Beauty. Rarity. Durability.
These attributes attract us to colored gemstones for personal adornment and make gemstones valuable and precious. Colored gemstones provide the opportunity for uniquely personal expression.
Most colored gemstones derive their beauty from their color – purples, blues, greens, yellows, oranges, reds. In certain colored gemstones color occurs naturally. Satisfying hues are intrinsic in some garnets, for example. In other colored gemstones, the final color occurs with assistance. For nearly as long as people have worn rubies, we have known how to treat a rough ruby with heat to obtain a desirable red color. Not all rubies are heat treated, but the vast majority are.
Gem cutters work to achieve a pleasing and affordable mix of color, weight (measured in carats), and a safe shape for mounting. During creation, a gemstone’s size is constrained by nature. For example, while large and beautiful amethysts are readily available, an alexandrite of large size is extremely rare.
Sparkle adds to the beauty of a well-cut colored gemstone. The cut of a colored gemstone describes its shape and how it is fashioned. Some gemstones, such as opal, are suited to a smooth, rounded surface. Others, such as sapphire, are more frequently shaped with a precise series of flat, symmetrical planes, called facets, which make the most pleasing illumination of the gem’s color. Some cutters today may also use convex or concave facets, shaping colored gemstone like small sculptures.
The clarity of colored gemstones contributes to their beauty. Unless a gemstone is opaque and blocks all light, how light moves through the gemstone affects its beauty. Some gemstones have few internal inclusions to interrupt the passage of light, as is the case with most pieces of tanzanite. Others have characteristic inclusions. For example, some emerald has a “jardine” (garden), which makes each gem truly unique.
Across time and cultures, people have adorned themselves with rare gem materials. From pearls and corals plucked from the seas, to bright colored pebbles found in the soils settling at the mouths of rivers; from the collection of gemstones mounted in the breastplate of Aaron as accounted in ancient scripture, to the historic gemstones mounted in the crown jewels of European monarchs, we let ourselves be known through the gemstones we choose to wear. These gemstones are precious because they are rare.
Because of their rarity, gemstones in which color is naturally occurring are generally more valuable. Many gemstones are treated or enhanced in some way, such as with heat or safe irradiation, to achieve the beautiful colors or clarity we desire in the sizes we desire. These gems, which are less rare, can also be very valuable. Some jewelers make synthetic colored gemstones available. Synthetic colored gemstones have all the optical, physical and chemical properties of naturally occurring gemstones, but they are created in a laboratory rather than occurring in nature. For some budgets, these synthetic materials are an acceptable choice.
A gemstone’s ability to be fashioned, mounted and worn is a function of how durable it is – a matter of both hardness and toughness. Some gemstones, such as sapphire, ruby and garnet, are well-suited to an active daily life and work well in rings, bracelets or cufflinks. Others, such as emeralds, pearls and opals call for earring or necklace mountings to keep them beautifully displayed but out of harm’s way.
Buying Colored Gemstone Jewelry
When buying colored gemstone jewelry, select what you consider beautiful. Because of the subtle differences in the tone and hue of the colored gemstone you are considering, look at several to find the one you prefer. Some jewelers offer loose colored gemstones and are able to help you create a personalized mounting. You may prefer to buy a finished jewelry item. Discuss how you see yourself wearing the piece so that your jeweler can help you select mountings consistent with your lifestyle. This will provide the best safeguard for your purchase.
You have the right to know what you are buying, whether yours is a natural gemstone, an enhanced or treated gemstone, or a synthetic gemstone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established guidelines for the jewelry industry stating that jewelers must disclose any treatment that is not permanent, that creates special care requirements, or that affects the gemstone’s value. Likewise, if a material is synthetic, it must be disclosed. Jewelers of America (JA) advises its members to disclose all such information, in the belief that a well-informed jewelry purchaser is a satisfied purchaser.
To give you the information you need, many jewelers provide written notice at the time you buy a gemstone by way of a note or code explaining your purchase. This information is written or stamped on the invoice or on an information card enclosed with your purchase. Be sure that the meaning of any code is clear to you. It is important to obtain this information prior to leaving the store, because it affects your purchase price and will also affect future cleaning and repair as well as replacement of an insured loss.
A reputable jeweler is your best source for cultured pearls. A knowledgeable jeweler can explain how to balance a number of quality and size variables to get the best selection available within a certain price range. You will be able to evaluate pearls on the basis of the following criteria:
Note: Your computer screen resolution and color setting may affect pearl color, lustre and actual sizes as compared to viewing with the naked eye.
The combination of surface brilliance and a deep-seated glow, the luster of a good-quality pearl should be bright, not dull. Your reflection should be seen clearly on the surface of a pearl. Any pearl that looks too chalky or dull indicates low quality.
Cleanliness of the pearl surface refers to the absence of disfiguring spots, bumps or cracks. A pearl with a clean surface will have a higher value than a spotted, bumpy or cracked one.
Since cultured pearls are grown by oysters and subject to the whims of Mother Nature, it is very rare to find a perfectly round pearl. While rounder pearls are more valuable, asymmetrical, or baroque, pearls have a unique charm and are available at a more moderate cost.
Rose Silver/White Cream Gold Blue/Gray Cultured pearls occur in colors from rosé to black. While color is a matter of preference, rosé or silver/white pearls tend to look best on fair skin tones, while cream and gold-tone pearls are flattering to darker complexions.
Measured by their diameter in millimeters, the average cultured pearls sold today are between 7 and 71/2 millimeters. Generally, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it will be.
VARIETIES OF CULTURED PEARLS AND WHERE THEY ARE GROWN
Akoya (grown in Japan and China)
Akoya pearls are the classic cultured pearls of Japan. They are the most lustrous of all pearls found anywhere in the world. In recent years, China has been successful in producing Akoya pearls within their own waters. However, at this time they are unable to produce as brilliant a lustre as high quality Japanese Akoya cultured pearls.
White South Sea (grown in Australia, Mynamar and Indonesia)
White South Sea cultured pearls are grown in large tropical or semi-tropical oysters in Australia, Mynamar, Indonesia and other Pacific countries. They generally range in size from 10mm to 20mm and command premium prices because of their relative rarity and large size.
South Sea Black (grown in French Polynesia)
South Sea black cultured pearls are grown in a variety of large pearl oysters found primarily in French Polynesia. Their beautiful, unique color and large size can command very high prices.
Freshwater (grown in Japan, China and the United States)
Freshwater pearls are easily cultivated from freshwater mussels rather than saltwater oysters. They are produced in great abundance, and are therefore generally the most moderately priced of all cultured pearl varieties. Their unique shapes and gentle pastel colors make them perfect gems for those on a budget.
Mabe Pearls (grown in Japan, Australia, French Polynesia, Indonesia, and the Philippines)
Mabe pearls are hemispherical cultured pearls grown against the inside shell of any oyster rather than within the oyster's body. They are generally used in ring, earring and pendant settings which cover their flat backs or reverse side.
Keshi Pearls (grown in Japan, Australia, French Polynesia, Indonesia, and the Philippines)
Keshi pearls, though not nucleated cultured pearls, are created by accident as a result of the sulturing process and these must be considered cultured pearls. Their unusual shapes and sizes are best used in unique jewelry designs.