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How To Identify Precious Stones

How To Identify Precious Stones

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How To Identify Precious Stones

The history of gemstones being referred to as "precious" or "semiprecious" goes back to at least the 19th century. Today these terms have such wide meanings, they can be misleading between two people who have different interpretations of them. Gemstones, which are mostly beautiful minerals that come from nature, also have a wide definition that allows for exceptions, such as non-minerals, pearl and amber. Here's a look at how to understand the  modern meaning of "precious stones."

Big Four Gemstones

Traditionally, the term "precious" was applied to gemstones that fit into four main classifications: diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Any other gemstone was considered to be "semiprecious." The reason this terminology has become clouded is because it's possible for a 1 carat semiprecious gem to be more valuable than the same weight of a precious gem, such as a diamond. This inconsistency is a reflection of the exceptions allowed to fit the definitions by jewelers.

Due to the confusion the terms have created, professional gemologists no longer use them. You will still, however, come across the terms throughout the jewelry industry. Be aware that the terms may be used for marketing purposes to sway buyers emotionally. Some of the gems marketed as "semiprecious" include aquamarine, garnet, turquoise, opals, and white pearls.

Sometimes pearls, which aren't even really stones, and other semiprecious gems are marketed as precious gems. If this revelation adds to the confusion, just remember scientists try to use precise language to describe things, whereas marketing language usually has much broader meaning as a strategy to reach more consumers. In other words, pay attention more to scientfic language relating to jewelry so you have a clearer idea of what you're buying.

How To Understand the Gem Market

Keep in mind that there are no strict definitions of "precious" or "semiprecious" stones within the scientific community. It's an example of how science and marketing can be far apart sometimes. You can think of "precious" as a loose synonym to "rare," but try not to put much thought into the term when it's used in marketing, since it has empty meaning among gemologists, who are responsible for determining gem value based on standards set by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

If you are shopping for any kind of gemstones, be aware of the 4Cs that determine their value as measured by gemologists. These four considerations are: clarity, color, cut, and carat weight, the main factors that shape gem pricing, other than rarity and beauty. Try to think beyond whether the gem is marketed as "precious" or "semiprecious." Working with a GIA-certified gemologist will answer all your questions about gem quality and its value.


Different people have different understandings of the term "precious stones," which generally now just relates to beauty and color of an organic gemstone. Don't be distracted by these words, regardless of how they are used in promoting jewelry. Focus more on how you personally value gems and how gemologists determine their monetary value. Contact Ralph Mueller & Associates to learn more about buying and selling jewelry. We have a wealth of experience in bringing international buyers and sellers together.