A Real Gem: The Ins and Outs of Gemstones

A Real Gem: The Ins and Outs of Gemstones

Gemstones are known by many names, including gems, jewels, and precious stones, and they have always been greatly desired, especially to use in jewelry like rings, bracelets, and pendants. Despite the many types, classifications, and symbolic meanings behind them, each gemstone is unique and beautiful in its own natural way. If you're trying to decide what kind of gem to use in your next piece of jewelry, here's some information to consider.

What Are Gemstones?

Gemstones come from naturally occurring mineral, rock, and organic formations. The size, state, and color of the gemstone are all dependent upon its source and how it was formed. Gemstones were once categorized as either precious stones or semi-precious stones. However, this mostly occurred because of marketing tactics to say that precious stones were more desired and costly. By today's standards, those terms are considered outdated because there's no scientific reasoning behind the distinctions. More commonly, gemstones are broken down into genuine gemstones, synthetic gemstones, and simulated gemstones.

Classifications of Gemstones

Genuine gemstones, sometimes referred to as natural gemstones, are those found in natural settings. Natural gems have imperfections and impurities that can sometimes decrease their appearance, making them less desirable for jewelry. Synthetic gemstones are the same molecular composition as genuine gemstones, but they are "grown" in a controlled lab-type environment. Though they look nearly identical to natural gems, synthetic gems have fewer imperfections and impurities, and they are slightly more affordable. Simulated gemstones are imitations and not likely to be made from the same minerals as genuine and synthetic stones. These gems cost less and have almost no flaws, but they also don't have the same shine or hardness as the real gemstones.

The Four C's

Gemstones are further broken down by the four key C's: color, clarity, carat, and cut, all of which affect price, value, and preference.


Gemstones come in a variety of colors. The most vivid colors are usually the ones used in jewelry. Sometimes, the colors of gemstones are even believed to represent certain symbols. Here is a list of colors, some associated gemstones, and their perceived symbolic meaning:

  • Black-colored stones
    • Black diamond, black spinel, black star sapphire, hematite, and onyx
    • Thought to be a symbol of rebirth, life, and prosperity
  • Blue/violet-colored stones
    • Amethyst, aquamarine, tanzanite, sapphire, and topaz
    • Associated with harmony, purity, and balance
  • Colorless/white-colored stones
    • Diamond, white quartz, white topaz, and goshenite
    • Seen as simple, pure, and elegant
  • Green-colored stones
    • Amblygonite, emerald, jade, peridot, and fluorite
    • Thought to represent balance, justice, and compassion
  • Pink/red-colored stones
    • Ruby, garnet, rhodonite, rhodolite, rose quartz, and pyrope
    • Representative of love, passion, and strength
    • Amber, tiger's eye, sunstone, citrine, and agate
    • Associated with a rich imagination and high energy
  • Multi-colored stones
    • Alexandrite, freshwater pearl, moonstone, white opal, and zultanite
    • Any stone with multiple colors represents mystery and spontaneity

Then there are birthstones. Having a gemstone symbolize each month of the year is a widely accepted idea. Many people believe that historians and astrologers picked certain colored stones to represent each month as homage to the corresponding zodiac symbols. Below is the list of specific birthstones for each month and their perceived symbols:

Month Stone Meaning
January Garnet Faith, courage, love
February Amethyst Protection, healing, safety
March Aquamarine Hope, bravery, creativity
April Diamond Positivity, peace, fearlessness
May Emerald Health, faithfulness, fertility
June Pearl, alexandrite, and moonstone Good fortune, luck, calming
July Ruby Strength, luck, good fortune
August Peridot, spinel, and sardonyx Hope, revitalization, wards off evil
September Sapphire Wisdom, modesty, healing
October Opal and tourmaline Inspiration, creativity, wellness
November Topaz and citrine Mighty, protective, positive
December Turquoise, zircon, and tanzanite Optimal health, positivity, power


Clarity refers to the appearance of imperfections within the gemstone. You may also see what appears to be dirt, fractures, or material within the gemstone called inclusions. According to the International Gem Society (IGS), there is a specific way to distinguish clarity of gems by type and grade. The important thing to remember is that the clarity of gemstones should be compared only within that specific gemstone species because the properties of all gemstones are different. For example, the clarity of a ruby should be compared only to the clarity of another ruby and not to the clarity of a sapphire.


Gold is measured in karats, which represents the ratio of gold to alloy, while gemstones are measured in carats, which represents their weight. The weight of a gemstone, however, does not dictate the size of the gemstone. You could easily have two of the same gems that are identical in appearance, except that one is one carat, and the other is two carats. Each gemstone disperses the weight differently, making their sizing unique.


The cuts of gemstones are very similar to the many different cuts of diamonds in engagement rings. There are three basic cuts: brilliant cuts, which consist of triangular shapes that spread outward from the center, step cuts that are rectangular and show off the gemstone's clarity, and mixed cuts that combine both brilliant and step cuts.

Mohs Hardness Scale

Frederich Mohs developed the Mohs Hardness Scale to indicate the general hardness of a mineral and its resistance to scratching. The higher the number on the Mohs scale, the harder the mineral is. Why does this matter? Well, from a jewelry standpoint, the harder a mineral is, the more suitable it is to wear daily. Be sure to consider the durability and toughness of a diamond, as well. Hardness just refers to the resistance of scratching, not the durability. For instance, a diamond, though the hardest on the Mohs scale, can also be extremely fragile if hit at just the right spot. Here is the typical Mohs scale used to assess a gem's hardness:

Rating Mineral Scratch Test Results
1 Talc* Very soft
2 Gypsum* Very easily scratched
3 Calcite* A copper penny will scratch it
4 Fluorite A steel file will easily scratch it
5 Apatite A steel file will scratch when used forcefully
6 Feldspar Will scratch a steel file
7 Quartz Will scratch a glass plate
8 Topaz Will scratch unglazed porcelain
9 Corundum Will scratch everything but a diamond
10 Diamond Will scratch everything

Gemstones are all very unique and add a bit of flair to both modern and traditional jewelry. Whether it's an engagement ring, wedding band, or anniversary gift, using gemstones makes the pieces more personal, intimate, and fun. At Martin Busch Jewelers, we have a skilled team of professionals (who can be considered real gems) with a focus on customization, beautiful design, and quality customer service. Call to book an appointment with us today, and let the adventures begin!