A Gemstone or Gem (also called a fine gem, jewel, or a precious or semi-precious stone) is a piece of mineral crystal, which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments. However, certain rocks (such as lapis lazuli) or organicmaterials that are not minerals (such as amber or jet), are also used for jewelry, and are therefore often considered to be gemstones as well. Most gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewelry because of their luster or other physical properties that have aesthetic value. Rarity is another characteristic that lends value to a gemstone. Apart from jewelry, from earliest antiquityengraved gems and hardstone carvings, such as cups, were major luxury art forms. A gem maker is called a lapidary or gemcutter; adiamond worker is a diamantaire. The carvings of Carl Fabergé are significant works in this tradition.
Characteristics and Classification-The traditional classification in the West, which goes back to the ancient Greeks, begins with a distinction between precious and semi-precious; similar distinctions are ade in other cultures. In modern usage the precious stones are diamond, ruby, sapphire andemerald, with all other gemstones being semi-precious. This distinction reflects the arity of the respective stones in ancient times, as well as their quality: all are translucent with fine color in their purest forms, except for the colorless diamond, and very hard, with hardnesses of 8 to 10 on the Mohs scale. Other stones are classified by their color, translucency and hardness. The traditional distinction does not necessarily eflect modern values, for example, while garnets are relatively inexpensive, a green garnet calledtsavorite can be far more valuable than a mid-quality emerald.
Another unscientific term for semi-precious gemstones used in art history and archaeology is hardstone. Use of the terms 'precious' and 'semi-precious' in a commercial ontext is, arguably, misleading in that it deceptively implies certain stones are intrinsically moren valuable than others, which is not the case.
In modern times gemstones are identified by gemologists, who describe gems and their characteristics using technical terminologyspecific to the field of gemology. The first characteristic a gemologist uses to identify a gemstone is its chemical composition. For example, diamonds are made of carbon (C) and rubies of aluminium oxide
Next, many gems are crystals which are classified by their crystal system such as cubic or trigonal or monoclinic. Another term used is habit, the form the gem is usually found in. For example, diamonds, which have a cubic crystal system, are often found as octahedrons.
Gemstones are classified into different groups, species, and varieties. For example, ruby is the red variety of the species corundum, while any other color of corundum is considered sapphire. Other examples are the Emerald (green), aquamarine (blue), red beryl(red), goshenite (colorless), heliodor (yellow), and morganite (pink), which are all varieties of the mineral species beryl.
Gems are characterized in terms of refractive index, dispersion, specific gravity, hardness, cleavage, fracture, and luster. They may exhibit pleochroism or double refraction. They may have luminescence and a distinctive absorption spectrum.
Material or flaws within a stone may be present as inclusions.
Gemstones may also be classified in terms of their "water". This is a recognized grading of the gem's luster and/or transparency and/or "brilliance". Very transparent gems are considered "first water", while "second" or "third water" gems are those of a lesser transparency.
There is no universally accepted grading system for gemstones. Diamonds are graded using a system developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the early 1950s. Historically, all gemstones were graded using the naked eye. The GIA system included a major innovation: the introduction of 10x magnification as the standard or grading clarity. Other gemstones are still graded using the naked eye (assuming 20/20 vision).
A mnemonic device, the "four Cs" (color, cut, clarity and carats), has been introduced to help the consumer understand the factors used to grade a diamond. With
modification, these categories can be useful in understanding the grading of all gemstones. The four criteria carry different weight depending upon whether they are applied to colored gemstones or to colorless diamonds. In diamonds, cut is the primary determinant of value, followed by clarity and color. Diamonds are meant to sparkle, to break down light into its constituent rainbow colors (dispersion), chop it up into bright little pieces (scintillation), and deliver it to the eye (brilliance). In its rough crystalline form, a diamond will do none of these things; it requires proper fashioning and this is called "cut". In gemstones that have color, including colored diamonds, it is the purity and beauty of that color that is the primary determinant of
Physical characteristics that make a colored stone valuable are color, clarity to a lesser extent (emeralds will always have a number of inclusions), cut, unusual optical henomena within the stone such as color zoning (the uneven distribution of coloring within a gem) and asteria (star effects). The Greeks, for example, greatly valued asteria gemstones, which were regardedas powerful love charms, and Helen of Troy was known to have worn star-corundum.
Aside from the diamond, the ruby, sapphire, emerald, pearl (not, strictly speaking, a gemstone) and opal have also been considered to be precious. Up to the discoveries of bulk amethyst in Brazil in the 19th century, amethyst was considered a precious one as well, going back to ancient Greece. Even in the last century certain stones such as aquamarine, peridot and cat's eye (cymophane) have been popular and hence been regarded as precious.
Today such a distinction is no longer made by the gemstone trade. Many gemstones are used in even the most expensive jewelry, depending on the brand name of the
designer, fashion trends, market supply, treatments, etc. Nevertheless, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds still have a reputation that exceeds those of other gemstones.
Rare or unusual gemstones, generally meant to include those gemstones which occur so infrequently in gem quality that they are scarcely known except to connoisseurs, include andalusite, axinite, cassiterite, clinohumite and red beryl.
Gem prices can fluctuate heavily (such as those of tanzanite over the years) or can be quite stable (such as those of diamonds). In general per carat prices of larger stones are higher than those of smaller stones, but popularity of certain sizes of stone can affect prices.
A few gemstones are used as gems in the crystal or other form in which they are found. Most however, are cut and polished for usage asjewelry. The picture to the right is of a rural, commercial cutting operation in Thailand. This small factory cuts thousands of carats of sapphire annually. The two main classifications are stones cut as mooth, dome shaped stones calledcabochons, and stones which are cut with a faceting machine by polishing
small flat windows called facets at regular intervals at exact angles.
Stones which are opaque or semi-opaque such as opal, turquoise, variscite, etc. are commonly cut as cabochons. These gems are designed to show the stone's color or surface properties as in opal and star sapphires. Grinding wheels and polishing agents are used to grind, shape and polish the smooth dome shape of the stones. ems which are transparent are normally faceted, a method hich shows the optical properties of the stone's interior to its best dvantage by maximizing reflected light which is perceived by the viewer as sparkle. There are many commonly used shapes for faceted stones. The facets must be cut at the proper angles, which varies depending on the optical properties of the gem. If the angles are too steep or too shallow, the light will pass through and not be reflected back toward the viewer. The faceting machine is used to hold the stone onto a flat lap for cutting and polishing the flat acets. some cutters use special curved laps to cut and polish curved facets.
Treatment- Gemstones are often treated to enhance the color or clarity of the stone. Depending on the type and extent of treatment, they can affect the value of the stone. Some treatments are used widely because the resulting gem is stable, while others are not accepted most commonly because the gem color is unstable and may revert to the riginal tone.
Heat- Heat can improve gemstone color or clarity. The heating process has been well known to gem miners and cutters for centuries, and in many stone types heating is a common practice. Most citrine is made by heating amethyst, and partial heating with a strong gradient results in ametrine—a stone partly ethyst and partly citrine. Much aquamarine is heated to remove yellow tones and change the green color into the more desirable blue or enhance its existing blue color to a purer blue.
Nearly all tanzanite is heated at low temperatures to remove brown undertones and give a more desirable blue/purple color. A considerable portion of all sapphire and ruby is treated with a variety of heat treatments to improve both color and clarity.
When jewelry containing diamonds is heated (for repairs) the diamond should be protected with boric acid; otherwise the diamond (which is pure carbon) could be burned on the surface or even burned completely up. When jewelry containing sapphires or rubies is heated, it should not be coated with boracic acid or any other substance, as this can etch the surface; they do not have to be "protected" like a diamond.
Radiation- Virtually all blue topaz, both the lighter and the darker blue shades such as "London" blue, has been irradiated to change the color from white to blue. Most greened quartz (Oro Verde) is also irradiated to achieve the yellow-green color. Diamonds are irradiated to produce fancy-color diamonds (which occur naturally, though rarely in gem quality).
Waxing/oiling- Emeralds containing natural fissures are sometimes filled with wax or oil to disguise them. This wax or oil is also colored to make the emerald appear of better color as well as clarity. Turquoise is also commonly treated in a similar manner.
Fracture filling- Fracture filling has been in use with different gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. In 2006 "glass filled rubies" received publicity. Rubies over 10 carats (2 g) with large fractures were filled with lead glass, thus dramatically improving the appearance (of larger rubies in particular). Such treatments are fairly easy to detect.
Synthetic and artificial gemstones
It is important to distinguish between synthetic gemstones, and imitation or simulated gems.
Synthetic gems are physically, optically and chemically identical to the natural stone, but are created in controlled conditions in a laboratory. Imitation or Simulated tones are just that, imitations and can be glass, plastic, resins or other compounds.
Examples of simulated or imitation stones include cubic zirconia, composed of zirconium oxide and simulated moissanite, which are both diamond simulants. The mitations copy the look and color of the real stone but possess neither their chemical nor physical characteristics. Moissanite actually has a higher refractive index than diamond and when presented beside an equivalently sized and cut diamond will have more "fire" than the diamond.
Synthetic, cultured or lab-created gemstones are not imitations. For example, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds have been manufactured in labs to possess identical chemical and physical characteristics to the naturally occurring variety. Synthetic (lab created) corundum, including ruby and sapphire, is very common and osts much less than the natural stones. Smaller synthetic diamonds have been manufactured in large quantities as industrial abrasives, although larger gem-quality synthetic diamonds are becoming available in multiple carats.
Whether a gemstone is a natural stone or lab-created (synthetic), the physical characteristics are the same. Lab-created stones tend to have a more vivid color to them, as impurities are not present in a lab and do not modify the clarity or color of the stone, unless added intentionally for a specific purpose.