Precious Gemstones Verses Semi-Precious Gemstones


One misconception I have heard over the years is that my jewelry is not made of “real gems” and some people only buy “real gems.” The first time I heard this, I was quite confused. I thought, of course these are real, they came from the Earth were cut and polished for jewelry applications. I quickly realized that the customers were confusing “real” with precious gemstones verses semi-precious gemstones. It wasn’t a matter of whether the stones were “real,” it was a matter of the customer being more familiar with precious gemstones. I decided I better research this a bit so I can make an educated explanation next time someone asks whether my stones are “real.”

For starters, the terms “precious” and “semi-precious” are going out of style (for lack of a better way to put it) when referring to gemstones. There are several “semi-precious” stones out there which are just as, if not more, valuable and rare as the stones which are considered “precious.” The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) states in their Code of Ethics: “Members should avoid the use of the term ‘semi-precious’ in describing gemstones.”

A gemstone is a mineral, rock, or organic material which can be cut, polished, and used for jewelry. Some of these materials can be enhanced (dyeing, stabilizing, and heating are a few enhancements), but they are still classified as gemstones. In modern jewelry, precious gemstones refer to diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires (I have also heard these referred to as “the big four”), and all other gemstones are semi-precious.

Minerals as gemstones

As I mentioned, some gemstones can be minerals. A mineral is a naturally formed solid substance with a crystalline structure. Sapphires and rubies come from the same mineral, corundum. Depending on what impurities are present, you either end up with pink to dark red ruby, or a cornflower blue sapphire. Some sapphires can also be found in yellow and pink.

Emeralds and aquamarine come from the mineral beryl. Purple quartz is known as amethyst. The mineral olivine is known as the gemstone peridot, while garnet, diamond, and topaz are the mineral names for the gemstones of the same name.

Rocks as gemstones

Rocks are solid substances made up of minerals and they are classified according to their composition on the mineral and chemical level. While most gemstones are minerals, there are a few that are rocks. Lapis lazuli, jasper, ruby-zoisite, and obsidian are a few commonly known rocks which are used as gemstones. Because rocks are made up of different minerals, they often have various colors and patterns in them. As a side note, one of my favorite stones is jasper because it comes in so many colors and patterns. Almost every stone is completely different and it allows for very unique jewelry pieces without the pieces being too complicated in design.

Organic Gemstones

Organic gemstones were once living things or were created by living things. Amber, jet, pearls, ivory, and coral are the most commonly known organic gemstones. Organic gemstones are the softest gemstones and more care needs to be taken to protect jewelry made with organic gemstones.

Amber and jet both come from trees, but in different ways. Amber is fossilized tree resin, while jet is formed by the remains of wood. Pearls are formed inside oysters and mussels by layers of nacre building up around a small irritating particle. Ivory is no longer as common as the other organic gemstones. It comes from the tusks of animals, namely elephants. It is no longer a common gemstone due to laws protecting the animals. Coral is also quickly becoming more challenging to find due to protection of the coral reefs. Coral is a marine animal that has a hard skeleton made of calcium carbonate, which is used for jewelry.


I hope this helps to bring a little more understanding about the stones I use in my jewelry. Next time you go through a jewelry department or a jewelry store, take a few minutes to look at all of the different stones and look closely at their colors and textures. A stone might not be one of “the big four,” but it can be just as beautiful!




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