be found within it. It is possibly the first gem material ever used.
Amethyst is crystalline quartz in colours ranging from pale lilac to deep reddish purple. The February birthstone makes a fine, durable gemstone for all purposes, from jewellery to carved objects.
Named after the colour of sea water, aquamarine is the blue to blue-green member of the beryl family. Readily available and moderately priced this March birthstone makes an excellent jewellery stone.
The beryl family includes some of the most popular and expensive gemstones. Emerald and aquamarine are well-known and popular choices for jewellery, while red beryl is one of the rarest and most expensive gems. Beryls can range from colourless to black, and crystals can range in size from single carats to extremely large.
Cat’s eye gems of many different mineral species are well known but when the term ‘cat’s eye’ is used alone it always refers to the rare gemstone chrysoberyl. Not all chrysoberyl’s show this chatoyant effect. Transparent and translucent chrysoberyl without a cat’s eye can make a wonderful faceted stone. Chatoyant chrysoberyls are cut into cabochons to best display their spectacular eyes.
Citrine is the yellow to red-orange variety of crystalline quartz. Clever marketing and the rose of ‘earth tone’ fashions have made this durable and readily available gem a popular jewellery stone in recent years.
Coral is the external skeleton of a tiny, plantlike animal called the coral polyp. It lives in warm oceans in all tropical areas of the world. Although these creatures are only 1 mm in length, they grow as a colony on top of each other for generations. Coral growths come in many shapes. The coral commonly used to make gems is branched and treelike. Most coral is cut into cabochons or made into a variety of shapes for use in necklaces.
Diamonds are said to be one of the hardest materials we know. Diamonds are formed when highly compressed carbon is exposed to extreme heat. Colours of these gems can vary from colourless to brown. Diamonds are graded using the 4c’s; colour, clarity, cut and carat.
Emerald has been synonymous with the colour green. A fine emerald is a truly breathtaking sight, and this member of the beryl family deserves its placement among the traditional ‘Big Four’ gems along with diamond, ruby and sapphire.
Like their marine cousins, many freshwater mollusks can produce pearls. However, this rarely occurs in nature. Today, the majority of pearls on the market are actually cultured freshwater pearls, and they make very popular and affordable jewellery stones.
Although garnet is commonly associated with the colour red, these gemstones can be found in almost any colour and are popular choices for jewellery of all types. The garnet family is one of the most complex in the gem world. Its not a single species but rather consists of several species and varieties.
This stone, which represents one of the few relatively available and affordable blue stone options, is rapidly gaining in popularity. Run of the mill stones often have a steely, inky or washed out blue colour, but the best specimens can rival AAA tanzanite in the saturation of their blue-violet hue.
One of two distinct minerals commonly known as jade, jadeite is the rarer and harder variety. Rich emerald-green jadeite, known as ‘imperial jade’, is also the most highly valued. However, durable jadeite can be found in many colours and is well suited for both intricate carvings and cabochons.
Lapis Lazuli has been used since ancient times and remains popular today. This gemstone has been prized for its bright, blue colour and used for inlay and intarsia as well as for pigments for cosmetics and paintings. It’s contrast and eye appeal is irresistible. Today, jewellery is its predominant use.
Found all over the world, moonstone is prized for its blue to white adularescence – a billowy, moonlight-like sheen. Despite being somewhat fragile, this alternative June birthstone is a popular choice for jewellery.
For millennia, artisans have carved intricate cameos from black and white onyx. Solid black onyxes, faceted or cabbed are also popular jewellery stones.
Opals are in a class by themselves. As a species, opal is so unique it has its own descriptive vocabulary. More than any other gem, each opal is distinctly individual. Opals are also the most delicate gemstones commonly worn and require special care.
Pearls are the only gems found within living creatures, both salt and freshwater mollusks. However, most pearls on the market today are cultivated, since they now occur extremely rarely in nature. While they require special care, pearls have an enduring appeal for jewellery, particularly as the June birthstone.
The August birthstone Peridot has been prized as a jewellery stone since ancient times. Always green in colour but with considerable variations, a peridot’s particular shade depends on its source.
Quartz is one of the most common minerals on earth. It is well loved as amethyst, citrine, rose and smokey quartz. There are many other natural varieties that come in all the colours of the rainbow.
One of the most popular traditional jewellery stones, ruby is exceptionally durable. Its colours, always red, can ready vivid levels of saturation. Fine quality rubies are some of the most expensive gemstones. However, rubies are also subjected to more treatments than any other gem.
Although pearls are one of humanity’s most ancient gems, natural undersea beds of pearl producing oysters now occur very rarely. Cultured saltwater pearls have become some of the most prized varieties of the June birthstone.
Few gems have held our attention over millennia as well as sapphire. The pure blue colours and excellent durability of this gem quality member of the corundum family make an exceptional gemstone. However, not all sapphires are blue. The September birthstone comes in every colour of the rainbow except red.
Natural spinel has always been a rare and beautiful gem. The natural spinels in today’s market are almost all untreated. Their relatively modest prices, availability in nearly colour, hardness and suitability for most types of jewellery make them even more inviting.
Tanzanite has had a rapid rise to prominence among jewellers and gem enthusiasts. Although naturally reddish brown, the transparent zoisite variety achieves a stable, beautiful blue to violet colour with heat treatments.
The November birthstone Topaz is a popular gem. Although frequently associated with golden yellow as well as blue, it can be found in a variety of colours, including colourless. The rarest are natural pink, red and fine golden orange, sometimes with a pink tone.
Tourmaline is the name applied to a family of related minerals with widely varying properties. Tourmalines make a very popular jewellery stone and come in an amazing range of colours, including multi coloured stones.
With striking sky blue to blue – green colours, turquoise has been prized by cultures all over the world for over 5000 years. Today, the December birthstone is favoured by well known modern jewellery designers as well as aficionados of American and native American jewellery.
Zircon is a natural, magnificent and underestimated gemstone that has been worn and treasured since ancient times. Available in many colours, Zircon is one of the December birthstones and will look wonderful in jewellery if set carefully.
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