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Precious and Semi-Precious Gems

Precious and Semi-Precious Gems: What's the Difference?

When you're shopping for gemstone jewelry, it can sometimes be difficult to understand all the unique industry terminology used to describe cuts, classifications, weights and value. One of the most commonly asked questions for jewelry shoppers is: what's the difference between precious and semi precious gems?


Those new to jewelry may simply assume that the cost of the finished piece dictates whether a stone is precious or semi precious, but in truth this has nothing to do with the designation. Others believe that the market value of the raw, unset stone is the distinguishing factor, but this is not quite accurate either. In fact, the subjective category of 'precious gemstones' is set by the jewelry industry, and may not necessarily have anything to do with the value of finished pieces, cut gems, or raw stones.


What are precious gems?

Rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds are considered to be precious by modern-day industry standards. In the past, pearls, amethysts and many others were also considered precious, until changing market conditions undermined their value; pearl value dropped with the advent of large-scale oyster farming, and amethysts became semi-precious when large deposits were discovered in Brazil. The stones considered precious today are considered so because they are rarer on the market, whether because they are rare in nature or because the industry manipulates the supply. Diamonds, for example, are actually quite abundant, but are very costly due to the industry's marketing efforts and tight control of the market supply.

What are semi precious gems?

Semi precious gems include all gemstones other than the aforementioned four, such as opals, topaz, peridot and garnet. Don't make the mistake of thinking that pieces made with semi precious gems are automatically cheaper. There is no universally accepted standard for grading the monetary value of gemstones, which can sometimes cause pieces containing semi precious stones to outprice those containing precious stones, depending on how they are cut, polished and mounted. Don't forget that jewelry from well-known designers will command a premium based on brand name alone.


With that in mind, when you're buying jewelry as a present for friends or family, don't just look at whether a gem is "precious" or not. Instead choose finished pieces which are within your personal budget, and which have personal significance to both the giver and the receiver. The vivid red of rubies, for example, has long represented romantic passion and desire, so a pair of ruby earrings would be the perfect present for an early anniversary. The cool green of emeralds, on the other hand, traditionally represents loyalty and kindness, making them a great gift to give to a close friend on a very special occasion.  For a retirement gift, consider a peridot necklace or bracelet; this gem is thought by many to represent restful sleep, sound health and slow aging. Turquoise represents good fortune, making it a good congratulatory present for a job promotion or raise, and garnet is supposed to safeguard travelers on the road, a perfect jewelry gift for departing friends.


When shopping for gems to give as gifts, don't get caught up in the details of precious versus semi precious gemstones; Give a jewelry gift with personal significance that comes from the heart instead. Shop Sears to find the best jewelry gifts at great prices.