A Guide to Commonly Used Gemstones
This section provides a little information about gemstones commonly used in jewelry. These gemstones are popular because of their transparency, beautiful color, and durability . As a rule of thumb, gemstones capable of withstanding the stress of everyday wear have a rating of at least 7 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness.
Although amethyst ranges from pale lilacs to rich purples, the most sought after color is a royal purple. Because of its wine-purple color, in antiquity it was frequently associated with the Greek god Bacchus and used to protect the wearer from drunkenness and seduction. It is known in some circles for its ability to focus the mind and change all forms of energy into love. Russia was once the key source of fine amethyst, but newer finds in Africa and South America have now eclipsed that source. Amethyst is the birthstone for February.
Because of its blue-green color, aquamarine gets it name from the Latin word for seawater. Ancient sailors believed that the tails of mermaids were made of aquamarine. In the Middle Ages it was used to treat pleurisy, bronchitis and other diseases of the respiratory system. Practitioners of New Age metaphysics believe that aquamarine calms the mind, sharpens intuition, and facilitates closure. While Brazil is the major source of large, high clarity stones, aquamarine is also found in Africa, China, Pakistan, and Australia. Aquamarine is the birthstone for March.
Citrine, which ranges from pale yellow to orange in color, is known as the stone of the sun. As such, it promotes joy, creativity, positive energy, and abundance. It is believed to cleanse the body and stimulate the digestive system, the spleen, the kidneys, and the pancreas. Citrine is mined in Brazil, Bolivia, and Spain. It is the birthstone for the month of November.
While most consumers are familiar with white or colorless diamonds, market demand for colored diamonds has skyrocketed in the last decade. Colored diamonds can be blue, pink, yellow, orange, green, or cognac in color. Diamond’s name is derived from the ancient Greek word adamas, which means invincible or untamable. For that reason, diamonds are thought to dispel fear, and to promote emotional, mental, and physical fortitude. In antiquity, diamonds were considered antidotes for poison, including snakebites. They also were believed to offer protection from the plague. Although about half of the world’s production comes from Africa, diamonds are also minded in Canada, Russia, Brazil, and Australia. Diamond is the birthstone for April.
Emeralds have been called the “loveliest of the green stones.” In antiquity, emeralds were associated with Venus, the Goddess of Love, and they were prescribed as treatments for eye ailments, infertility, malaria, dysentery, and leprosy. Practitioners of New Age metaphysics believe that emeralds alleviate depression and promote inspiration, balance, wisdom, and patience. Although the finest emeralds are said to come from Colombia, emeralds are also mined in Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Emerald is the birthstone for May.
Garnets come in several varieties. While most consumers are familiar with reddish-colored garnets, they are less familiar with the yellow, orange, and green varieties. While garnets were once extremely popular, demand for them was on the wane until very recently. Red garnets were used in antiquity to treat hemorrhages and inflammation. They are believed to open the heart, promote strength, and instill courage. Garnets are mined in Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and the United States. Garnet is the birthstone for January.
While Iolite gets its name from the Greek word ion, which means “violet,” a single crystal may appear to be colorless, violet, or yellow depending on the angle from which it is viewed. This property enables iolite to act as a strong light-polarizing filter–a feature that Viking explorers found useful for navigation. To chart their position at sea, the Vikings needed to be able to locate the sun even on overcast days, and iolite enabled them to do so. Gem quality iolite is cut to maximize its blue or violet blue color. It is mined in Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, Mozambique, and Madagascar. New Agers use iolite for detoxification and emotional cleansing.
Peridot gets its name from the Arabic word faridat, which means, “gem.” Peridot is always green; however, the depth of the green varies from yellow-green, to olive, to brownish green. Peridots were cherished in antiquity by the Egyptians and Romans who wore them as amulets. Recent new finds in Pakistan and Afghanistan have created a resurgence of interest in the stone. Peridot is also mined in Myanmar and Arizona. Practitioners of New Age metaphysics use it to regenerate the spirit and the heart. Peridot is the birthstone for August.
Rubies, and their close cousins, sapphires, are members of the mineral species corundum. Ruby gets its name from the Latin word ruber, which means “red.” Although ruby is defined by its vivid red or purplish red color, there is no universal agreement on what “red” actually means. Many gem labs use a set of master stones to evaluate whether corundum is true “ruby” or whether it is pink, purple, or orange sapphire. In antiquity, rubies were used to treat boils, hemorrhages, anemia, and biliousness. They were also believed to facilitate the ability to give and receive unconditional love. Rubies are mined in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Madagascar, and Africa. Ruby is the birthstone for July.
When most people think of sapphires, they think of blue sapphires, one of the world’s favorite gemstones. However, sapphires actually come in a rainbow of colors including pink, purple, violet, green, yellow, orange, and brown. Throughout history, sapphires have been considered powerful talismans for guarding chastity, dispelling envy, creating peace among rivals, and protecting warriors in battle. New Agers value sapphire for its calming properties and its ability to promote wisdom. Sapphires are mined in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, and Montana. Sapphire is the birthstone for September.
Spinel comes in a variety of colors including violet, blue, orange, red, pink, and purple. Many of the fine gemstones in royal collections that were believed to be ruby and sapphire are actually spinel. Spinel is mined in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Thailand. New Age practitioners value spinel for its ability to facilitate communication, rejuvenation, and creativity.
Topaz comes in rich yellows, browns, greens, blues, reds, and pinks. It has been cherished since antiquity, and owes its name to an ancient Sanskrit word for “fire.” In antiquity, topaz was rubbed on the eyes to restore vision. It was also believed to be a cure for the plague. New Agers consider topaz the stone of truth and forgiveness. It is also known to promote good fortune and the attainment of goals. Topaz is mined in Brazil, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mexico, Madagascar, Namibia, and the United States. It is the birthstone for November.
Tourmaline comes in almost every color imaginable. Trade names have been established for some of the most popular color varieties, including rubellite (pink or red), paraíba (neon blue), chrome (intense green), canary (yellow), parti-colored (more than one color), and watermelon (pink core and green outside). Tourmaline is considered to be a powerful healing stone; it cleanses, purifies, and enhances the flow of energy. Tourmaline is mined in Brazil, Afghanistan, Kenya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the United States. It is the birthstone for October.
Zircon’s most popular color is a distinctive greenish blue, commonly referred to as “zircon blue.” However, zircon also comes in green, yellow, orange, red, brown, and purple hues. The popularity of zircon has suffered due to the similarity of its name to cubic zirconia, a synthetic imitation of diamond. In the Middle Ages, zircon was used to promote sleep, prosperity, honor, and wisdom. Zircon is mined in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Australia, and China. It is the birthstone for December.
Even the most beautiful gemstone needs to have the right cut, which we delve into next with Gemstone Shape and Faceting Styles | A Brief History of Gemstone Cuts.