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10 Types of Gemstones

10 Types of Gemstones

Prized for their beauty and rarity, humans have been adorning themselves with gemstones for centuries. Today, just wandering the halls of a natural history museum or watching a film featuring troves of lost treasures can hold us captive to gemstones’ enchantments—but unless you’re a jeweler or a collector, it’s not always easy to appreciate their versatility and know how to care for and clean gemstones properly.

Many people might know how to tell a sparkling green emerald from a radiant diamond, but what about lesser-known stones like amber or topaz? With more than two hundred varieties of gemstones in known existence, learning about the precise ones you’re admiring can add more meaning to the pieces that make their way into your collection.

If you’re eager to learn more about precious stones, this guide to 10 ravishing types of gemstones will open you to the glittering world of their origins, qualities and hidden meanings.

What is a Gemstone?

The word gemstone is a catch-all term that can refer to different kinds of materials found in nature and prized for their beauty and durability. These include:

  • Minerals
  • Organic matter (like tree resin)
  • Rocks

After they’re sourced, these materials are cut and polished for use by humans. Typically, we use gemstones in jewelry pieces like rings, necklaces and earrings. Some gemstones are too soft or fragile to be used for craft, but they can still be valued examples of natural finery and highly sought after by collectors.

The most common type of gemstone is a mineral—an inorganic solid with a defined chemical composition and crystal structure. Common examples of gemstones that are minerals include:

  • Quartz
  • Topaz
  • Opal
  • Diamonds

On the other hand, many gemstones are not minerals but are actually composed of organic materials. Amber, for instance, is forged from tree sap while pearls form inside living organisms known as mollusks.

Precious vs. Semi-Precious Gemstones

Because gemstones vary widely in terms of structure and composition, they’ve been classified throughout history in a host of different ways. One type of classification that has endured through time is the “precious vs. semi-precious” categorization.

Traditionally, there were four different types of precious gems:

  • Diamonds
  • Rubies
  • Sapphires
  • Emeralds

Anything else was considered a semi-precious gem. Today, this taxonomy holds little real value. “Precious” often denotes a group of gems that are more valuable than all others, yet there are many examples of semi-precious gems that are rarer or more expensive in the marketplace. 

10 Gemstones You Should Know

Below, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite different types of gemstones. Some of these were chosen because of their relative popularity in jewelers’ stores, while others were included because you may be likely to see them in other settings, like in museums (or even in the creek bed along your favorite hike). 

We’ll touch on the origins of these colored gemstones, what makes them special and the various meanings people have ascribed to them over the centuries.

Rubies

The official birthstone of July, rubies make a gorgeous choice for fine jewelry thanks to their eye-catching fiery color. Rubies are also prized for their durability and are extremely tough to nick or scratch.

Interestingly, rubies are chemically and structurally identical to sapphires. Both are made from a mineral called corundum, though the two gems are distinguished by their typical coloring. Rubies get their rosy brilliance from traces of chromium.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 9
  • Associations – Vigor, passion, joy

Sapphires

A cousin to the ruby, sapphires are the official birthstone of September and have been loved since ancient times. Most people are familiar with the blue sapphire, but this precious stone also comes in:

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Violet
  • Green
  • Black

Commonly found in areas in and around the Indian subcontinent, sapphires have adorned engagement rings from Napoléon Bonaparte’s famous offering to his wife Joséphine to the precious stone given to Kate Middleton by William, Prince of Wales.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 9
  • Associations – Wisdom, protection, royalty

Emeralds

A transparent and gorgeously green gemstone, the emerald has long been considered a symbol of intimacy and love. Ancient Rome’s Pliny the Elder wrote about them in his Natural History, famously claiming that “nothing greens greener,” while across the Atlantic Ocean, the Incas were soon to begin incorporating emeralds in their jewelry as well.

Today, emeralds are known as the May birthstone and are often exchanged between couples on the occasion of their twentieth anniversaries.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 8
  • Associations – Mysticism, honor, true love

Topaz

A well-liked colored stone and the birthstone of November, topaz comes in a gorgeous array of hues. You can find it in yellow, orange, pink and even blue, though it’s most commonly found in a colorless shade known as “white topaz.”

Today, laboratories have discovered techniques to give white topaz a color, thanks to advances in irradiation, heating and coating techniques. This is why topaz shades like “London Blue” or “Swiss Blue” have become so ubiquitous in jewelry stores.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 8
  • Associations – Calm, clarity, dreams coming true

Lapis Lazuli

Another stone prized for its gorgeous deep shades, lapis lazuli is used in beadwork, jewelry and sculpture. Unlike diamonds or sapphires, lapis lazuli is not a mineral. Instead, this metamorphic rock has undergone years of compression and heat to emerge as a beautiful solid stone with a deepblue color.

Lapis lazuli are found all over the world, most notably in countries like Afghanistan, Chile and Russia. Its softness makes it easy to work with but it can easily begin to show signs of abrasion with wear.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 5
  • Associations – Mystery, healing, friendship

Amber

Amber is an ochre-hued resin-turned-gemstone. Found around the world, it arises naturally through a process that can take thousands or even millions of years, starting with the sap that is excreted from trees.

Amber can encapsulate and preserve organic matter such as insects, plants and fungi, providing a sort of window to the past. This makes it a common inclusion in history museums, as it adorns the arms and ears of jewelry enthusiasts throughout the centuries.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 2 to 2.5
  • Associations – Transformation, alchemy, grounding

Amethyst

A beautiful violet stone, amethyst has exploded in popularity as a choice for engagement rings chosen by unconventional couples. It is also the February birthstone and is said to have healing powers. This has made it especially valuable among the “New Age” crowd.

Its bright color sets it apart from a diamond and a diamond alternative, though it’s far less durable. Concerns about its lack of hardness can be offset by its attractive price: at between $20 and $50 per carat, it can be more affordable than a diamond.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 7
  • Associations – Opulence, guidance, tranquility

Tourmaline

From earthy cobalt to pale aquamarine, tourmaline comes in a wide array of blueish hues. A crystallite silicate mineral, tourmaline is a compound of boron and other materials like:

  • Sodium
  • Lithium
  • Iron
  • Aluminum
  • Magnesium

The price of tourmaline can vary widely, depending on the exact color you select. While there are plenty of affordable options, the rare Paraiba variety can fetch thousands of dollars per carat.

Tourmaline is also said to be useful when it comes to balancing yin and yang energies. It is often utilized in feng shui because it is said to shield a homeowner from negative energy. 

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 7 to 7.5
  • Associations – Balance, intuition, self-love

Garnet

A reddish stone that is often mistaken for a ruby, garnet is a silicon mineral that has been used since the Bronze Age in jewelry and in industrial settings for its hard, abrasive qualities.

Garnet has been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs and was also used in Asia and Scandinavia to adorn metal objects. Today, some believe garnet can help create emotional balance and restore energy in the body.

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 6.5 to 7.5
  • Associations – Romance, protection, positivity

Diamonds

Could any survey of gemstones be complete without mention of the diamond? The most favored stone when it comes to use in engagement rings, diamonds are renowned for their beauty and rarity, though they aren’t as difficult to come by as the diamond industry might lead us to believe.

Diamonds are also valued for their relative hardness in comparison to other stones. Ranking at the highest level of hardness, they are used in laboratory settings to cut other hard materials (often, other diamonds).

  • Mohs scale of hardness – 10
  • Associations – Union, commitment, purity

Find Your Perfect Gemstone with Diamond Nexus™ 

Gone are the days when arbitrary classification schemes labeled some gemstones more precious than others. Today, jewelry wearers embrace the vast variety of colored gemstones, from the very common to the ultra-rare, defining their meanings on their own terms.

The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all stone when it comes to celebrating your love with a beautiful stone. You may opt for a gem that’s associated with your birth month, or said to contain special properties you’re hoping to manifest. Or, you may be looking for a stone that’s eye-catching, within your means and as enduring as the feelings that inspired your investment.

Whatever your motivations, our experts at Diamond Nexus want to help you find the stone that seems perfectly crafted for you and your beloved. Our diamond alternatives are made of carbon for exquisite clarity, but they cost up to 90% less than diamonds mined from the earth. Start browsing today to discover unique white gold engagement rings, wedding bands and other masterfully crafted pieces you’ll treasure forever.

Sources: 

Gem Society. What is a Gem? https://www.gemsociety.org/article/what-is-a-gem/

United States Geological Survey. What is the difference between a rock and a mineral? https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-difference-between-rock-and-mineral

International Gem Society.  Gemstone Encyclopedia.  ​​https://www.gemsociety.org/gemstone-encyclopedia/

Geoscience Australia. Sapphire and Ruby. https://www.ga.gov.au/education/classroom-resources/minerals-energy/australian-mineral-facts/sapphire

Cape Town Diamond Museum. Mohs Scale of Hardness. https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/mohs-scale-of-hardness/

The Spruce. Meaning and Uses of the Ruby in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/ruby-meaning-5222055

The Spruce. The Meaning and Power of the Blue Sapphire Stone. https://www.thespruce.com/the-royal-sapphire-king-of-all-blue-stones-1274366

Gemological Institute of America. September Birthstone. https://www.gia.edu/birthstones/september-birthstones

Cape Town Diamond Museum. Mohs Scale of Hardness. https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/mohs-scale-of-hardness/

The Spruce. Meaning and Uses of the Emerald in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/emerald-meaning-5222043

Gemological Institute of America. Emerald History and Lore. https://www.gia.edu/emerald-history-lore

International Gem Society. Emerald Symbolism.  https://www.gemsociety.org/article/history-legend-emerald-gems-yore/

Geology.com. Topaz. https://geology.com/minerals/topaz.shtml

The Spruce. The Use and Meaning of Topaz in Feng Shui.  https://www.thespruce.com/topaz-feng-shui-properties-4151695

Geology.com. Lapis Lazuli. https://geology.com/gemstones/lapis-lazuli/

International Colored Gemstone Association. Lapis Lazuli. https://www.gemstone.org/lapis-lazuli

Getty Institute. What Is Amber? https://www.getty.edu/publications/ambers/intro/4/

International Gem Society. The Mohs Hardness Scale and Chart for Select Gems. https://www.gemsociety.org/article/select-gems-ordered-mohs-hardness/

The Spruce. Uses of Amber in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/amber-gemstone-for-feng-shui-1274601

Brides. Amethyst Engagement Rings: The Complete Guide. https://www.brides.com/amethyst-engagement-rings-4845066

Geology.com. Amethyst. https://geology.com/gemstones/amethyst/

The Spruce. Meaning and Uses of Amethyst in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-amethyst-crystal-power-1274382

International Gem Society. Paraíba Tourmaline Buying Guide. https://www.gemsociety.org/article/paraiba-tourmaline-buying-guide/

The Spruce. Uses of Tourmaline in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/the-colour-power-of-tourmaline-stone-1274368

International Gem Society. Garnet Symbolism. https://www.gemsociety.org/article/select-gems-ordered-mohs-hardness/

Geoscience Australia. Garnet. https://www.ga.gov.au/education/classroom-resources/minerals-energy/australian-mineral-facts/garnet

The Spruce. Meaning and Uses of the Diamond in Feng Shui. https://www.thespruce.com/diamond-symbolism-5222031

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