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Jewelry and gemstones have been commonly used for adornment since the earliest civilizations. While value is definitely affected by personal taste, the quality of the gemstone, the metals in which the stones are set, and the intricacy of the setting impact the retail value, so knowing a little bit about grading of precious and semi-precious stones, gem-quality minerals, and the types of metal settings in which they can be found will help you make a wise purchase.
Jewelry and Birthstones
When asked, most folks have a favorite gemstone or semi-precious mineral that they wear. Birthstones may be a child’s first entry into the world of gems, minerals and jewelry. Hardly a child passes through our elementary class that hasn’t spent at least a few weeks enamored with the birthstone chart, matching the stones and qualities, and, of course, memorizing the name of their very own birthstone. Birthstones run the gamut of semi-precious to precious gems, so there are also many substitutes, such as pink zirconium for October’s tourmaline or opal. The high cost of quality diamonds, the April birthstone, has made quartz or white sapphires quality substitutes with a smaller price tag.
Oh My Precious
The distinction between precious and semi-precious in gemstones has changed over time. Diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald are modern precious gemstones, but many minerals and rocks are considered valuable, gem-quality as well. Stones such as opal, lapis lazuli, amethyst and garnet can be just as valuable, so the distinction is ambiguous. For most stones, the quality depends on how rare it is, with a hard-to-find color of some common stones making a world of difference in value. For example, rhodochrosite, found in its most clear form at the Sweet Home Mine in Colorado, has such a high value because the mine that produced the best quality stones is now closed. These raspberry-colored stones are highly valued even outside Colorado, which made it the state gem.
The Reason Is…
For some, the metaphysical or healing properties associated with a stone make it highly valuable. Whole volumes are written about these qualities and many individuals plan their daily gem adornment based on how they are feeling or challenges they are facing emotionally or physically.
Full Metal Jacket
Stones are set in a variety of precious metals, most often gold, sterling silver, platinum and even copper. The status of “precious” has to do with the rarity of the metal. Beyond that, qualities are based on the purity of the metal used. For example, 22 karat gold is the purest form and can be modified with the addition of other metals to make a variety of alloys. The metals used to make a high-quality setting or wrap are very important to the value of the piece of jewelry.