Welcome to the wonderful world of gemstones, the product of nature, the results of both organic and inorganic forces of nature acting as chemical production plants creating an object of great beauty and worth. Gemstones have been forming almost since the beginning of time as we know it, and in the world of Jewellery we are privileged to have hand on experience with these precious objects of beauty on a daily basis. With our experience and knowledge gained from our time with these beautiful stones we’ve put together a short guide on some of our most commonly seen and known stones.
In addition to visual beauty a fine gem must be durable and hard enough to survive constant use and handling, individual and rare is what endows the stones value. There are gemstones classed as precious and those classed as semi-precious. In this guide we’ll be putting focus on the most recognised, with the aim of providing you with some insider knowledge that will help you in the future when making a purchase. There are over 3,000 different minerals in the world and over 130 gem species are recognized with the number increasing gradually as more and more are discovered and documented.
Representing April as a birthstone Diamond is the true King of the gemstones, the hardest and most durable substance, and a great representation of eternal love and passion, the highest prized position amongst all other gem stones, coming to us from a Greek word 'Adamas', meaning unconquerable.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, when our world was still uninhabited by man, and when the continents as we know them, were moving around taking up positions that they now have, diamonds were forming deep underground, natural formation means every diamond is unique and also means that some diamonds contain flaws of imperfections, but these are the hallmarks of nature.
Up until the beginning of the 18th Century all diamonds known to man had come from India, in particular the famous Goldconda mines, which produced many of the famous diamonds, such as the fabulous Koh-I-Noor, the Orlaff, the Hope Blue and the Dresden Green. The Koh-I-Noor was originally a round stone of 186 carats belonging to the Indian Raj, eventually coming into the possession of the East India Company who presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850, re-cut it was set in the crown of Queen Mary, wife of George V, and then in a crown made for the Mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the crown is now in the Tower of London.
Diamonds have since been found in many locations, skilfully cut by master craftsman to reflect the light in a perfect way to achieve the most brilliant diamond fire. If the cuts made to the diamond are too shallow or too deep light reflection inside the diamond will be poor and lower, not only the value of the diamond but also the beauty it radiates. Diamonds are graded by colour, cut, clarity and carat which make up the four C’s. You can learn more about the cut of a diamond through our 4C’s in-depth guide.
Pure colourless diamonds are the most popular but other colour variations do exist; yellow, brown, green, blue, pink, red, grey and black.
Not only is a diamond unique in its birth, but it can also be cut into many different styles, most commonly; modern brilliant cut, princess cut, baguette and marquise. Brilliant cut being the most popular as this cut focuses on the maximum reflection of light, enhancing the diamonds inner fire. Princess cut is a clean classic square, with baguette cut being similar to princess but taking on a rectangular shape. Marquise a sleek cut, the style of an eye. There are many other cuts apart from these, but these being the most common in today’s modern standard.
With this information when picking a diamond you want to focus on the 4C’s. Each step grading the diamond which will help gives you an accurate representation of the stone. For further information you can visit in-store where one of trained and friendly members of staff can consult you on a precious diamond.
Ruby is a beautiful precious gem stone and represents July as a birthstone, and is traditionally given as a 40th Wedding Anniversary gift. It ranks after diamond as one of the hardest materials found on Earth and belongs to the gem family of Corundum. Because of these properties it is an ideal stone that can be worn on a daily basis.
Rubies may be any shade of red, including pinkish, purples and brownish colours depending on the growth of the stone and its natural life span. It can be found in many locations with the very finest source of Ruby being found in Burma, producing the deep pure red colour that coined the term 'pigeon blood red'. With further sources being Thailand, Cambodia & Sri Lanka
When worn a ruby is thought to ward off misfortune, preserving the physical and mental health of the wearer, as well as promote creative flair & stir imagination. Legend tells a story about the King of Siam in the 13th century, who possessed a Ruby the size of a man’s hand. Every night and every morning the King would rub the ruby over his face and neck in the belief that this action would prolong his life and preserve his youth. The King died at the age of 90, very old in those days, and is said that when he died his complexion was similar to that of a young man’s
Sapphire is the sister of Ruby also belonging to the Corundum family, representing September as a birthstone and traditionally given for a 45th Wedding Anniversary. Sapphires share many of the same properties as rubies the largest difference between the two being colour alone, again the properties of Sapphire making it an ideal gem stone that can be worn on a daily basis.
Sapphire gem stones also come in a wide range of colours, the most common and well known is blue, but other colours such as pinks, yellows, whites and green sapphires have been found and are used in jewellery. The tiny state of Kashmir in the Himalayas of northern India is the source of perhaps the world’s most coveted blue Sapphire, extraordinary deep velvety blue often referred to as 'Cornflower Blue'. Further fine examples are found in Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cambodia with the darker almost black shades coming from Australia.
Famous Sapphires include the St Edward’s Sapphire which is reputed to have been worn by Edward the Confessor, in 1042, and the Stuart or the Charles II Sapphire, measuring a massive 35 x 25 millimetres, both stones are in the British Crown Jewels.
In folklore blue Sapphire worn by a man is said to denote Wisdom but on a woman jealousy is an important characteristic. During the 12th century the blue sapphire came into its own as an ecclesiastical stone, and not much later was found to be an antidote for poison.
Emerald is arguably one of the most beautiful gemstones in existence, and represents May as a birthstone. It belongs to the Beryl family of gems. Slightly softer than Sapphire and Ruby Emerald has to be treated and worn with a little more care, rarely found flawless stones can often be “oiled” to infill tiny cracks and flaws and also to enhance the colour.
The finest examples of Emerald are sourced from Colombia, with an ideal colour of intense 'velvety' green, such stones command high premiums. Indeed experts with the use of a microscope would be able to tell the origins of Colombian Emeralds as they can have unique locality diagnostic inclusions. Fine examples of Emeralds can also be found from Brazil, Siberia, Zimbabwe, India & Pakistan.
The Beryl family was thought to 're-awaken the love of married people', in mythology Emerald was the stone of Venus, and signified reproductive forces of nature, other claims for this stone is the ability to negate spells and enchantment, increase the power of ones memory, and help to predict future events.
The sister to Emerald, Aquamarine represents March as a birthstone. Pliny, the Roman naturalist described this variety of Beryl as “resembling the pure green of the sea”, it is most certainly a reference to the light green to light blue gemstone, as the name Aquamarine simply translates to 'sea water'.
The highly-prized pure blue colour can command large fees, the most commercial material coming from Brazil and Madagascar. This is one member of the Beryl family that can produce fine quality, large, flawless cut stones. It is recorded that in 1910 an Aquamarine crystal was discovered in Brazil that weighed over 520,000 carats, and that this massive crystal actually produced more than 200,000 carats of gem quality faceted stones.
This is a beautiful gemstone that was considered a symbol of chastity, and had the ability to help overcome the powers of darkness.
Tanzanite is a particularly beautiful gemstone and unique in the fact the only source being Tanzania. It has at its best a deep velvety blue or bluish-purple colour. It was first discovered in the late 1960’s in Tanzania, and was introduced by the New York jewellers, Tiffany & Co.
Heat treated to a deep blue Tanzanite can command a high price. It is a relatively soft gemstone, and should never ever in a workshop be put into an ultrasonic cleaner, which could cause it to craze or shatter. But with all precious, rare and beautiful things if treated carefully and with respect it will reward you for many years to come.
It is a member of the Zoisite family, Tanzanite being the most important whilst other family members though less important nevertheless are occasionally used as ornamental stones.
Amethyst is the most highly valued stone in the Quartz family. The Quartz family also includes Citrine, Smoky quartz, Rock Crystal, Rose Quartz, Tigers Eye, Chalcedony & Agate which covers Bloodstone, Cornelian & Jasper to name a few.
A light to deep purple in colour, Amethyst is the birthstone for those born in February. Much of the commercial Amethyst comes from Brazil or Africa.
Amethyst is steeped in mystery and myth and has been credited with some amazing properties. It is said to have the ability to protect the wearer from the effects of drunkedness, also to ensure peace of mind, a love of fairness, a sense of duty and a devotion to high moral principles. As such it is highly thought of by the Church, and even today the most important part of a Bishop’s regalia would be an amethyst set ring. The suffragette movement also adopted the amethyst as part of their colours, many brooches and pendants from that era would be set with Amethyst, Peridot and Pearl.
Opal is undoubtedly a most beautiful and relatively rare gemstone.
It normally brings to mind milky white cabochons with a few patches of mysterious iridescent colour, but that is only a small fraction of what is available. Found in Australia and the birthstone for October, Opal is without doubt a stone of many options. It can be found with or without patches of colour and with a body of white, black, colourless or flame red.
Opal has been associated with being unlucky, but this is because of its fragility and porousness, many a fine valuable Opal has been broken by knocking it or has had its colour ruined by immersion.
It needs slightly more tender loving care for this reason and when treated so can give the wearer many years of beauty. It is also said to confer good fortune on the wearer, while in the East it is believed to help preserve the wearer from disease. Blonde maidens of the 15th century wore opal necklaces to preserve the colour of their hair, and if touched to the forehead an Opal would help the memory. These beliefs are probable due to the inexplicable flashes of vivid reds, greens, blues and yellows from within the stone.
Over the centuries Opal has been worked and carved for the fashioning of artifacts that delighted and enchanted the rich and famous, including Opals carved into beautiful creatures by Carl Faberge, some of which are among the Royal collection of jewels at Sandringham House.
Pearl is an organic Gem, these differ from other gemstones because of the way in which they are formed, Pearls being the products of marine or freshwater molluscs.
Pearls are formed by saltwater oysters or freshwater mussels, and more rarely by other shellfish. They are the result of an irritant being washed into its shell, causing the creature to secrete a substance around the irritant, once this process has begun it secretes layer after layer forming a shell. The substance the oyster secretes is called Nacre. Natural Pearls are those pearls that come into being without human intervention, with human intervention they are known as Cultured Pearls.
There is evidence of pearls being used in jewellery as far back as the 4th century BC, probably one of the first gems man used in this way because unlike other gemstones they do not require any further work such as cutting or polishing, they can be used 'straight from the sea'.
Pearl is the birthstone for June, and have often been associated with tears, it was believed that they were the solidified tears Adam and Eve shed after the death of Abel. But in other cultures, India for example it is said that the god Vishnu, who guarded the world gathered pearls from the Indian Ocean to adorn his daughter, which is why Indian women wear Pearls at their weddings. The ancient Greeks dedicated pearls to the goddess of love, Aphrodite and the Romans thought they were tears of Venus and were given to newly-wed women to prevent them from crying. The Scottish believed that worn next to the heart they would ensure the faithfulness of one’s lover.
Pearls are probably one of the most adaptable of gems and can be used in many different ways to create very fine and classic items of jewellery.
Topaz is an excellent jewellery stone, and has a hardness that allows it to be used for all purposes. It comes in a vast array of colours, colourless, yellow, orange, pink light to dark blue, red , violet and green. The yellow or Sherry as it is known representing the birthstone for November.
The most common we see in jewellery today is the light to dark blue, the most valuable being pink to reddish-orange.
It is said to have the power to aid eyesight by rubbing a wine-moistened Topaz onto the eye, a 15th century Roman physician was said to have had success in curing the plague by touching the sores with a topaz that had once belonged to the Popes Clement IV and Gregory II, the ecclesiastical connection apparently greatly enhancing the power of the stone.