Gemstone or precious stone?

Gemstone, precious stone, semiprecious stone – there are different names for gems, which cause confusion (the difference between rough gemstones and untreated, natural gems, for example, is explained in this article). What is the difference between a gemstone and a precious stone?

What is a gemstone?

Gem and gemstone are collective terms for all materials that are used to create jewelry and craft items. Most gems are minerals, but molten glass, amber, pearls and coral are also gems. The vast majority of what we classically consider as gems are minerals that have been chosen for their beauty, durability, and rarity.

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“Precious” and “semiprecious” gems

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The terms “precious” and “semiprecious” were used to describe gemstones for centuries. While the “Big Four” –  diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires –  were called precious stones, all the others were considered semiprecious stones.

However, today, mineralogy and gemology does not use these terms any longer as they imply that some gems are better or more precious than others. In modern times gemology does classify gemstones into different groups, species, and varieties. Whether a gemstone is considered valuable depends on the rarity of its variety, the beauty and quality of the individual piece.

Which gemstones are suitable for jewelry?

For minerals to be made into jewelry, they must withstand processing and the stress of being set and worn as jewelry. They must have a certain hardness and a low brittleness, otherwise they will chip during processing.

In the case of photosensitive minerals such as topaz, amethyst, or rose quartz, it is also important to remember that they may lose color intensity if they are worn frequently and exposed to sunlight. To make gemstones more resistant for use in jewelry, they undergo treatments such as artificial hardening or heating. Heating is primarly used to change the stone’s color; for example, heat treatment turns purple amethysts into yellow citrines. Especially very rare gems that are in high demand are also produced synthetically for the jewelry industry.

Can investment-grade gemstones also be worn as jewelry?

Investment grade gemstones are of finer quality than gems that are usually used for jewelry. However, it is of course also possible to have a piece of jewellery made from investmentgrade gemstones.

These jewelry pieces with high-quality gems are called “high jewellery”. However, there is no generally accepted definition for “high jewellery”, which is why buying jewelry as an investment should only be considered with caution and expert knowledge.

Usually, jewelry purchased as an investment remains in the safe for security reasons, but there are certainly investors who wear their extraordinary pieces of jewelry on special occasions.

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Dr. Thomas Schröck
The Author:

Dr. Thomas Schröck

The founder and managing partner of THE NATURAL GEM has been active in international gemstone trading for 30 years. As a doctor of economics and a certified gemmologist in Switzerland, Germany and the USA, among other countries, he is one of Europe’s leading experts on naturally-coloured, untreated gemstones and investments in them.


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