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Colorful choices in colored Gemstones, The Buying Guide

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Jewelry and gems, The Buying Guide

Colorful choices in colored Gemstones

  • Coral
    Coral, which for twenty centuries or more was classed with precious gems and can be found adorning ancient amulets alongside diamond, ruby, emerald, and pearl, had been “experimentally proved” by the sixteenth century to cure madness, give wisdom, stop the flow of blood from a wound, calm storms and of course enable the traveler to safely cross broad rivers.  It was also known to prevent sterility. This was certainly a powerful gem!
    Red coral symbolizes attachment, devotion, and protection against plague and pestilence.  And one unique quality: it loses its color when a friend of the wearer is about to die! There is a catch to coral’s potency, however.  To effectively exercise its power, it should not be altered by man’s hands but should be worn in its natural, uncut state. This perhaps is why one often sees this this gemstone in necklaces or pin in its natural state.
    Coral lost its popularity for a while, but has been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years.  It is a semi-translucent to opaque material that, formed a colony of marine invertebrates, is primarily a skeletal calcium carbonate gem.  The formation as seen in the water look like tree branches.  Coral occurs in a variety of colors; white, pink, orange, red, and black.  One of the most expensive varieties, very popular in recent years and used extensively in fine jewelry, is angel skin coral. This is a whitish variety highlighted with a faint blush of pink or peach. Today the rarest variety, and the most expensive, is blood coral, also called noble or oxblood coral. This is a very deep red variety and shouldn’t be confused with the more common orangy red varieties. The best red comes from seas around Italy; the whites from Japanese waters; the blacks (which are also different chemically) from Hawaii and Mexico.
    Coral is usually cabochon cut, often carved, but is also fairly frequently found in jewelry fashioned “in the rough” (uncut) in certain countries where the belief persists that coral’s magical powers are lost with cutting.  It is a fairly soft stone, so some cautious should be exercised when wearing it. Also, because of its calcium composition, you must be careful to avoid contact with acid, such as vinegar in a salad that you might toss your hands.
    Also, be a cautious buyer for this gem as for others; glass and plastic imitations are commonplace.
  • Garnet
    If you are loyal, devoted, and energetic, perhaps the garnet is your gemstone. Or if not, perhaps you should obtain some! Red garnets were “known” to promote sincerity, stop hemorrhaging or other loss of blood, cure inflammatory diseases, and cure anger and discord.  And if you engrave a well formed lion image upon a garnet, it will protect and preserve health, cure the wearer of all disease, bring him honors, and guard him from all perils in raveling. All in all, quite a worthwhile gemstone.
    The garnet family is one of the most exciting families in the gem world. A hard, durable, often very brilliant gemstone, available in many colors (greens, reds, yellows, oranges), it offers far greater versatility and opportunity for the jeweler trade than has been capitalized upon.  Depending upon the variety, quality, and size, lovely garnets are available for $40 per carat or more than $5,000 per carat. Garnet can also be mistaken for other, usually more expensive, gems; green garnet, tsavorite, is one of the most beautiful, and all but a few would assume it was an emerald of the finest quality. In fact, it is clearer, more brilliant, and more durable than emerald itself. There is also a rarer green garnet, called demantoid, which costs slightly more than tsavorite but which, although slightly softer, has more fire.  These gems offer fine alternative to the person desiring a lovely green gem who cannot afford emerald.  While still rare, expensive gems themselves, these garnet varieties are far less expensive than an emerald of comparable quality. garnet also occurs in certain shades of red that have been taken for some varieties of ruby. And in yellow it has been confused with precious topaz.
    Garnet is found in almost every color and shade except blue.  It is best known in a deep red variety, sometimes with a brownish cast, but it is commonly found in orangish brown shades, and brilliant wine red shades as well. Other colors include orange, red, purple, violet, and pink. A non-transparent variety, grossularite, has a jade like appearance and may be mistaken for jade when cut into cabochons or carved.
    A star garnet found in the United States is a reddish to purple variety that displays a faint four rayed or six rayed star, similar to the six rayed star ruby but not as pronounced.
  • Hematite and Marcasite
    Hematite is a must for the lawyer, for it ensures for its wearer “alertness, vivacity, and success in litigation.” It is also believed to ensure sexual impulse, so if you know of someone with a problem, this may make a “thoughtful” gift.
    Hematite is an iron oxide (like iron rust), a metallic, opaque gemstone found iron-mining areas. It takes a very brilliant, metallic polish that can look almost like silver, or almost pure black, or gun metal blue. It was and is popular for use in carving hollow cameo portraits known as intaglio.
    Marcasite, the tiny, glittering stone with a brassy colored luster often seen in old belt buckles and costume jewelry, is a relative of hematite.  But most “marcasite” seen in jewelry is not marcasite, but pyrite (fool’s gold); another brassy colored metallic mineral.
  • Iolite
    Lolite is a transparent, usually very clean, blue gem, ranging from deep blue to light gray to yellowish gray.  It is sometimes called dichroite, and in its sapphire blue color is sometimes referred to as water sapphire or lynx sapphire.  It is a lovely, brilliant gemstone but not as durable as sapphire.  we are just beginning to see this stone in jewelry, and it is still a good value.  It is abundant, still very low priced, and one of the most attractive jewelry options for the near future.
  • Jade
    Jade has long been revered by the Chinese.  White jade was believed by early Chinese to quiet intestinal disturbances, while black jade gave strength and power.  A very early written Chinese symbol for “king” was a string of jade beads, and jade beads are still used in China as a symbol of high rank and authority. Jade is also an important part of the Chinese weeding ceremony (the “jade ceremony” holds a prominent place here), for jade is considered “concentrated essence of love.”
    Jade is very tough, although not too hard, translucent to opaque gem, often seen jewelry and carvings. There are really two types of jade; jadeite and nephrite jade, which are really two separate and distinct minerals differing from one another in weight, hardness, and color range.  Both are called “jade.”
    Jadeite, the most expensive, more desirable variety, was the most sought after by the Chinese after 1740.  It is not found in China, however, but in Burma. Some fine jadeite also come from Guatemala.  It is found in a much wider range of colors than nephrite:  green, mottled green and white, whitish gray, pink, brown, mauve, yellow, orange, and lilac.  In fact, it occurs in almost every color. But with the exception of green, which comes in shades that vary from light to beautiful emerald green, colored jade is usually pale and unevenly tinted. The most desirable color is a rich emerald green sometimes referred to as imperial jade.  Smooth, evenly colored pieces of this jadeite are highly prized, and in fact, can be classed as precious gemstones today. The mottled pieces of irregular green, often seen carved, are less valuable, but still more rare and valuable than nephrite jade.
    Nephrite jade, the old and true Chinese jade, resembles jadeite but is slightly softer (yet slightly tougher and thus less easily broken) and has a much more limited range of color. Usually fashioned in cabochon cut, or round beads, or in carvings, it is regularly seen in dark green shades sometimes so dark as to look black, hence, black jade. Nephrite green is amore sober green than the apple green or emerald green color of good jadeite.  It is closer in color to a dark, sage green or spinach green.  Nephrite may also be a creamier color as in mutton fat jade.  Any fine Chinese carving that is more than 230 years old is carved from nephrite (Jadeite was unknown to the Chinese before 1740).
    Nephrite has been found in many countries, including the United States, where in the late 19th century Chinese miners panning for gold in California discovered large boulders of nephrite jade that they sent back to China to be cut or carved.  It is also common in Wyoming, Alaska, and British Columbia.
    Nephrite jade is much more common than jadeite and is therefore much less expensive. But it is a lovely, popular stone, used extensively in jewelry and carving.
    One must be careful, however, in purchasing jade.  You will often see “imperial” jade that is nothing more than a cheap jade that has been dyed. Much of it is treated (usually this means dyed) to enhance its value.  The dyeing, however, may be very temporary. Black jade is either dyed or very dark green nephrite that looks black.  There are also numerous minerals that look like jade and are sold as jade under misleading names, such as “Virginia jade”  (a blue green mineral called amazonite, common in Virginia); “Mexican jade” (jade colored or dyed onyx marble); “Potomac jade” (diopside, a green mineral).  “Pennsylvania jade,” “Korean jade,” and “new jade” are all serpentine, a soft green stone, similar in appearance to some varieties of jade.  In fact, much of the intricately and beautifully carved jade is actually serpentine, which can be scratched easily with a knife.
    Soapstone may also lok like jade to the amateur, especially when beautifully carved. This stone is so soft that it can easily be scratched with a pin, hairpin, or point of a pen.  It is much less expensive than comparable varieties of jade, as well as softer and less durable.
    Jade is a wonderful stone and imperial jade is breathtaking; no wonder it was the emperor’s gemstone!  But jade has long been “copied;” misrepresented and altered. Just be sure you know you are buying what you think you are buying.
  • Labradorite and Sunstone (Feldspar)
    Labradorite is a fascinating stone that is starting to appear in some of the more distinctive jewelry salons, especially in beads and carved pieces. A member of the feldspar family, the most frequently seen variety is a grayish, almost opaque stone, within which startlingly brilliant flashes of peacock blue, green, and/or yellows are visible at certain angles.
    A Beautiful. shimmering red to orange variety (and occasionally green or bicolor) known as sunstone is also beginning to enter the jewelry scene. Mined in Oregon, major US retailers such as Tiffany are featuring this wonderful, truly American gem.
    Labradorite  is usually cut in cabochon style, but sunstone also occurs in a transparent material that makes a beautiful faceted gem. There are some glass imitations, but they don’t come close to the real stone.  This is a gemstone that is still relatively inexpensive and one to consider seriously if you want something striking and unusual.
  • Lapis Lazuli
    Lapis, a birthstone for December, has been highly prized since ancient Babylonian and Egyptian times.  An amulet of “great power” was formed when lapis was worked into the form of an eye and ornamented with gold; in fact, so powerful that sometimes these eyes were put to rest on the limbs of a mummy.  In addition, it was recognized as a symbol for capacity, ability, success, and divine favor.
    Genuine lapis is a natural blue opaque gemstone of intense, brilliant, deep blue color. It sometimes possesses small, sparkling gold or silver colored flecks (pyrite inclusions), although the finest quality is deep, even blue with a purplish tint or undertone and no trace of these flecks. Occasionally it may be blue mottled with white.
    Don’t confuse genuine lapis with the cheaper “Swiss lapis” or “Italian lapis,” which aren’t lapis at all.  These are natural stones (usually quartz) artificially colored to look like lapis lazuli.  Genuine lapis is often represented as “Russian lapis,” although it doesn’t always come from Russia. The finest lapis come from Afghanistan.
    Lapis has become very fashionable, and the finest quality lapis is becoming more rare and more expensive.  This has resulted in an abundance of lapis that has been “color improved.”  It is often fashioned today with other gems; pearls, coral, that make particularly striking fashion accessories.
    Sodalite is sometimes confused with the more expensive, and rarer, lapis and used as a substitute for it.  However, sodalite rarely contains the silvery or golden flecks typical of most lapis. It ma have some white veining, but more commonly it just exhibits the fine lapis blue without any markings.  The lapis substitutes do transmit some light through the edges of the stone; lapis does not, since it is opaque.
    Dyed chalcedony (quartz), glass, and plastic imitation are common. One quick and easy test to identify genuine lapis is to put a drop of hydrochloric acid on the stones; this will immediately produce the odor of a rotten egg. This test should be administered only by a professional, however, since hydrochloric acid can be dangerous.
  • Malachite and Azurite
    Malachite must have been the answer to the mother’s prayer.  According to legend, attaching malachite to the neck of a child would ease its pain when cutting teeth.  Also, tied over a woman in labor, it would ensure an easier, faster birth; and it could also cure diseases of the eye.  More important, however, it was believed capable of protecting from the evil eye and bringing good luck.
    Malachite is also popular today, but perhaps more because of the exquisite color and a softness that makes it very popular for carving. Malachite is a copper ore that comes in a brilliant kelly green, marked with bands or concentric stripping in contrasting shades of the same basic green.  It is opaque and takes a good polish, but it is soft and should not be worn in rings. This softness, however, makes it a favorite substance for us in carved bases, boxed, beads, statutes, spheres, and so on. It is also used in pins, pendants, and necklaces (usually of malachite beads).
    Azurite is also a copper ore, but it occurs in a very vivid deep blue, similarly marked. Occasionally one will come across both the green and the blue intermingled in brilliant combinations of color and striking patterns. Both malachite and azurite make beautiful jewelry and lovely carvings.
    A particular note of caution:  Never clean malacite or azurite with any product containing ammonia.  In seconds the ammonia will remove all of the polish, which will significantly reduce the stone’s beauty.
  • Moonstone (Feldspar)
    Moonstone is definitely a good luck gemstone, especially for lovers. As a gift the moonstone holds a high rank, for it is believed to arouse one’s tender passion and to give lovers the ability to foretell their future; good or ill.  To get this information, however, legend has it that the stone must be placed in the mouth while the moon is full. Perhaps a more important use, however, was in amulets made of moonstone, which would protect men from epilepsy and guarantee a greater fruit crop yield when hung on fruit trees. The stone, in fact, assisted all vegetation.
    The name “moonstone” is probably derived from the myth that one can observe the lunar month through the stone; that a small white spot appears in the stone as the new moon begins and gradually moves toward the stone’s center, getting always larger, until the spot finally takes the shape of a full moon in the center of the gemstone.
    Moonstone is a member of the feldspar family.  It is a transparent, milky white variety in which can be seen a floating opalescent white or blue light within the stone’s body.  It is a popular gemstone for rings because as the hand moves the effect of the brilliant light color is more pronounced.  The bluer color is the finer and more desirable, but it is becoming rare in today’s market, particularly in large sizes.
    There are some glass imitations of moonstone, but compared to the real gemstone they are not very good.
  • Obsidian
    Obsidian was widely used by the Mexicans, probably because of its brilliant polished surface, for making images of their god Tezcatlipoca, and for polishing into the mirrors used to divine the future.  It has also been found in Egypt, fashioned into masks.
    Obsidian is a semi-translucent to opaque glass that is smoky brown to black and sometimes a mixture of both.  It is formed by volcanic activity, and is also called “volcanic glass.”  One variety, snowflake obsidian, exhibits white spots resembling snowflakes against or mingled with the blacks; some obsidian exhibits a strong iridescence; and some obsidian exhibits a sheen from within, as seen in moonstone.
    Jewelry made from obsidian, which is available in great quantity and is very inexpensive, is a popular fashion accessory.  It is particularly popular in Mexican and Indian jewelry, and is seen fairly extensively in the West and in Mexico.  One must exercise caution, however, because obsidian is a glass and can be scratched or cracked easily.
  • Onyx
    Onyx is not a good-omen stone, and it is certainly not one for young lovers, since it is believed to bear an evil omen, to provoke discord and separate them. Worn around the neck, it was said to cool the ardors of love.  The close union and yet strong contrast between the layers of black and white in some varieties may have suggested onyx’s connection with romance. It was also believed to cause discord in general, create disharmony among friends, bring bad dreams and broken sleep to its wearer, and cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely.
    But there isn’t complete agreement as to its unlucky nature. Indian and Persian believe that wearing onyx will protect them from the evil eye, and that when placed on the stomach of a woman in labor it would reduce the labor pain and bring on earlier delivery. So you choose; good or bad?
    Onyx is a lovely banded, semi-translucent to opaque quartz.  It comes naturally in a variety of colors; reds, oranges, reddish orange, apricot, and shades of brown from cream to dark, often alternating with striking bands of white. The banding in onyx is straight, while curved bands occur in the variety of quartz known as agate. Onyx is used extensively for cameo and other carving work.  It is also frequently dyed.
    The “ black onyx” that is commonly used in jewelry isn’t onyx at all, and isn’t naturally black. It is chalcedony (another variety of quartz) dyed black. It is always dyed, and may be banded or solid black.
    Do not confuse the quartz variety of onyx with cave onyx, which is found in the stalactities and stalabmites of underground caves. cave onyx is a different material altogether.  It is much softer, lacks the color variety, and is less expensive than quartz onyx.
  • Opal
    The opal has suffered from an unfortunate reputation as being an evil stone and bearing an ill omen. Ominous superstition surround this wonderful gem, including the belief that misfortune will fall on those who wear it. But its evil reputation has never been merited and probably resulted from a careless reading of Sir Walter Scott’s Anne of Geierstein, in which the ill-fated heroine received an opal before her untimely death.
    Among the ancients, opal was a symbol of fidelity and assurance, and in later history it became strongly associated with religious emotion and prayer.  It was believed ti have a strong therapeutic value for diseases of the eye, and worn as an amulet it would make the wearer immune from them as well as increase the powers of the eyes and the mind.  Further, many believed that to the extent the colors of red and green (ruby and emerald) were seen, the wearer would also enjoy the therapeutic powers of those gemstones: the power to stop bleeding from the ruby or the power to cure kidney diseases from the emerald.  The black opal was particularly highly prized as the luck stone of anyone lucky enough to own one!
    This gemstone, whose brilliance and vibrant colors resembles the colors of fall, is certainly appropriate as a birthstone for October. When we try to describe the opal, we realize how insufficient the English language is. It is unique among the gems, displaying an array of very brilliant miniature effects, all mixed together.
    Its most outstanding characteristics is this unusual, intense display of many colors flashing out like mini-rainbows.  This effect is created by opal’s formation process, which is very different from that of other gems.  Opal is composed of hydrated silica spheres. The mini-rainbows seen in most opals result from light interference created by these spheres.  The arrangement of the spheres, which vary in size and pattern, is responsible for the different colors.
    Opal is usually cut flat or in cabochon, since there is no additional brilliance to be captured by faceting. In opals, color is everything.  The more brilliant the color, the more valuable the gem.  It si probably truer of opal than other gemstone that more beautiful the stone and its color, the more it will cost.
    The finest of all is the black opal. Black opals are usually a deep gray or grayish black with flashes of incredibly brilliant color dancing around within and about the stones as they are turned. One must be careful when purchasing a black opal, however, to ensure that it is nit a doublet or triplet, a stone composed of two or three parts of some material fused or glued together.  There are many such doublets on the market because of the black opal’s rarity, beauty, and extremely high cost. The black opal doublet provides an affordable option to one who loves the gemstone but can’t afford a natural. But it also provides another opportunity for misrepresentation that can be costly to the consumer.
    Generally speaking, purity of color, absence of dead spots (called trueness), flawlessness, and intensity or brilliance of color are the primary variables affecting value. Opals with an abundance of red are usually the most expensive; those strong in blue and green are equally beautiful but nit as rare, so their price is somewhat less. Some opals are very transparent and are classified as “jelly,” “semi-jelly,” or “water” opals. One of the rarest is the “harlequin” opal, which displays color patterns resembling a checker board.
    While there are imitation and synthetics, for the most part their quality is such that they are not yet worth considering. The synthetic opal, nonetheless, is being used extensively.  Also, since the color of black opals can be improved by treatment, treated opals are encountered frequently.  So the usual precautions are in order:  make sure you know what you are getting and before buying, shop around.  This holds truer for opal, perhaps, than any other gemstone.
    One word of caution must also be offered:  opals require special care because some tend to dry and crack.  avoid exposure to anything that is potentially drying. And, believe it or not, rubbing it periodically with an oil-moistened cloth; such as olive oil, will help preserve it.  Do not soak it; soaking some opals for only a few hours can cause them to lose some or nearly all of their fire.
  • Peridot
    Today, peridot is birthstone for August, peridot was also a favorite of the ancients. This lovely transparent yellowish green to deep chartreuse gemstone was quite a powerful gem.  It was considered an aid to friendship and was also believed to free the mind of envious thoughts. (Which is probably why it was an aid to friendship.) Because of yellowish green color, it was also believed to cure or prevent diseases of the liver and dropsy. And, if that’s not enough, if worn on the left arm it would protect the wearer from the evil eye.
    Peridot is also popular today, but probably more for its lovely shade of green than its professed powers.  While not particularly brilliant, the richness of its color can be exceptional.  It comes in shades of yellowish green to darker, purer green colors.  Unfortunately, because of its rarity most people never see peridot in the deeper, purer green color that is so prized.
    Peridot is still widely available in small sizes but larger gemstones are becoming scarce, so prices are now fairly high for good quality material in higher carat weights.
    Some caution should be exercised in wearing peridot. It is not a very hard gemstone and may scratch easily. Also, some stones; like green sapphire or green tourmaline, can look like peridot and be mistaken or misrepresented.
  • Quartz
    Quartz, the most versatile of any of the gem families, quartz includes among its members more variety and a large number of gems than any other three mineral families together.  In the gem trade the old saying, “If in doubt, say quartz,” still hold true.
    The quartz minerals, for the most part, are relatively inexpensive gems that offer a wide range of pleasing color alternatives both in transparent and non-transparent varieties (from translucent to opaque). They are reasonably hard gemstones, and while not very brilliant in the transparent varieties, still create lovely, affordable jewelry.
    Some of these gems have already been discussed, but we will provide a list here ( following article) with brief description of most the quartz family members.

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