Ultimate Guide to Gemstones

Gemstones, also referred to as gems, are pieces of mineral that are used to make jewelry after they have been cut and polished. Gemstones are also separated into categories such as precious and semi-precious, and may be called jewels by some. Some gemstones are not minerals, such as certain rocks and organic material, but are still used in jewelry; for this reason they are still considered gemstones. Although most gemstones are hard, a few are made from soft minerals because of the aesthetic appeal and other physical properties that make the mineral attractive.

Most gemstones are used after they have been cut and polished, but a few are used in the raw state that they come in. Depending on the gem, it can be cut to show off the color of the stone as well as the properties of the surface; these shapes of gems are called cabochons. The faceted-cut stones are cut so that sparkle and reflection of light can be seen. Different machines are used for different shapes. It is vital that the right machine is used because if the stone is not cut the proper way, the customer will not receive the intended affect.

Color is the most attractive and obvious feature of gemstones overall. The natural colors of the gems are due to the absorption of light, just as with anything else. Rubies are red due to the fact that they absorb all colors from white light - green, yellow, blue, etc. - and not red. The same type of material or gemstone can come in a variety of colors which is based on the atomic structure of the stones. The chemical composition is the same for a sapphire and a ruby, but they emit different colors. Sapphires themselves come in hues of pink and blue.
Gemstones were thought to hold magical powers in the past because men could not explain where the shapes and colors of these stones came from. The amber stone was thought to be a product of birds’ tears and lynx urine due to the sun interacting with the earth. The first pieces of jewelry were made in the Stone Age from gold that was relatively easy to melt down and shape.

The physical characteristics that make gemstones valuable include the cut, color and to a lesser extent, clarity. Color zoning and asteria also have an unusual optical effect on the gemstones, which in turn affect the value. In the past, asteria in gemstones was greatly valued by the Greeks; it was looked at as a powerful love charm. The classification of gemstones begins with precious and non precious stones. Although the title of each gemstone can change with time, the modern precious stones include diamonds, emerald, sapphires and rubies. All other types of gemstones are considered to be semi precious. The classification is not based on any scientific method; instead, it is based on the rarity and current value of the stones. All precious stones are clear in their purest forms with fine color. Other stones are classified by the hardness, color and translucency.

Gemologists use characteristics to classify gemstones. The first characteristic that is used is chemical composition. They are them classified using a crystal system such as monoclinic, trigonal or cubic. Gemologists also take into consideration the habit, which is the form in which the gem was found. Other characterizations include their refractive index, specific gravity, fracture, cleavage, hardness, luster and dispersion. There is no grading system for gemstones that is universally accepted. In the past, all gemstones were graded by the naked eye. In the early 1950s, the Gemological Institute of America developed a grading system for diamonds. The GIA system introduced the 10 times magnification process as the standard way of grading clarity.

Birthstones are gemstones that are used to symbolize the month that a person was born. These months are in accordance with the Gregorian calendar and the stones are sometimes referred to as birthday stones.

Those born in January have the garnet stone as a birthstone and it has the meaning of constancy, true friendship and fidelity. Those born in February have amethyst as their birthstone with a meaning sincerity and peace of mind as well as freedom from care and from passion. March has the aquamarine gemstone which meant that those who wore this stone were brave and firm in times of peril. April's gemstone is the diamond with a meaning of innocence. May's birthstone is emerald represents a loved and happy wife. Pearl is the birthstone for June and represents wealth, health and a long life.

The gemstones for the remaining months include ruby, peridot, sapphire, opal, topaz and turquoise. Their meanings include freedom from the doubts and anxieties of love, the lack of conjugal fidelity, joy and peace of mind, hope, friends and lovers and success.
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