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The Meaning of Precious Stones

The Meaning of Precious Stones

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The Meaning of Precious Stones

Everyone has heard the term "precious stone" used in many contexts, so it's understandable if the common person doesn't have a clear idea what it means. It's important to realize that it means different things to different people, but is supposed to indicate rarity and exceptional quality. Here's a look at the various ways the term has been used by jewelry buyers and sellers.

Various Meanings of "Precious Stones"

Over many centuries, the definition of "precious stones" has evolved and moved away from religious use. Gems perceived to have spiritual powers were once considered precious, while all other gems were called semiprecious. These definitions varied among different cultures and changed over the centuries.

Gemologists and the jewelry industry have no official definitions for "precious stones" or "semiprecious stones." Nevertheless, the terms are still used often in jewelry marketing. Generally, precious stones are marketed as minerals that combine the highest scores for beauty, hardness, durability, and rarity. Traditionally, the four main precious stones have been widely considered to be diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.

It's important to remember that not all marketers conform to the same ethics or standards. Some marketers might play off the public's ignorance about why the term "precious" is used to position certain merchandise. The term reflects the fact that such gems, by virtue of being difficult to find or extract, are special and should be valued accordingly.

Semiprecious vs. Precious Stones

In modern times, any gems besides diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds have been considered semiprecious. In general, if the gem is abundant, it can't be considered precious. Examples of semiprecious stones include topaz, turquoise, amethyst, peridot, and jade. At one time amethyst was considered precious but after new sources were found, it fell into the semiprecious category.

Mixing Science with Marketing

The best way to filter through the noise about what constitutes a precious or semiprecious stone is to understand that it's a vague marketing term designed to lure buyers. The marketers who use the term have their own definition that relates to gem quality. In that sense, the mention of precious stones is supposed to create the perception of high quality.

That means synthetic stones don't count as precious because they can be mass produced. A marketer might still try to sell a synthetic stone as precious just because it's an imitation of a precious stone. The reason some people might think it's scientific terminology is because it's often packaged with scientific grading, such as hardness on the Mohs scale.

Just be aware that loose marketing terminology sometimes gets exploited. What a marketer calls precious isn't necessarily held to any professional standard. When you are purchasing a diamond, it's always important to get a diamond report on its grading for the 4C's: cut, color, clarity and carat.


The term precious stones could mean many different things, but is commonly understood to mean rare high quality gems. Anytime you buy gems, you should get grading data from a gemologist. Pay more attention to grading details than terms such as precious or semiprecious. Contact us at Ralph Mueller & Associates to learn more valuable insights about the jewelry industry.