Gemstone Jewelry Buying Guide

Blue topaz and sapphire rings encrusted with diamonds.

Blue topaz and sapphire rings encrusted with diamonds.

While diamonds are the mainstay of the jewelry world, many other gemstones are popular with buyers. Sapphire, ruby, and emerald, the other three precious gemstones, are dazzling to behold and enchant with their bold colors.

Semi-precious gemstones such as topaz, carnelian, jade, garnet, onyx, amethyst, and turquoise are also popular.

There are literally dozens of beautiful gemstones which can add color, texture, and beauty to a jewelry item, in a rough, polished, or faceted form.

But how do you choose a high quality gemstone necklace, pendant, bracelet, or earring set? Let’s delve into the history of gemstone jewelry and then talk about the different factors which draw buyers to gemstones. This will help you to make smart purchase decisions when you are in the market for jewelry for yourself or for others.

The History of Gemstones in Jewelry

The allure of gemstones has been around for thousands of years, and jewelers have been setting precious and semi-precious gemstones in jewelry since earliest recorded history. References to gemstones can be found in many different historical sources, including the Bible, where gemstones figure prominently in the Breastplate of Aaron and the Foundation of New Jerusalem.

In fact, those particular historical references are the genesis of modern day birthstones. Historically, it became popular to wear gemstones from the breastplate or the foundation throughout the year for protection. While that is no longer the trend, it did inspire birthstone jewelry.

There are many characteristics which have become associated with gemstones through folklore, history, and modern commercial efforts. Buyers may be interested in the following qualities:

  • Physical beauty
  • Rareness and monetary value
  • Associations with birth months and astrology
  • Historical interest
  • Healing properties associated with metaphysics and folk medicine

Many gemstone buyers believe that gemstones have special powers. They choose gemstones not only for their outward properties, but also for the abilities they are said to possess. This practice dates back thousands of years. Some of the meaning associations come from ancient cultures, while others are connected to astrology.

There is no scientific evidence to back up such claims, but numerous wearers swear by their gemstones. Whether they possess mystical powers or simply uplift and inspire through their beauty, they are treasured by their owners throughout their lifetimes.

The Four Cs of Gemstone Jewelry

Citrine pendant with diamonds in yellow gold.

Citrine pendant with diamonds in yellow gold.

The four Cs are typically associated with diamonds, but they actually provide pretty good guidelines for purchasing any type of faceted gemstone, whether it is a diamond or not. You can use the four Cs to rate quality.

Note of course that this scale does not apply completely to gemstones in their raw, natural state, or those which have been tumbled. Additional qualities may be considered for those types of gemstones.

  • Color. While diamonds are generally expected to be colorless, with other types of gemstones, the more saturation in color, the better. Bold, medium-tone colors with plenty of clarity and depth are usually preferred. Primary colors are often valued above those which are off-hue, though with some gemstones this is not applicable.
  • Clarity. Clear gemstones should have as few visible flaws as possible, unless of course you are shopping for a gemstone where the flaws are the main allure, like Herkimer diamonds or rutilated quartz (which are actually both a form of quartz with amazing inclusions). With gemstones that are not transparent, clarity is not important and has no relevance.
  • Carat. Just as this is an important gauge for purchasing diamonds, it is also applicable to other types of gemstones. Some gemstones are of a higher density than others, so keep that in mind as you are shopping. Carat refers to weight, not size!
  • Cut. This is important for evaluating a faceted gemstone. The quality of the cut determines the sparkle of the gemstone. If you are judging a polished gemstone, instead focus on whether it is perfectly smooth and has a nice sheen and no rough spots. For a gemstone in its natural state, the judgment is completely aesthetic, and comes down to whether a shape is pleasing and interesting to the buyer or not.

If you are shopping for jewelry, you should give some thought to the form of the gemstone you are purchasing and whether it will suit your style. Would a polished piece work better instead of a faceted one? What about a solitary gemstone or multiple stone? Also, consider the hardness of the piece. Will it chip when worn daily, or will it be durable enough to be used even during manual labor?

Birthstones and Gift-giving

Gemstones have become readily associated with astrology and birth months, thanks largely to commercial efforts throughout the 20th century. Birthstones have changed a few times, but have become standardized in different countries. This is one more aspect of a gemstone to consider when you are making a purchase, particularly as a gift to somebody else. Here are common birthstones by month:

  • January: Garnet
  • February: Amethyst, Zircon, Pearl
  • March: Aquamarine, Bloodstone, Jasper
  • April: Diamond, Blue Sapphire
  • May: Emerald, Agate
  • June: Pearl, Cat’s Eye, Turquoise, Agate
  • July: Ruby, Turquoise, Onyx
  • August: Peridot, Carnelian, Moonstone, Topaz, Sardonyx
  • September: Sapphire, Peridot
  • October: Opal, Aquamarine
  • November: Topaz, Citrine, Pearl
  • December: Tanzanite, Zircon, Turquoise, Ruby, Bloodstone

Gemstone Meanings

Citrine ring with diamonds in yellow gold.

Citrine ring with diamonds in yellow gold.

Some of the meanings associated with gemstones specifically correlate to astrology, because of the associations above. But most people who believe in gemstone meanings believe in those which have their origins in the mists of history, and not in modern-day associations.

These meanings tie into beliefs and customs from ancient civilizations and mythologies, and may also involve folk healing and Feng Shui.

Here are some examples of common gemstone meanings:

  • Carnelian: This stone has long been associated with confidence, initiative, and self-awareness. It is also associated with passion. This is a great stone if for a wearer who is looking for a confidence boost in business or social life.
  • Emerald: This gemstone is linked to fortune, abundance, love, and honesty. Emeralds are often used in folk healing for physical as well as psychological conditions; they are considered helpful for patients who suffer depression. Emerald is associated above all with balance and harmony.
  • Jade: Jade is considered a “good luck” stone, and is associated with health, long life, wealth, and courage. It is great for embarking on a journey, literal or figurative, and can help to bring good fortune along the way.
  • Sapphire. This precious gemstone can come in many different colors, and each hue has a different meaning. Sapphires are associated with prophecy, and have been since ancient times. They figure prominently in myths and legends from many different cultures. They are used to reduce tension and depression and to help boost concentration and foresight.
  • Ruby. This deep red stone is actually a form of sapphire with chromium impurities, and may sometimes be called red sapphire or pink sapphire. Ruby is associated with passion and courage, as well as spiritual intuition.
  • Amethyst. This purplish form of quartz is a very popular semi-precious gemstone, prized for its lovely hue. In ancient Greece, wearers believed that it protected them from poisons and inebriation (they even went so far as to make goblets out of it). Amethyst is largely associated with healing and meditation now. It is also linked to lucid dreaming.

Those are just a few examples of gemstone meanings. Meanings may vary depending on who you talk to, but many will overlap, and if you study gemstones and metaphysics, you will see plenty of patterns emerge. While there is no scientific proof that any gemstone promotes healing, clarity, or protection, many people have a favorite gemstone or two that they swear has helped them in one way or another.

When you purchase gemstones, you should consider all of these different aspects. Think about the physical appearance of a stone and its outer beauty, and pay attention to the four Cs, just as you would if you were purchasing a diamond.

Also think about gemstone meanings and birth months. If you are buying jewelry for yourself or a loved one, gemstone jewelry that is beautiful and meaningful can make double the impact.