Everything You Need to Know About Gemstones

Michael Fried
Michael Fried

    We are reader-supported. Buying through links on our site may earn us commissions. Learn More.

    We are reader-supported. Buying through links on our site may earn us commissions. Learn More.

A beautiful gemstone can liven a wardrobe, brighten a room, and even bring you inner peace. With each gemstone comes its own uniqueness, beauty, significance and value. Gemstone jewelry such as pendants, rings, and earrings are often treasured possessions that are passed down for generations to enjoy. 

This guide covers the meaning, value, and special characteristics of each gemstone. We also share tips for buying gemstones, including the best online gemstone vendors to shop with.

What are gemstones?

A gemstone is a jewel made of mineral crystal that is cut and polished for jewelry. Gemstones often have a vibrant color and are also known as precious stones, semi-precious stones, or fine gems. Sapphires, emeralds, and amethysts are examples of gemstones, though there are dozens of types of gemstones.

Some gemstones are not made of minerals but are rocks or made of organic materials, such as opals and pearls.

Meaning and Purpose of Gemstones

Many myths and legends detail the healing power and therapeutic nature of gemstones. According to these legends, each stone carries its own significance and energy.

Alexandrite 

Alexandrite symbolizes love and good luck. It often appears purplish red under incandescent light and green in sunlight. The photo below shows an example of round cut Alexandrite stud earrings from Amazon. Alexandrite is a June birthstone.

Alexandrite Stud Earrings in 14K Yellow Gold
Alexandrite stud earrings in 14K yellow gold (Photo: Amazon)

Amethyst

Amethysts represent strength and peace and are thought to bring a balanced mindset to those who wear them. Amethysts are a type of quartz and range in color from pinkish lilac to deep violet. It’s a February birthstone. For people who love purple, amethyst engagement rings can be a great alternative to the classic diamond look. But they look great in any type of jewelry. The below gorgeous Duo Amethyst ring from James Allen is a perfect example.

Unique Duo Amethyst and Diamond ring by Brevani
Unique Duo Amethyst and Diamond ring by Brevani (on James Allen)

Aquamarine

Aquamarine symbolizes tranquility, healing and relaxation. The blue-green colors of the gem evoke the beauty of a calm sea. Aquamarine comes from the beryl mineral family, made of aluminum silicate and beryllium. This very pretty Aquamarine and Diamond Halo Pendant from James Allen is a perfect example to showcase the beautiful blue color. Aqumarine is a March birthstone.

Aquamarine And Diamond halo pendant
Aquamarine And Diamond halo pendant from James Allen

Bloodstone

Bloodstones signify health and are thought to bring healing powers. Their color ranges from light to dark green with splashes of rusty red. They are often use for less expensive jewelry. See the example of a sterling silver bloodstone ring from Amazon below. Bloodstone is als also a birthstone of March and is a variety of quartz.

Oval bloodstone bezel ring in sterling silver
Oval Bloodstone bezel ring in sterling silver (Photo: Amazon)

Citrine

Citrine symbolizes serenity, comfort and new beginnings. The stones range in color from light yellow to brownish orange, based on trace amounts of iron in certain quartz crystals. The Round Rope bracelet from Blue Nile below shows a typical Citrine color. Citrine is a November birthstone.

Citrine Round Rope Bracelet
Citrine round rope bracelet from Blue Nile

Diamond

Diamonds have long represented strength, victory, wealth and abundance. Most diamonds are white and colorless, but diamonds come in a range of other colors including green, yellow, blue, purple, pink and red. Diamonds are made of pure carbon and form over billions of years. For example, this Signature Quadex cut from Brian Gavin shows the quniqness of diamonds perfectly. A white diamond is the April birthstone. 

A half a carat G color Quadex cut Diamond
A half a carat G color Quadex cut Diamond from Brian Gavin Diamonds

Emerald

Emeralds symbolize longevity, rebirth and truth. They are beautiful green gemstones, ranging from light hues to dark forest green. Emeralds are May’s birthstone and belong to the beryl mineral family, getting its color from small amounts of chromium. The darker the hue, the more rare and valuable an emerald tends to be. These emerald and diamond halo earrings from James Allen will add elegance to anyone’s everyday style.

Oval halo Emerald and Diamond earrings
Oval halo Emerald and Diamond earrings from James Allen

Garnet

Garnet gemstones symbolize power and are thought to bring good fortune and truth. This stone made of silicate materials resembles the rich red color of pomegranate seeds. heck out this cute Bolo Garnet bracelet from Blue Nile for the beautiful color. Garnet is the January birthstone. 

Garnet Bolo Bracelet in Sterling Silver
Garnet Bolo bracelet in sterling silver from Blue Nile

Moissanite

Moissanite gemstones are thought to bring luck and love into your life. They can also bring strength, better health and mental clarity. Moissanite is a near-colorless gemstone that’s composed of silicon carbide. While they often look like a diamond at first glance, moissanite is quite different from a diamond in appearance and composition. 

Moonstone

Moonstones symbolize wisdom, fertility and love. They are multi-colored gemstones that range from blues to oranges. Moonstones are a secondary birthstone for June and can look particularly geogeous in rings, such as this beautiful White moonstone Cabochon ring from Blue Nile.

White Moonstone Cabochon Ring
White Moonstone Cabochon Ring from Blue Nile

Morganite

Morganite represents the healing of your heart and mind. It is known to help create a sense of peace and calmness. Morganite is usually a soft pink, but can also contain purple and orange hues. They make a great alternative to diamond engagement rings if you want to be a bit different, like with this solitaire oval cut Morganite ring from Blue Nile.

Oval Cut Morganite Solitaire Engagement ring
Oval cut Morganite solitaire engagement ring from Blue Nile

Opal

Opals have long symbolized good luck and fortune. The opals used in jewelry are usually black or white and showcase a kaleidoscope effect that radiates all the colors of the rainbow – check out this graduaded Opal necklace from James Allen. Opals are an October birthstone. 

Graduated Opal necklace
Graduated Opal necklace from James Allen

Pearl

Pearls symbolize purity, wisdom and good health. These gemstones range in size and shape depending on how they’re cultured and farmed. Pearls are usually white, but come in other colors such as blue, pink, cream, gold, green and black. Pearls are the June birthstone. 

Tahitian Cultured Pearl Earrings
Tahitian cultured Pearl earrings from Blue Nile

Peridot

Periodot gemstones represent calmness and serenity. They are thought to offer protection from nightmares and negative emotions. Peridots are green gems ranging from yellowish green to brownish green, and are an August birthstone. Made of magnesium-rich mineral olivine, trace amounts of iron present in the stone’s composition dictate the hue. Peridots look fantastic in all types of jewelry, as shown in this beautiful yellow gold peridot ring from James Allen.

Oval Peridot and Diamond accent birthstone ring
Oval Peridot and Diamond accent birthstone ring from James Allen

Quartz

Quartz symbolizes love, energ, and spiritual growth. Quartz ranges in color from purple and white to black and yellow, though rose quartz is the most common in jewelry (look at these pear shape Quartz earrings on Amazon). Its delicate color offers grace and unique beauty to any piece of jewelry.

Bezel-Set Rose Quartz Teardrop Earrings with Diamond
Bezel-set rose Quartz teardrop earrings with Diamond on Amazon

Ruby

The ruby is a symbol of courage, passion and protection. These gemstones are made of the red variation of mineral corundum or aluminum oxide. Rubies are often royal red, but range in color from pink to dark red. They look amazing in any type of jewelry, like in these inside out hoop earrings from James Allen. The July birthstone is a ruby.  

Ruby Trellis inside out oval hoop earrings
Ruby Trellis inside out oval hoop earrings from James Allen

Sapphire

Sapphire symbolizes nobility, wisdom and enlightenment. Sapphires naturally occur in any color of the rainbow including green, pink, white and yellow, but the most common color is blue as shown in the tennis bracelet from Blue Nile below. Sapphires are a member of the corundum family of minerals and contain small amounts of iron, titanium, copper, magnesium and chromium. Sapphire is the September birthstone.

Sapphire Tennis Bracelet
Sapphire tennis bracelet from Blue Nile

Sardonyx

Sardonyx are known to bring strength, protection and courage. They range in color from a yellow-tinted red to a reddish brown, depending on how much iron oxide is present. Sardonyx features a unique composition of layers of sard and onyx, and is an August birthstone.

Spinel

Spinel is thought to bring devotion and healing energies. It can even foster a revitalization or a mending of a relationship. Spinel is usually red in jewelry but comes in a range of colors such as blue, green, violet and orange. The ring from Blue Nile shown below comes with a dark purple Spinel center cushion stone.

Spinel and Tsavorite Three Stone Ring
Spinel and Tsavorite three stone ring from Blue Nile

Tanzanite

Tanzanite symbolizes truth and wisdom. It is a vivid blue gem that normally includes shades of purple and lavender. These tanzanite studs from James Allen have a halo fo small diamonds for even a bigger bling. Tanzanite is a December birthstone. 

Round Tanzanite halo stud earrings
Round Tanzanite halo stud earrings from James Allen

Topaz

Topaz represents healing and protection. Topaz is available in a range of colors, including green, red, orange and pink, but is most popular as a blue gemstone. This necklace in yellow gold from James Allen shows just how breathtaking the blue color can be. The stone is made of the mineral silicate of aluminum and fluorine. Topaz crystallizes within lava flow or rocks that have solidified from lava. Topaz is a birthstone for November.

Emerald cut blue Topaz and Diamond necklace
Emerald cut blue Topaz and Diamond necklace from James Allen

Tourmaline

Tourmaline is thought to bring empathy, sympathy and understanding to others. It helps to resolve emotional pain and calm disruptive feelings. Tourmaline gemstones range from pink to purple to green and blue. Small amounts of certain elements dictate the color of a tourmaline stone. A pink Tourmaline stone looks fantastic in a necklace. It’s an October birthstone.

Pink Tourmaline necklace in a trillion cut
Pink Tourmaline necklace in a trillion cut from Blue Nile

Turquoise

Turquoise is a symbol of wealth, health and good luck. This gemstone ranges in color from soft to darker greenish blues and is a December birthstone. This yellow gold locket is a perfect gift for someone special.

Monica Rich Kosann Turquoise Locket
Monica Rich Kosann Turquoise locket from Blue Nile

Zircon

Zircon represents prosperity, wisdom and confidence. It comes in a range of colors, but the blue variety is the most common and a secondary December birthstone. 

Gemstones: Characteristics and Classification

Based on their composition and characteristics, gemstones can fall into different categories or groups.

Characteristics

A gemstone’s characteristics help gemologists place them into varieties or species. The chemical composition of a gemstone is a key characteristic that dictates what family a gemstone belongs to. For example, diamonds are made of carbon, while aquamarine, emerald and morganite are all a part of the mineral species beryl. Rubies and sapphires fall into the corundum species.

Gemologists also classify stones by features such as their crystal system, refractive index and other technical aspects.

Classification

Gemstones are often classified as precious or semi-precious. Precious stones include rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. All other gemstones are semi-precious, such as peridot, garnet, amethyst and tanzanite. Precious gems are rarer and tend to be higher quality, though that isn’t always the case. The value and beauty of a specific gemstone depend on its color and quality, not just if it’s a precious or semi-precious stone.

Gemstones are also classified by their hardness, color, and translucency. For example, an emerald with a richer hue is considered more beautiful and valuable than a pale emerald.

Types of Gemstones

Gemstones can be categorized based on key characteristics such as their color, composition or purpose.

Composition

While gemstones are often mineral crystals, they can also be made of organic materials or be rocks.

MINERAL GEMSTONES are inorganic crystals and include sapphires, emeralds, rubies, aquamarine and peridot, among many others.

ORGANIC GEMSTONES are formed from an organic substance or organism such as a pearl or opal.

ROCK GEMSTONES are cut and polished to form jewels and include lapis lazuli.

Gemstones are graded for hardness on the Mohs scale (1-10). Precious gemstones tend to be the hardest and most durable. Diamonds top the Mohs scale with a score of 10, with ruby and sapphire both ranking a 9. Emeralds range from 7.5 to 8.

Mohs Hardness Scale

The next hardest gemstones are semi-precious stones. Garnet, amethyst, quartz, aquamarine, moonstone, peridot, sardonyx, tourmaline, citrine, topaz, tanzanite, zircon and turquoise all rank between 6 and 8 on the Mohs scale.

The softest gemstones are made of organic materials and include pearls (2.5 to 4.5) and opals (5.5 to 6).

Value

A gemstone’s value depends on its rarity and color quality, as well as consumer demand. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds are some of the rarest gemstones, and thus have the highest prices. 

When diamonds became a staple for engagement rings in the 1950s, the demand for diamonds increased, as did their price. The demand for sapphires is less than diamonds, so while the blue gemstones are rarer than diamonds, they tend to cost less. 

Color

Gemstones are often grouped by their color. A certain gemstone variety can range from light to dark hues but a stone may also contain secondary colors and undertones that provide depth and uniqueness. The most popular colored gemstones used in jewelry are: 

  • Black: Opal
  • Blue: Sapphire, Aquamarine, Topaz, Zircon, Turquoise, Tanzanite
  • Green: Emerald, Peridot, Alexandrite
  • Pink: Morganite, Tourmaline, Rose Quartz
  • Purple: Amethyst, Tanzanite
  • Red: Ruby, Garnet, Spinel
  • White: Diamond, Opal, Pearl, Moissanite
  • Yellow: Citrine

Purpose

Gemstones serve a variety of purposes, though most people choose to place their gemstones in jewelry.

Jewelry: Pendants, earrings, rings and bracelets are all popular jewelry pieces for gemstones. You might also place gemstones in accessories such as cufflinks or in special decor items such as ornaments and vases.

Collectibles: Some people may collect certain types of gemstones such as Kashmir blue sapphires.

Astrological: Some people choose to have gemstones for their astrological significance. For example, in Indian astrology, rubies represent the sun. Someone might collect rubies to help harness the sun’s energy in their life.

Healing: Some gemstones and crystals can help cure the mind, body and soul. For example, spinel or moonstone might bring healing to your life.

List of Gemstones by Composition, Color and Hardness

GemstoneMost Common ColorOther ColorsCompositionHardness (Mohs Scale)
AlexandriteGreen (in sunlight), Red (in incandescent light) Purple undertoneChrysoberyl8.5
AmethystPurplePink undertoneSilicate materials (Quartz)7
AquamarineBlueGreenBeryl7.5-8
BloodstoneRed and GreenBrownChalcedony6.5-7
CitrineYellowOrange, BrownSilicate materials (Quartz)7
DiamondWhiteVirtually all other colorsCarbon10
EmeraldGreenBeryl7.5-8
GarnetRedVirtually all other colors, but blue is rareSilicate materials6.5-7.5
MoissaniteWhiteVirtually all other colorsSilicon carbide9.25
MoonstoneWhite with rainbow undertonesVirtually all other colorsSodium potassium aluminium silicate (feldspar group)6-6.5
MorganitePinkPurpleBeryl7.5-8
OpalWhite or BlackVirtually all other colorsSilicate materials5.5-6
PearlWhiteVirtually all other colors, but black, cream and pink are most commonAragonite, Conchiolin2.5-4.5
PeridotGreenYellowOlivine and silicate materials6.5-7
QuartzRose (for jewelry)Virtually all other colorsSilicate materials7
RubyRedPinkish undertoneCorundum9
SapphireBlueVirtually all other colorsCorundum9
SardonyxRed, Brown, OrangeBrown, Black, WhiteMicrocrystalline quartz, chalcedony6.5-7
SpinelRedVirtually all other colorsMagnesium/aluminum member of spinel group8
TanzaniteBlue and PurpleZoisite (epidote mineral group)6.5-7
TopazBlueVirtually all other colors, but orange is most commonSilicate materials8
TourmalinePinkVirtually all other colorsSilicate materials7-7.5
TurquoiseBlue GreenHydrated phosphate of copper and aluminium5-6
ZirconBlueVirtually all other colorsNesosilicates7.5

What is a birthstone?

Birthstones are special gemstones that represent the month a person was born. Most months have one primary birthstone and some have one or two secondary birthstones as well. Birthstones are often worn in jewelry and can carry special meaning for the wearer.

It’s believed that birthstones were first mentioned in the Bible. In the book of Exodus, Aaron’s breastplate includes twelve gems to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Over the years, various cultures and time periods have adapted their version of birthstones.

Birthstone Chart by Month

MonthModern BirthstoneAncient Birthstone
JanuaryGarnetGarnet
FebruaryAmethystAmethyst
MarchAquamarineBloodstone
AprilDiamondDiamond
MayEmeraldEmerald
JuneAlexandritePearl, Moonstone
JulyRubyRuby
AugustPeridotSardonyx
SeptemberSapphireSapphire
OctoberTourmalineOpal
NovemberTopaz, CitrineTopaz
DecemberTanzanite, ZirconTurquoise

Gemstone Frequently Asked Questions

What are gemstones used for?

Gemstones are primarily used for jewelry, but some people collect certain types of gemstones or keep gemstones for their healing powers or astrological significance. 

What are gemstones worth?

Gemstones are worth anywhere from $0 to $83 million, depending on the type of gemstone, rarity, carat weight, color and other key characteristics. Gemstones fluctuate in price based on rarity and consumer demand. You can have a gemstone appraised by an appraiser or talk with one of our jewelry experts to determine its value.

Where to buy gemstones online?

You can buy gemstones online from reputable vendors such as James Allen, Leibish & Co. and Blue Nile. These reputable jewelers have a large selection of high-quality gemstones and beautifully crafted jewelry. 

What are precious and semi-precious stones?

Precious gemstones tend to be rarer and higher quality than semi-precious stones. Precious gemstones include emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. Semi-precious gemstones include amethyst, garnet and peridot. 

What are sapphires?

Sapphire is a precious gemstone made of corundum mineral. Sapphires are most popular in a vivid blue color, though sapphires come in almost all other colors. Sapphire engagement rings are a striking alternative to the traditional diamond engagement ring.

How much does a sapphire cost?

A sapphire can cost anywhere from $25 per carat to over $11,000 per carat. The color, luster, saturation and geographical region where it was mined all impact the cost.

Top 5 Gemstone Buying Tips

Buying a gemstone is far less technical than buying a diamond, but there are a few key things to keep in mind. In the end, you want a gemstone that’s rich with color, beauty and value. 

1. Focus on color

The main reason people choose and enjoy gemstones is for their striking colors or soft hues that add character to a piece of jewelry. That’s why it’s critical to focus mostly on color when shopping for a gemstone. Cut quality, clarity and even carat weight are less important when buying a gemstone.

From lighter hues to dark rich tones, compare various stones to determine what color, saturation and secondary undertones you like best. Rich, vibrant gemstones tend to sell for more, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy a deep-colored gem to have a beautiful stone. 

A wide range of colors and saturations exist for a variety of budgets. You might even prefer a lighter gemstone or a gem with a secondary hue, such as a pale emerald with a hint of blue.

2. Choose a reputable jewelry vendor with high-quality images

Not only do you want to ensure your gemstone is stunning, but the jewelry itself is high-quality. A reputable jewelry vendor like Leibish & Co. or James Allen offer hundreds of well-crafted pieces to choose from. And because color is so important in a gemstone, be sure the vendor offers high-quality images of their gems. James Allen and Leibish & Co. have high-res photographs or videos of each gemstone, allowing you to see the stone’s true appearance. 

3. Check the treatment

Some gemstones, such as sapphires, can be treated for their color. But treatments can impact the quality and price of a gemstone. Untreated gemstones command the highest price, so be sure to avoid paying a high price for a heavily treated stone. Look at the details of the stone before buying.

4. Allow for some inclusions

You want to avoid any visible inclusions when buying a diamond. But with colored gemstones, slight flaws are quite common and can even enhance the character of your stone. It’s important to focus more on color than clarity with gems.

5. Lean on the experts

Choosing a special stone – whether for an engagement ring or necklace – is a careful process. If you’re not sure which gemstone to choose, contact our experts for a second opinion. They’ll help ensure you’re getting the best color and value for your budget. 

Where To Buy Gemstones

From our decades of experience in the jewelry industry, we’ve found three online vendors to stand above the rest when it comes to gemstones. These vendors are reliable and trustworthy, and our readers have found stunning gemstones and high-quality jewelry at competitive prices. 

James Allen 

James Allen is one of the best places to shop for fine jewelry online. Their products are of superior quality and they maintain a large inventory of gemstones that you can inspect in high-quality 360-degree images.

Leibish & Co. 

Leibish & Co. is a reputable online vendor that specializes in rare, high-quality gemstones and jewelry. They have some of the most beautiful gemstones and colored diamond jewelry in the world. Their site features high-res photos so you can see gemstones in detail before purchase.

Blue Nile 

Blue Nile offers a collection of stunning gemstone jewelry options. They don’t sell loose gemstones, but you can find fine jewelry pieces such as earrings and pendants with beautiful colored stones. 

Conclusion

Gemstones are a powerful and eye-catching choice for any jewelry — and are bound to be a treasured piece in your collection. They can also symbolize healing, love and other positive emotions in your life.

By selecting a gemstone rich in color, you can create a special keepsake for years to come. Choose a reputable online vendor that provides high-quality images to ensure you get the gemstone of your dreams. You can also email our experts to ask a question or get an opinion on a gemstone.

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab created diamonds online.  Save 10% off select lab grown diamonds and 25% off ring settings during limited time sale!
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
Arrow down
Arrow up
Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. Blue Nile have generously offered our readers an exclusive one-time use coupon. (Click Here to save $100 off $1000 purchase)

Please enter your email address to receive your personal one-time use unique coupon code:

What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
Arrow down
Arrow up

Still afraid of getting ripped off?

Before you buy a diamond, get personal buying advice from industry veterans. We'll help you get the best diamond for the money.

Ask your diamond purchase question here

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

DISCLAIMER: We don't use your email for marketing. Period.

You Might Like

  • Diamond Prices: A Complete Guide

    Buying a diamond is confusing. On the surface, it seems like nothing makes sense. Take a look at this 2 carat diamond from James Allen and compare it

  • Best Places to Buy Diamond Engagement Rings

    We’ve visited and reviewed many diamond retailers, online and offline. In the process, we’ve come across several diamond engagement ring vendors

  • 1 Carat Diamond Ring Buying Guide

    Here’s what we’ll cover in this article: How much does a 1 carat diamond ring cost?How large is a 1 carat diamond?Where should I buy a 1 carat

Ask your diamond purchase question here

We are a team of diamond experts who will teach you to identify scams and avoid spending money on features you can't see. Tell us as much information as possible to help us help you (ie, budget, preferences, etc)

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Cancel

DISCLAIMER: We don't use your email for marketing. Period.

Please enter your email address to receive your personal one-time use unique coupon code:

Here is your coupon code: GFDSF3GF