Precious vs. Semi-Precious Gemstones

5th Apr 2012

Gems and jewelry have always played a role in history. Throughout time stones went through so many different variations of use (such as healing powers, powers of gods, etc.). At some point in time however, the stones were differentiated and categorized into 2 lists: precious and semi-precious.

The argument of what classifies a stone as precious vs. semi-precious really breaks off into two segments. What defines a precious stone and does color have anything to do with it?

The story of emeralds, as it’s told, started in the time of Cleopatra. Emeralds were coming from Egypt and the Egyptians did not actually know the difference between stones. The GIA describes an emerald as a medium to dark green beryl. The GIA currently separates emeralds from their actual chemical duties, meaning it does not matter if the stone has vanadium or chromium; it is based on appearance. (Most gemologists will tell you that an emerald is a green beryl with chromium, and that those with vanadium should be sold as vanadium beryl, which is even rarer.) Going back to Cleopatra’s time, the Egyptians did not actually know the difference between stones and much chromium containing peridot came from Egypt. THESE STONES SEEMED VERY MUCH LIKE EMERALD. At the time a blue stone was simply categorized as a sapphire, a green stone was named emerald and a red stone was named ruby. In my opinion this is where the battle for the precious “title” began. Fast forward to medieval times and you will notice the major presence of amethyst, kings loved amethyst. Amethyst: “the stone that will prevent one from getting drunk” and “CONTAINS THE BEAUTIFUL PURPLE HUES THAT CAN INSPIRE ANYONE”.

Over the years the markets turned around, new stones arose, imitations, synthetics and of course the marketing of colorless diamonds. I must be very clear when I explain color, color is what we look for, and color is the point of gemstones. Color is a gift from Mother Nature, the same way a rainbow is. I’m yet to meet someone who says “I hate seeing rainbows”. A rainbow is a real gift, something to appreciate. If the rainbow was colorless we would not appreciate it. What we appreciate is the color that we can see in the rainbow.

So what is the difference between precious and semi precious? Nothing. There is no reason emerald (beryl) is precious and aquamarine (beryl) is not. These so called gems have been marketed as “precious” in order to fuel sales in certain areas of the market. The first thing I learned about gemstones is that rarity and beauty make up the price, not marketing. As an example I would like to use TANZANITE, AN EXTREMELY RARE STONE THAT ONLY COMES FROM ONE PLACE IN THE WORLD, TANZANIA. Low quality tanzanite- which is not so beautiful- sells for a very low price. On the other hand, beautiful top quality tanzanite is rare and can become extremely costly (yet it will not beat the price of the sapphire). Sapphire is a rare stone, especially in the higher end side of the market, but technically speaking there are more deposits of sapphire in the world than tanzanite…sapphires have been mined much longer. There is no reason the equal quality tanzanite should go for much less on the market. Surely lemon quartz is not as rare as a yellow sapphire, in which case one can understand a price difference. Yet that being said, how can a stone equally beautiful be worth less money?