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Precious? Semi-Precious? What’s the Deal? | Navigating Stone Classification and Grading
Posted by Erin to Articles

Let’s break down some basic definitions.

Gemstone: Any stone that’s used to make jewelry and other adornments. You can plunk a random landscaping rock into wire to form a ring and BOOM it’s now *technically* a gemstone. I don’t recommend selling random garden rocks as gemstones. It falls into a murky area of exploiting already misunderstood terms. As a working, ethical, definition, we’ll say that gemstones are any minerals or other stones commonly used in the making of jewelry. The $5 strand of Fossil Coral is gemstone and the $3000 strand of diamonds is gemstone.


Precious Gemstone: This has historically referred to Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald. The classification is starting to fall out of favor. It’s considered inaccurate as it doesn’t account for all factors that contribute to the cost of a natural stone. For example, diamonds are quite abundant, but tightly controlled by cartels like DeBeers to keep the prices high. In addition, industrial-grade diamonds are inexpensive enough to be used on common tools. Lower quality Sapphire, Ruby, or Emerald can also carry a lower price tag than fine specimens of semi-precious stones like Garnet or Amethyst.


Semi-Precious Gemstone: This is literally everything else. Agate. Amazonite. Amethyst. Aventurine. And on down the alphabet. All semi-precious. Garnet. Lapis. Morganite. Still all semi-precious. Fossil Coral? Kambaba Jasper? Red Creek Jasper? All semi-precious.


Synthetic Gemstone: This is a really important thing to understand. Some commonly accepted “stones” are synthetic. Goldstone and Cherry Quartz are both synthetic. They do NOT occur in nature. It’s pretty common knowledge that other types of naturally occurring stones can also be artificially created in labs. For example, all Cubic Zirconia is lab-created. (Note: Don’t confuse Cubic Zirconia with Zircon. Zircon actually comes out of the ground.)


Composite Gemstone: These stones have pieces of gemstone in them, but are not entirely made of stone. Generally, these are made from a combination of stone fragments and resin. The stone fragments and/or the resin may also be dyed. Mardi Gras Impression Jasper or Serpentine with Bronzite are good examples of composite gemstones.


An important note on grading: There isn’t a universal system for grading gemstones. The GIA has a commonly accepted method for grading diamonds. Only a gemologist certified by the GIA for grading diamonds is qualified to assign a GIA grade. In all other stone types, terms like “A-Grade”, “AAA-Grade”, or “B/C Grade”, are SUBJECTIVE terms used by the seller. One vendor’s AAA-grade Amethyst may look like another’s B-Grade. Other vendors may have no grading system at all, and the price tag will tell the story. I like to take a “what do I like?” approach. Sometimes that saves me money because I honestly prefer some inclusions. Other times, it means that I pay an embarrassing amount for “practically perfect.”

- Erin, Dakota Stones

Leave a comment below
Judith Mitchell Date 10/9/2017
Thank you for this! I myself never quite know how to describe or label the stones I use in my beaded necklaces. I struggled over one -- with Unakite. And I just finished one with fossil coral and didn't have a clue about how to talk about it. This is important for me personally (I'm endlessly curious) and of course, for writing about the work. And also -- the "grading" system; before reading your info I tried to avoid stones which were "D" grade. A "D" grade probably won't ever be called an "A" grade by anyone, but it might actually be a "B" grade. Such a lot to learn! Again -- thanks for some clarification.
Kathy Browne Date 10/10/2017
Found this very helpful as I try to be 'honest' when describing the stones and beads in my work. As a fan of natural jaspers this is tricky. Now I can say 'semi-precious gemstone'.
Jo Cannon Date 10/10/2017
Cherry Quartz does occur in nature. There is the glass called cherry quartz. I have that in my store. I also came across at the Tucson Show about 11 years ago a dealer who had a lot of actual quartz stones with red streaks running throughout. This is not man-made and I have only come across it once. I bought some of each cut and size and still have a few for sale in my store. It looks very much like the glass cherry quartz.
Mary Baars Date 10/10/2017
Erin, Thanks for the descriptions. This is a big help to me and I'm sure to lots of others.
Terri Keen Wells Date 10/10/2017
Thanks for the great article! I don't know if you could help me with this, or not. I collect vintage sterling silver and turquoise jewelry. Usually pieces from the 50's to the early '80's. I recently purchased a Taxco panel bracelet, marked sterling silver. The seller marketed it as simulated turquoise. It struck me as unusual the a sterling piece from that era would use simulated turquoise. Do you know of any way to tell the difference between real turquoise (no resin, etc.) and simulated? Thanks!
Sharon Redgrave Date 10/11/2017
Thanks so much for this. I have seen 'jewelers' at events throw these terms around willy-nilly and all it does is create endless confusion for the customer. And the grading system--*rolls eyes*--gotten bitten by that one several times. Thanks for the confirmation of my now purchasing mantra of Caveat Emptor!
 
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