Precious stones VS. semi precious stones: what are the differences between the two?
A true stone designation is complex considering that some are said to be precious, others to be semi-precious, more are considered fine or ornamental. Differences apply. What stones are considered precious and which are those considered semi precious?
Author By Holly Albertson
Gemstones are minerals, rocks or organic matter that have been cut, polished and then fashioned into a piece of jewelry. In the 1800s, these gemstones were divided into two categories: precious and semi precious stones considering their value differentiation at that time. Nowadays, the categorization is not always correct since the « Value » parameter is not the only criteria on which experts rely to in order to evaluate a stone. The quality, the rarity, the provenance are to be taken into consideration.
In regards the so-called « precious stones », only four prevail: diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Sometimes you will can see that a pearl, an opal or a jade are listed as a precious gemstone, but more often they are considered semi-precious. Traditionally, these four precious stones have been the most expensive and sought after stones.
Every other gemstone that isn’t one of those four is considered to be semi precious. The list goes on and on, but some of the more common ones are: alexandrite, agate, amethyst, aquamarine, garnet, lapis lazuli, moonstone, opal, pearl, peridot, rose quartz, spinel, tanzanite, tourmaline, turquoise and zircon.
This separation between precious and semi precious has no real scientific backing. For example, emerald is a variety of a beryl, so are aquamarines. Emerald is precious while aquamarine is semi precious. When this categorization came about, it was mainly due to the value and rarity differences between the 4 precious gemstones and the rest. Today some semi precious gemstones can be worth much more than a precious stone. As an example, many natural pearls garner huge prices, often worth more than a low quality precious diamond, ruby, emerald or sapphire. Spinels are another example. Additionally, many semi precious stones can be more rare than some of the precious. Demantoid garnets or tsavorite garnets and many other semi precious gemstones are hard to find, harder to mine and produced in much lower qualities than the precious gemstones.
When purchasing a gemstone, we wouldn’t suggest getting too caught up on if the stone is precious versus semi precious. All gemstones are precious, in the sense that if they provide meaning and value to you in a piece of jewelry, they are special! Bare in mind that colors are subjective and a piece of jewelry is emotional.
What’s in a Name: Derived from the Latin word for seed, granatum, the seed in the case of garnet is the red shade of a pomegranate seed.
Some Places Where it’s Found: Czech Republic, Greece, Russian, Tanzania, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and India
True Colors: While the most widely known color is the red of the Pyrope Garnet, the stone comes in lots of other shades including orange Mandarin Garnets and green Tsavorite Garnets.
The Spiritual: Garnets represent goodwill, happiness, and purpose. It is also believed garnets bring peace, prosperity and health to a home.
The Physical: Garnet is thought to heal wounds, stimulate metabolism and purify blood. There is the notion that it’s almost an anti-depressant. It is has a pay it forward component. There is a belief that those who do good while wearing garnet will be the recipients of goodwill. In the past, garnet was worn by warriors and as a talisman of protection.
The Historical: The Egyptians believed garnets were a symbol of life. Nobility in ancient Rome wore garnets in signet rings. During the Victorian period garnets were at a peak of popularity and appeared in all kinds of jewels.
What’s in a Name: The word for sober in ancient Greek, amethustos, oddly enough inspired the word amethyst. While it sounds like the wordsmiths might have been drinking when they came up with this one, the term was actually based on the belief that an amethyst could prevent the person wearing it from becoming drunk.
Some Places Where it’s Found: United States, Canada, Brazil and Zambia
True Colors: Ranging from deep purple to pastel pink, the variety of quartz often occurs in geodes or in the cavities of granitic rocks.
The Spiritual: Amethysts are thought to enhance creativity, passion and harmony. Often used in meditation, the energy of an amethyst is believed to help stability, humility and relaxation.
The Physical: Natural hormone balancer is one of the properties amethysts are thought to have. Others include the ability to build the immune system, reduce bruising and pain.
The Historical: When amethysts were rare, they were as prized as diamonds. Monarchs used amethyst as a symbol of royalty. The gem was believed to promote prophecy among other things.
What’s in a Name: The serenely colored aquamarine invokes the tranquility of the two Latin words that inspired its name: aqua for water and marina, for sea.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Brazil, Nigeria, Madagascar, Zambia, Pakistan, and Mozambique
True Colors: Aquamarines range in color from pale to deep blue with several greenish blue varieties.
The Spiritual: The gem is used as an aid for meditation and spirituality. It is supposed to provide a sense of calm and tranquility. A stone of empowerment, it is believed to encourage honest and compassionate communication.
The Physical: Aquamarine is thought to heal sinus conditions, allergies and respiratory problems, teeth and gum issues, as well as tired eyes. It is known as a cooling gem.
The Historical: The Greeks and the Romans considered aquamarines the treasure of mermaids. Sailors believed they would safeguard a ship in a storm. It was also believed to protect soldiers going into battle.
Traditional March Birthstone: Bloodstone
What’s in a Name: The red blood-like lines that run through the green stone inspired the name.
Some Places Where It’s Found: India, Brazil, and Australia
True Colors: A variety of jasper, the dark-green stone is flecked with vivid red spots of iron oxide.
The Spiritual: Some believe Bloodstone helps with mental clarity, creativity or energy.
The Physical: Bloodstones are generally considered a healing stone, especially with blood disorders.
The Historical: Many ancient civilizations used the stone to assist in their divination and magically defeat their enemies. Crazy as it sounds, the ancient Egyptians claimed the stone had the power to make them invisible.
What’s in a Name: The Greek words adamas meaning unbreakable and diaphanus for transparent were merged together to form the term diamond.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Australia, Botswana, Canada, South Africa and Russia
True Colors: Most diamonds are transparent or white. The gem also comes in all colors of the rainbow. Any diamond other than a white diamond is called a fancy colored diamond.
The Spiritual: Diamonds are believed to bring a sense of radiance, energy and light to the soul. The super hard stone is thought to provide strength and clarity in stressful situations.
The Physical: The gem is considered a support stone and a master healer to unify the mind and body. Diamonds are also thought to be beneficial in strengthening brain functions and cleansing the organs.
The Historical: Warriors in ancient Greece wore diamonds to make themselves invincible while the Romans regarded the stone as a symbol of innocence and purity. During the Renaissance, diamonds were first used as engagement rings.
What’s in a Name: Unlike other gems, it is difficult to find the root of the word emerald in the Latin term for the gem smaragdus.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia
True Colors: Emerald ranges from yellow-green to blue-green with the finest being a pure green hue.
The Spiritual: Emerald is believed to have many mystical powers. It is said to transform negativity into positive energy, security, harmony and spirituality.
The Physical: Just looking at emeralds was once believed to cure stomach, skin and intestinal problems. The gem was also thought to be able to keep the wearer’s attitude serene.
The Historical: Emeralds were mined in Egypt as early as 330 BC. Cleopatra famously collected the stone. The Egyptians used emeralds in jewelry and in elaborate burials as a symbol of protection.
Pearl and Moonstone
What’s In A Name: The name pearl originates from the Latin word for leg, perna. It rather imaginatively is a reference to the leg-of-mutton shape of an open mollusk shell.
Some Places Where It’s Found: China, Australia, Philippines and Indonesia
True Colors: The only gem made by living creatures, pearls come in a range of colors from white to black Tahitian pearls and rare pink Conch pearls.
The Spiritual: Pearls are believed to create a sense of balance and provide emotional healing. The gem is also associated with faithfulness, loyalty, modesty and purity.
The Physical: Pearls have been used throughout history to help treat the digestive tract, maintain strong bones and brighten skin in the form of pearl powder.
The Historical: Ancient Greeks believed pearls were tears of the gods. Hindus thought pearls were tears of the moon. Tudor England became known as the Pearl Age, because the gem was so popular with nobility.
June Birthstone: Moonstone
What’s in a Name: The Roman historian Pliny named moonstones and poetically wrote that the gem’s shimmery appearance shifted with the phases of the moon.
Some Places Where it’s Found: Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Myanmar, Madagascar and the United States
True Colors: Composed of microscopic layers of feldspar that scatter light, thin layers of Moonstone produce a bluish sheen, while the thick layers look white.
The Spiritual: As its name implies, moonstone is closely associated with lunar mystery and magic. Its balancing energies can supposedly sync with the rhythms of nature, igniting passion between lovers.
The Physical: Moonstone’s are known as the Traveler’s Stone, because it’s believed to provide protection at night for people on a trip. Some credit the stone with helping to provide a good night’s sleep and beautiful dreams as well as treating insomnia and sleepwalking.
The Historical: The ancient Romans and the Greeks treasured the moonstone for it’s connection to their lunar gods. They believed the stone was formed from moonbeams.
What’s in a Name: The name ruby comes from the Latin word for red, rubeus.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Middle East, East Africa and the United States
True Colors: The rich red color of the ruby is caused by the element chromium, which also makes the gem glow from within. While it sounds awful, the best color of rubies is called “pigeon’s blood.”
The Spiritual: Rubies have been a symbol of passion, protection and prosperity since ancient times. The gem is believed to amplify energy, heighten awareness, promote courage and bring success in wealth, love and battle.
The Physical: Thought to energize and balance, stimulate the heart chakra and encourage a passions, the stone is used to detoxify the body and heal the heart and respiratory system.
The Historical: In ancient times, ruby was worn as an amulet to ward off the plague and diseases. It was also believed to be the most precious of gemstones during the time of the Judean Temple, for its passion and energy was said to bring love, success and good fortune.
Peridot, Spinel and Sardonyx
What’s in a Name: There is some debate about the origin of the term, but most believe it comes from the Greek word for giving plenty, peridona.
Where It’s Found: Arizona, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Africa
True Colors: It is one of the only gemstones that forms in only one color green. The shades range from lime green to olive and brown, depending on how much iron is present.
The Spiritual: Peridot is believed to stimulate psychological clarity and inspire a sense of happiness, truth and understanding. Believers think it empowers one to take responsibility and make decisions, resulting in prosperity and good fortune.
The Physical: The stone is supposed to support the digestive system. It was used as a talisman during childbirth. Its green energy helps with internal balance, peaceful sleep and releasing negative feelings.
The History: Ancient Egyptians called peridot the gem of the sun. They believed it protected its wearer from terrors of the night and harnessed the power of nature.
August Birthstone: Spinel
What’s in a Name: The name spinel originates from the Latin word for form, spina, due to its pointed crystal shape in rough form or the Greek word spítha for spark in reference to its bright color.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Afghanistan, and Australia
True Colors: The most common colors are red, pink, blue and black.
The Spiritual: Spinel is believed to bring high energy and prosperity.
The Physical: Spinel is used for astral travel, as it supposedly helps with gaining and cleansing the energies.
The Historical: Spinels were often mistaken for rubies. The most famous example of the confusion was the Black Prince Ruby in the Imperial State Crown of England. In the last 18thcentury gemologist figured out the difference between the similar looking gems, but the name has never been changed for the famous stone in British regalia.
Traditional August Birthstone: Sardonyx
What’s in a Name: The name is a combination of two words. Sard is a reference to the ancient Persian city, Sardis, where the red stone was found. Onyx comes from the Greek word for nail or claw.
Some Places Where It’s Found: India, Brazil, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Madagascar, Uruguay and the United States
True Colors: The presence of iron oxide can affect the stones color, from yellowish to reddish with zebra-stripe inclusions of multiple layers of white bands.
The Spiritual: Used as a stone of strength and protection since ancient times, sardonyx is associated with courage and happiness.
The Physical: Sardonyx is believed to release anxiety, depression, and strengthen your immune system.
The Historical: In ancient Greece and Rome, soldiers wore engraved sardonyx talismans to battle, believing the stone would grant them courage, victory and protection. The stone was also used during the Renaissance, as an aid to clear thinking and communication. In jewelry the gem was mainly used in cameos.
What’s in a Name: The name sapphire comes from the Latin sapphirus and Greek sappheiros. Both mean blue stone.
Where It’s Found: Kashmir, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and India among other places.
True Colors: Although sapphire is generally understood to mean a blue, the gem comes in every color of the rainbow except red. When the sapphire mineral corundum is red, it is a ruby.
The Spiritual: Sapphires are a symbol of loyalty, nobility, sincerity and integrity. They are associated with focusing the mind, maintaining self-discipline and channeling higher powers.
The Physical: Blue sapphires are believed to be a cure-all that do just about everything including help insomniacs sleep.
The Historical: Greeks wore sapphire for guidance when seeking answers from the oracle, while Buddhists believed it brought spiritual enlightenment, and Hindus used it during worship. Sapphires were called hyakinthoi (hyacinths) in the sixth century when they were a popular gem in Byzantine jewelry.
Opal and Tourmaline
What’s in a Name: The name opal originates from the Greek word opallios, which meant to see a change in color.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Australia, Brazil, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Czech Republic
True Colors: Microscopic silica spheres that diffract light to display various colors of the rainbow create a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind color combination, also called Precious Opals.
The Spiritual: As a stone of light, opal is believed to be the ideal gem to attract positive energies and center the mind for prayer and meditation.
The Physical: A supportive stone, dedicated to healing and emotionally strengthening, it’s thought to have properties to purify the blood, stimulate memory and balance hormones.
The Historical: According to Arabic legend, opals fell from the sky in bolts of lightning. It became associated with bad luck after a character wearing the gem in a popular novel by Sir Walter Scott ran into some trouble.
October Birthstone: Tourmaline
What’s in a Name: The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese words tura mali, which mean stone of mixed colors.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Mozambique, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States
True Colors: Tourmalines come in a vast array of colors ranging from black to bicolor pink and green, gems aptly named watermelon tourmaline. The most well-known tourmalines are probably the green variety.
The Spiritual: Tourmaline is believed to imbue a positive attitude, good luck and happiness.
The Physical: The stone is thought to aid in cleaning the organs, as it aids the metabolism and in hormone production.
The Historical: Tourmaline has been treasured in China for centuries as part of their rituals and ceremonies. Ancient magicians used black tourmaline as a form of protection against negative energy and evil forces.
Topaz and Citrine
What’s in a Name: The name topaz derives from Topazios, the ancient Greek name for St. John’s Island in the Red Sea.
Some Places Where it’s Found: Brazil, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Nigeria, Germany, and the United States
True Colors: Pure topaz is colorless. Impurities tint the stone to a variety of colors like blue, pink, yellow and brown. The most desirable type is the rich orange of Imperial Topaz.
The Spiritual: Topaz is believed to strengthen faith and trust.
The Physical: Yellow topaz is believed to be an anti depressant and improving brain function. Blue topaz are considered a soothing stone that clears the mind.
The Historical: To the ancient Egyptians, topaz symbolized Ra, the sun god. Greeks and Romans prized it for its ability to provide strength and prevent injury. The Hindus believed topaz would protect their homes from fire, and when worn above the heart, would assure long life, beauty and intelligence.
November Birthstone: Citrine
What’s in a Name: The name comes from the French word citron, meaning lemon.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Africa, Brazil, France, Madagascar, South Africa and the United States
True Colors: A variety of quartz, citrine ranges in colors from the most common yellow to red-brown.
The Spiritual: Believed to be powerful cleanser and regenerator, the gem supposedly inspires self-improvement.
The Physical: Citrine is thought to provide a boost to the circulatory system.
The Historical: Citrines can be found in jewels dating back to ancient Greece. It was a very popular gem in jewels from the 19th century through the 1940s.
Turquoise and Tanzanite
What’s in a Name: The word turquoise comes from the French tourques for Turkish stone. Traders from Turkey introduced the Persian blue stone to Europe via the Silk Road in the 13th century.
Some Places Where It’s Found: Iran and the United States
True Colors: Turquoise ranges in color from powdery blue to greenish robin’s egg blue.
The Spiritual: Turquoise is believed to heal and cleanse the body. It is thought to aid in understanding, enhance trust, kindness, and the recognition of beauty.
The Physical: Turquoise is a strengthening stone, good for exhaustion, depression or panic attacks.
The Historical: Cultures around the world have admired the distinct color of turquoise since ancient times. Egyptians treasured its protective power and set it in necklaces, Persians set the stone into their daggers and war necklace and Native Americans used it in sacred ceremonies.
What’s in a Name: The name for tanzanite comes from Tanzania, the place where it was discovered in 1967.
Where It’s Found: Tanzania in East Africa is the only place the gem has ever been found.
True Colors: It’s unique intense violet-blue is often achieved by heat treating to remove any natural impurities.
The Spiritual: The gemstone is believed to open up an awareness between how one lives and one could live more consciously. It is thought to help people recognize their strengths.
The Physical: Tanzanite is thought to inspire creativity.
The Historical: In Tanzania, it is customary for women to wear tanzanite beads while giving birth to ensure a healthy baby. Tiffany popularized the gem after using it in jewelry