Time was when diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls topped the list as “precious” gemstones. However, today there is some disagreement about precious gemstones and semi-precious varieties.
The dictionary tells us that precious means “of high worth or cost”. Yet synonyms include cherished, treasured, and valuable. So, at best, the word “precious” is subjective, depending entirely on the value you place on a gem and the price you are willing to pay for it.
Today, the five original precious gemstones are generally referred to as cardinal gemstones, meaning that they were the first gems regarded as “precious”.
Contemporary gem dealers offer dozens of choices in lovely gems. Any gem that is rare, beautiful, and durable is a good choice for your fine jewelry collection. Use the list below to decide which stones hold the title of “precious gemstone” for you!
Agate: Agates can be black, gray, brown, red, green, pink, blue, white, and yellow and can bear exotic names like moss agate, blue lace agate, moche agate, and eye agate.
Alexandrite: One of June’s two birthstones, Alexandrite offers real variety in color, blue green in sunlight and varying from red to purple under incandescent light. Actually, good quality natural Alexandrite is among the most expensive of gemstones.
Amethyst: Originally, a cardinal gem amethyst lost its place in the list when large quantities were discovered in Brazil. However, this purple gemstone is still precious to those born in February.
Aquamarine: Find the depth of the sea in a stone. A universal symbol of youth, this March birthstone could also be considered a harbinger of spring.
Diamond: The hardest and, carat per carat, most valuable gemstone, a girl’s best friend, and the birthstone for April.
Emerald: One of the cardinal gems, the May birthstone was immortalized in the glittering green towers seen in the Wizard of Oz’s “Emerald City”.
Garnet: The birthstone for January, the garnet is typically seen as a dark red, nearly maroon gemstone, but actually is found in every color except blue. The garnet was also the legendary illuminant of Noah’s ark and in medieval times, it was worn as an amulet, protecting its owner from poison.
Jade: The Chinese call it the “stone of heaven”. In its most valuable form it holds the title “imperial jade” and is emerald green. Usually cabochon cut for rings, jade is frequently seen in oriental sculpture in greens ranging from light to dark and more rarely gray-greens, creams, yellow, pink, purple, and black.
Jasper: Found worldwide in colors that include red, brown, pink, yellow, green, grey/white and shades of blue and purple, jasper often holds organic includes that create patterns which contribute to many of its popular names such as Dalmatian, Leopard Skin, Zebra, Ocean, Rain Forest, and Stone Canyon.
Lapis lazuli: Named from the Persian word lazhward meaning blue, in ancient times, lapis lazuli was known as sapphirus and has been mined for at least 6,000 years. Lapis lazuli was often used an inscription stone for the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Moonstone: a transparent, slightly iridescent, milky-white variety of feldspar named because it shines like the moon and is said to be good luck for lovers.
Opal: The traditional birthstone for October, folklore alleges that opal wearers can thwart danger by using the stone’s magic to become invisible. Opal is a delicate, porous gem that may contain up to 21% water. Ranging in background color from white to black, opal is noted for the rainbow “play of colors” it displays in the light.
Peridot: Refracting golden flashes of sunlight, it’s no surprise that the green Peridot, the gem variety of olivine, was chosen as the birthstone for August. The Peridot has been beloved throughout history. Found in ancient Egyptian treasures, the Romans called it “the Evening Emerald”.
Ruby: The redness of the ruby is said to be fired by an eternal inner flame. The birthstone for July and one of the cardinal stones, the ruby is also called “the Lord of the Gems”.
Sapphire: Second only to the diamond in hardness, ancients believed that the sky itself was a sapphire that held the earth in place. The September birthstone, sapphires reveal every shade of blue. The star sapphire, which is becoming increasingly rare, displays a six-rayed white star shining from within its depths.
Topaz: Legend gives the November birthstone, the topaz the occult power of changing color when it’s near poison. The ancient Egyptians believed this amber-colored stone shone with the power of Ra, the god of the sun.
Turquoise: One of the two birthstones for December, the best turquoise is a clear sky blue and Native Americans sometimes describe turquoise as “a piece of sky in your hands”. Although a favorite component of Native American jewelry and found throughout the Americas, the first turquoise dates back to ancient Egypt and Persia at 3,000 BCE.
Tourmaline: Pink tourmaline is the faceted birthstone for October, but tourmalines are found in varying shades of red, blue, green, and yellow and many are multi-colored making them a unique addition to any jewelry collection.
Zircon: The pastel blue zircon is the faceted birthstone for December and simulates the winter sky in many areas of the Northern hemisphere. Natural Zircon is often confused with cubic zirconia, which is a synthetic stone. However, both zircon and its synthetic imitator have both been used for substitutes for diamonds.