How to Buy Sapphire Guide

Often associated with royalty and faithfulness, sapphires are the quintessential blue gemstone. Sapphire is the 3rd most popular stone – diamond and pearl are first and second, respectively – in the world. With sapphire engagement ring of Kate Middleton, this magnificent gemstone will only gain more popularity in the coming years. As such, this buying guide should help those looking to add sapphires into their collection.

Although known for the stunning blue color, sapphire can be a wide range of colors – colorless, violet, purple, green, yellow, orange, pink, gray, brown, and black – called fancy sapphires. Blue is best known and most valuable. Pink, orange, and yellow colors are gaining popularity these days. Green is the most numerous and least valued while gray or brown are not desired. Pure colorless sapphires are quite valuable but rare without contamination; popular as small accents in jewelry and a substitute for diamond.

Unlike diamonds, color intensity is the most important factor in valuation. Factors that determine the overall color are hue, tone, and saturation. Hue is shade of the color, tone represents how light or dark the stone looks, and saturation measures the strength of the color from dull to vivid. Best viewed under sunlight; artificial or incandescent light may make the stone appear redder and less attractive.

When buying a sapphire, strong saturation is preferred, and most important factor, but must not hinder the brightness of the stone. Next, medium to medium dark tones are preferred; light tones will make the stone appear washed out but do have greater brilliance. Dark tone stones are abundant and inexpensive.

For blue, rare Kashmir and Burmese sapphires with intense, deep blue or violet-blue and velvety luster are the most sought after. Stones from these regions can possess the desired “cornflower” blue, also known as Kashmir blue. Yogo sapphires from Montana are dazzling collectors recently with beautiful Kashmir-like quality. For example, a high quality 1-carat Kashmir sapphire can cost about $22,000 while a similar purple sapphire will cost about $570.

Although pink diamonds have overtaken pink sapphires in recent years, pink sapphires are still a popular color and, importantly, cheaper than diamonds. Of the shades of pink, hot pink is the most sought after from Burma and Sri Lanka due to its intense and vivid color.

Fine yellow sapphires are yellow to orange-yellow with vivid saturation. Similarity, quality orange sapphires range between strong orange to red-orange with medium tone and vivid saturation.

An extremely rare, and expensive, unique shade of pink is Padparadscha from Sri Lanka. Padparadscha is described to be pinkish-orange to orange-pink that resembles the color of a lotus flower, salmon, sunset, or ripe guava; a hint of pink should always be noticeable. Good quality stones with intense saturation can demand about $20,000 per carat.

In addition, some sapphires can display pleochroism, or color change under certain lighting and angles. Blue can change to violet under daylight or fluorescent light. Violet-purple stones can turn to reddish-purple under incandescent light. Although rare, some green stones can change to a reddish-brown under incandescent light. The stronger the color change, the more value the stone can demand.

Ranging from transparent to opaque, transparent is the most desired clarity for the beautiful luster. Opaque stones are fairly inexpensive.

Like most colored gemstones, eye clean is enough for the high marks; this is due to the fact that majority of colored gemstones contain inclusions of some sort like liquid, gases, and other crystals. Buyers should be cautious if the stone looks perfectly clean, it is likely to be fake. Using the same 1-carat Kashmir example from above, the same stone with inclusions can bring the price down to $9,000.

Additionally, many of the special characteristics of sapphire are caused by inclusions, especially silk-like needle structure called rutie. The famous Kashmir velvety appearance is due to the scattering of light by extremely fine rutie needles throughout the crystal structure. Too much rutie, however, can weaken the lustrous color and turn the stone towards the gray spectrum.

Speaking of, rutie needles are also responsible for asterism in star sapphire. The rutie needles must be properly aligned, about sixty degrees, in the same direction to form the six to twelve, commonly six, rayed star under strong light. For black star sapphires, hematite is responsible for asterism in the gemstone.

When buying star sapphires, look for an uniform, crisp star against a strong saturation – lighter saturation will lower the visibility of the star – and semi-transparent clarity. Blue star sapphires are the most valuable. The star should be visible at arm’s length and at all directions; elegantly gliding as you rotate the stone without dead spots.

Common cut styles are rounds, ovals, pears, and cushions. Round diamond-cuts are usually the most desired and commands a high price. However, emerald and marquise cuts can maximize the light reflection and improve the color; these cuts can be quite expensive when expertly cut.

Translucent and star sapphires are often cut into beads or cabochons.

Heat treatment is common for sapphire; most stones on the market today are heat treated. As such, untreated sapphires with rich blue are very expensive. Heat treatments removes some inclusions like tiny rutie needles and improves color tone and saturation.

Diffusion treatment involves applying a thin layer of dye to the surface of the gemstone. This treatment is usually done to star and blue sapphires.

Beryllium treatment is used to produce brilliant orange sapphires. This treatment can turn some light color orange or yellow stones to a Padparadscha-like color.

Synthetic sapphires are very abundant due to the fact that sapphire has many industrial uses due to the hardness of the stone. Keep in mind that even though they are called synthetic, lab created sapphires are actual sapphires, chemically and physically. Only experts can tell them apart, but the big hint is the lack of any inclusions compared to the real thing. Buying from reputable sellers is recommended.

Because sapphires have such a high hardness, 9 on the Moh’s scale, caring for them is easier than other gemstones since they are more resistant to scratches. However, care still should be practiced. To clean them, use a soft cloth or brush with soapy water and rinse well.

Avoid harsh cleaning agents, like bleach and hydrofluoric acid, as these can be corrosive to the stone.

As with any valuable jewelry, remove before any physical activities. To store, wrap the precious stone in a soft cloth or fabric-lined jewelry box.

Sapphire: Blue Gemstone of Royalty

Ancient Persians once thought that the world sat on sapphires, turning the sky blue. Often associated with royalty and scarcity, sapphires are prized for the intense, vivid blue color that is unmatched by any other gemstones. Lustful and durable, sapphire is one of the most popular gemstone in the world, and the rich blue color is why this stone is one of my favorite.

A variety of corundum, Al2O3, trace impurities in the trigonal crystal structure can give a wide range of colors. Although known for blue, modern classification of sapphire now consists of every color besides red. Red corundum is better known as ruby.

Colorless, white, violet, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, gray, brown, and even black can be found; these non-blue colors are known as fancy sapphires. Fancy sapphires are designated with a color prefix, like yellow sapphire for example. However, blue is still the preferred color, especially those with strong, vivid color saturation of medium blue – although yellow, orange, and pink hues are gaining popularity lately.

Traces of iron and titanium give the stone the color of blue, pink, and purple. Iron and vanadium gift the gemstone with the color of orange. By themselves, iron turns the stone yellow and green, chromium gives pink and red, and vanadium displays violet.

The standard blue that all are judged against is “cornflower” blue, or Kashmir blue, which is a an intense and velvety luster blue that not too light or dark. Yogo sapphires from Montana, USA and Mogok sapphires from Myanmar can also display this superb color naturally. One rare, and very valuable, non-blue color is padparadscha – word for lotus flower in Sinhalese – that displays an exotic color between pink and orange.

Like many other colored gemstones, sapphires often have inclusions but generally possess higher clarity than rubies. In corundum, silk-like needles, called rutie, can exist as inclusions that can lower the transparency of the crystal. However, dense, parallel groupings of rutie can refract light to grant asterism called a star sapphire. The star formed is commonly 6-pointed but 12-pointed star sapphire have been known; one of the most famous star sapphire is the Star of India. Furthermore, extremely fine rutie throughout the stone is said to create the enchanting Kashmir blue color; too much rutie, however, and gray becomes more prominent.

Another property is the ability to change shades when viewed at different angles and light source, or pleochroism. As such, keep in mind the desired color and occasion of use: outdoors, indoors, evenings. In general, blue in daylight and slight purple under fluorescence light.

Having a Mohs rating of 9, sapphire is one of hardest stone, second only to diamond. Because of its durability, this magnificent gemstone is perfect as an everyday jewelry and suitable for every jewelry piece. Rings being a popular choice. In fact, sapphire is the engagement stone for Princess Diana and Kate Middleton; truly a stone of royalty.

Natural gemstones with good color are very rare and expensive. As such, sapphires are usually heat treated to enhance the color, increase clarity, and reduce inclusions. Besides heat, diffusion and beryllium are two other common treatments. Diffusion is used to give a deeper blue or enhance the effects of a star sapphire. Oh the other hand, beryllium treatment is used to reduce blue tones but creates stunning bright orange and yellow sapphires.

On the other side, we have synthetic gemstones. Unfortunately, synthetic sapphire, or lab sapphire, is common using the Verneuil process; only experts will be able to tell the difference between natural and synthetic. Due to their hardness, they have many industrial applications so synthetic sapphires will always be prominent in the market.

Fine quality of stones are mined in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Madagascar, Tanzania, and United States. Sri Lanka. Madagascar, and Tanzania are the leading producers. Sadly, the region, Kashmir, that set the standard for sapphire have been mostly dried since the 1920s. Areas that can produce sapphires that comes close, or even match, those from Kashmir are Montana in USA, Pailin in Cambodia, and Mogok in Myanmar. Australia and Thailand produces deep blue stones with a slight tint of green, while Sri Lanka produces pastel blue stones.

How to Buy Amber Guide

Having caught the eyes of humanity since the Neolithic Period, amber is one of oldest gemstone used by humans. Not only has amber been part of our history, this warm stone captures history in time capsule in palm of your hands. As such, this guide will gently give you a hand in buying amber, a very affordable stone.

Considered a semi-precious stone, amber does not have a straightforward valuation compared to others. Many factors can affect the price. The best way is think in terms of categories like clarity and inclusion. One category may value a certain feature more than another category, depends on what the buyer is looking for.

Amber comes in various shades of yellow, orange, and brown. The classic color is yellow-orange, sometimes called honey amber. Rich honey with a dark tone is preferred. On the other hand, shades of brown that can demand a high price is cherry or cognac amber which has a slight red tint like brandy; also known as red amber. Black amber – actually dark brown – is rare. Amber from the Baltic region is considered to have the best overall color.

There are also green and blue amber stones display their colors under natural light. The green coloration is thought to be from plant pigments in resin, while blue amber only comes from the Dominican Republic. These two colors are very rare and expensive. However, rich primary color is preferred over rare colors.

Amber is not often faceted. Round and oval shapes in cabochon form is the standard to maximize the mass. Beads are usually made from lower quality stones, often used for necklaces and bracelets. Large pieces can be used for carvings.

Not a clean gemstone, amber can be transparent to cloudy to opaque. In general, a clear and clean amber is more valuable than cloudy and opaque ones. Amber from the Dominican Republic tend to have a higher transparency than Baltic varieties. However, unlike other gemstones, high clarity is not golden standard.

Related to clarity, but deserving its own section, inclusions are what sets amber apart from other gemstones. Inclusions are often judged as a separate category; independent of color or clarity. Many things can be trapped inside the fresh resin like bubbles, sand, plant materials, insects, arachnids, and even small reptiles.

With that in mind, the most famous inclusions are insects like mosquitoes, made popular by Jurassic Park. Ants and flies are popular as well. Sought by both scientists and collectors, well preserved and visible animals can make a “dirty” amber more valuable than a clean one. Plants and other foreign objects do not fluctuate the pricing much but they can be quite beautiful, especially ancient flowers. As a side note, Dominican Republic amber tend to have more inclusions than any other regions.

Small bubbles usually devalue the amber. However, a large bubble, 0.5 to 2 mm, surrounded by transparent body is prized due to the ability to refract lights to enhance the color and luster of the amber.

Lastly, microscopic bubbles throughout the amber can cause the stone to appear cloudy, even milky; sometimes called bony amber. The creamy patterns can make the stone look like a frozen latte coffee or modern art piece. Beautiful egg yolk and butterscotch amber can worth more than ones with good clarity without inclusions.

Many amber gems are treated with either heat, oil bath, or both. Oil bath and heat treatment reduce the cloudiness – increasing clarity – by evaporating tiny bubbles. Heat treatments also make the color darker. Green amber, for example, is often made by heating one side of an average amber and covering up process with a bezel in a jewelry. Most green amber sold are treated; natural green is very rare.

Buyers should look out for ambroid stones, which are pressed smaller pieces of amber using heat and pressure – amber softens at 150°C – to form a larger piece; sometimes called “genuine” amber to install confidence in the lower price. Chemical adhesives can be used to bind the pieces together as well. Ambroid often has visible division lines and layers.

In addition, flawed amber with cracks can be filled with copal, which is a much younger version of amber. While some low quality pieces are coated to improve the color.

Unfortunately, there are numerous imitations in the market. Processed copal, through autoclave, can be sold as amber, especially a problem in Europe. Phenolic resin, casein plastic, celluloid plastic, and glass are common materials used to make imitation amber.

Luckily, there are many ways to test authenticity. The rub test can quickly distinguish between amber and glass. Since amber is negatively charged, rubbing it with a soft piece of cloth, like wool or silk, will produce static electricity while glass will not, then place the piece near your hair to observe any attractions.

Another quick test is to shine an ultraviolet light on the piece. Real amber and copal will have some fluorescence properties like yellow, blue, green, and orange.

The classic test is the saltwater test but amber, copal, and plastics – like polystyrene – will float while glass and other heavier materials will stink. Of course, this will not work with jewelry. To make the solution, add about 2.5 tablespoon of salt to a cup of glass of water.

For distinguishing between amber and copal, there is the acetone test. Acetone will not have an effect on amber. Copal and some plastic, however, will weakly dissolve in acetone, causing a sticky surface. In addition, copal is much softer and will can be scratched easily with a fingernail.

Another test, while a last resort, is the hot needle test. Heat the tip of a needle red hot then poke the stone. Amber has a piney smell when burnt. In fact, amber is used as incense. Fake pieces will have a plastic or electrical smell. Unfortunately, real amber can crack in the process due to the high heat.

Inclusions can be used as a form of authenticity. Verified animals and plants are a sure proof but will require a trained professional. Be cautious of insects with nicely folded wings. Real insects will show some signs of struggle like spread out wings. Any modern looking inclusions or large animals will most likely to be fake. Always approach inclusions with some caution.

Again, amber is a soft gem that can be scratched so care must be taken when wore in active jewelries like rings and bracelets. Amber should be kept away from gasoline, alcohol, perfume, hairspray, and other caustic solutions. Some alcohols can stain or cloud the amber. Store these gems separately like pearls. Prolonged water exposure will ruin the polish. In addition, amber should be kept away from fire because they can burn.

As you can see, depending on what you are looking for, amber does give buyers an option on what they want. Whether it is a clear colored gemstone, a time capsule, or an unique stone that resembles contemporary paintings. Amber will be sure to please any buyer.

Amber: Stone of Liquid Sunshine

One of the earliest “gemstone” used by humans, ambers have fascinated mankind for thousands of years with their warm glow. However, one of the most fascinating trait of this organic gemstone is serving as a time capsule to the history of our planet.

Although not a stone, considered as one because how they resemble gemstones in jewelry. Ambers are fossilized tree resins from ancient trees like conifers. Insects and plants can be trapped inside the fresh resin and locked in time. High temperatures and pressure from being encased under sediments and debris, transform the resin into copal – not fully fossilized – after thousands of years. After millions of additional years, fossilization is complete through the process of polymerization, resulting in amber.

Ambers have an amorphous structure, not a crystalline structure; giving amber stones a lower density than other gems. The low density allows amber gemstones to float in seawater, but not in freshwater. A useful property, as many amber gems are washed up on shore after a storm loosen them from seabeds, especially in the Baltic region. In addition, they are warm to the touch, since they do not conduct heat and have electrostatic properties.

As for color, ambers can come in various different colors, but the popular ones are warm colors that represent the sun. The most common, and classic, color is orange-yellow, which happens to be called amber. Colors can be various shades white, yellow, orange, brown, red, light black, blue, and green. Red tinted amber stones are sometimes called cognac or cherry amber. Green and blue colors are rare and highly valuable. Some rare ones have blue tinges cause by fluorescence.

Although found transparent to opaque, transparent with good luster is the common clarity. Not usually treated, clarity can be enhanced, however, with heated oil baths, which reduces the cloudiness.

Inclusions, like air bubbles, are very common, but unlike other gemstones, inclusions are welcome additions. In fact, depending on the inclusion, the value can drastically increase, especially after Jurassic Park. Intact insects and arachnids are prized by both scientists and collectors. Flowers and leaves can also be quite beautiful. Impurities of pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, sometimes changes the amber to a blue color.

In terms of cutting, most are cut into cabochons. They are rarely faceted, but are polished, however. Round, teardrop, and oval shapes are popular to preserve as much of the amber as possible.

With only a hardness of 2 to 2.5 Mohs, amber is more suited for earrings, brooches, pendants, and necklaces to avoid sharp hits and scratches. Bead necklaces are a popular option as well. Like any soft gems, care must be taken when wearing jewelries active body parts, like rings and bracelets.

Buyers should know that some stones are assembled together from smaller pieces with oil, heat, and pressure; called amberoid, pressed, or “genuine” amber. Amberoids are usually disclosed to the buyer.

Imitations are common using resin and plastic, but they are quite easy to spot because these are too clean. Any inclusions with large creatures are too good to be true. Also, most green ambers are artificially created. Copal and kauri gum are sometimes pass as amber gems.

The Baltic regions currently still produces the most ambers, especially Kaliningrad, Russia where they are found in clay. Baltic ambers are known for their golden-yellow color that are harder than other varieties. Dominican Republic, although not a leading producer, produces some of the most exciting ambers. In addition to producing the rare blue amber, Dominican Republic ambers are more likely to have specimen inclusions. Romania, Italy, China, Japan, Mexico, Myanmar, Canada, and United States of America produces these fossilized resins as well.

How to Buy Pearl Guide

One of nature’s luminous treasures, pearls are one of history’s most valuable and sought-after gemstones, with a rich history. Today with cultivation techniques, owing one of these most prized luxury never has been more affordable, with wide range of varieties, that kings and queens, of eras gone by, can only dream about. This is a general guide to help the initiate buy pearls.

Majority of pearls sold today are cultivated. Natural pearls are very rare, about 1 out of 1,000 oysters; when found, they are usually small and expensive. For a more in-depth look, check out my previous post on pearls.

There’s no standardized grading for pearls, meaning buyers will see different grading scales. Value is based on color, luster, surface, nacre, and size. Regardless whatever the industry considers as valuable, buy what fancies your eyes.

Akoya – the classic pearl, averaging 6 to 8 mm. Consistently round with milky white or silver color. Overtones can be rose, silver, green, blue, or gold. Often use in necklaces due to their consistency.

White South Sea – the largest cultured pearl, averaging 13 mm. Comes in creamy white and silver with overtones of rose and silver.

Golden South Sea – gold-lipped oyster variety of South Sea. Pearls can possess pale yellow to golden color. The golden color is one of the rarest pearls.

Tahitian – produces the mythic black pearls; they can range between 6 to 16 mm. These can have body color of gray, green, silver, blue, and black that can have overtones of peacock green, blue or rose.

Freshwater – the most numerous, and affordable, on the market; ranges from 3 to 7 mm. However, they tend to be irregular in shape and do not have the luster of seawater pearls. Usually white but they are dyed dark blue or black, which gives them an unique iridescence – rainbow – effect.

Conch – not a true pearl, no nacre, but produces unique bright pink or peach pearls with flame-like patterns. Pricing dependent on the fiery play of flame patterns, similar to valuation of opal. Popular among collectors.

Melo melo – similar to conch pearls, these exhibit a bright orange hue with flame-like patterns. Rare and prized by collectors.

White is still considered the standard, and highly versatile. Akoya pearls will be go-to white color as these are the epitome of classic pearl. Golden pearls are very expensive due to their rarity; the same can be said for bright orange and pink from conch and melo. Buyers should be aware that many white pearls, especially freshwater, are dyed dark blue or black to enhance the color and value.

In addition, buyers should look at the secondary color called overtone, or how the surface reflects light can create different hues. The desired overtone for white pearls is a rose hue. For black pearls, the sought-after overtone is peacock green. And for rare Cortez pearls, the iconic color is dark pistachio green with rainbow overtone.

Given the chance, examine against a white background like white velvet and use full spectrum lighting.

Another important factor is luster, which gives pearls their intense, deep glow. Luster is created when light is reflected off the many layers of nacre; so, more layers of nacre, means more luster. A good pearl should have reflections similar to a mirror. The sharper reflected object, the more valuable the pearl is, while a chalky and dull reflection means a low quality nacre layers.

Surface Quality
The next factor to look for is the level of blemishes on the surface of the nacre. Sea particles colliding with new layers of nacre will cause small marks, bubbles, and lumps; there’s no avoiding this. With that, 95% to 99% blemish-free is considered highest quality.

Look out for sanded, or worked, pearls. Done on flawed pearls to give them a blemish-free appearance. The giveaway, if not labeled, is the lack of luster and thin layer of nacre. If the nacre is thin enough, buyers can see the nucleus reflecting inside.

Obviously, the larger the pearl, the higher the asking price. Even if the Akoya is the white pearl standard, South Sea white pearls are usually more expensive due to the larger sizes. On a side note, most natural pearls are quite small compared to cultured pearls but more expensive due to rarity.

In general, Akoya has an asking price of $61 to $3,000 per pearl. South Sea varieties can range from $399 to $30,000 each. Tahitian pearls range from $120 to $10,000. Freshwater, on the other hand, usually cost about $69 to $1,500.

Unfortunately, there are lots of imitation pearls. Imitation pearls are made from glass beads dipped in a solution of fish scales to give the glass some luster and overtone. These glass beads will appear very smooth, round, and lacks the luster of true pearls.

A simple way to test a pearl is to gently rub it against your teeth. Imitations will be smooth while real pearls will be a bit gritty, like sandpaper. Alternatively, you can also rub two pearls together. Again, imitation pearls will smoothly glide while real pearls will feel like rubbing two sandpapers together, due to the nacre.

Due to its softness, pearl accessories are usually kept away from areas of active movements. As such, the iconic accessory is the necklace, especially after the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There are many styles – from short to long – collar, choker, bib, princess, matinee, opera, and rope. The longer the necklace, the more formal and sophisticated the attire. The princess pearl necklace has been popular since the 1940’s and is a versatile piece of jewelry. Generally, pearls 7 mm and over are for an adult women while those less than 7 mm are suited for young girls.

In addition, buyers should examine how well the pearls match with each other, whether uniform or graduated – where the pearls slowly shift shade of color. A well matched necklace or bracelet is a sign of good craftsman.

White and silver pearl necklaces are versatile and compliment those with fair skin. Darker pearls, like black and gold, are more flattering to those with darker complexions. These are just suggestions, of course. Pink, peach, and lavender can be good for spring and summer use, showing off a more fun and flirty side.

Pendants and earrings are popular option. As a side note, natural pearls are usually set as a single piece to show off its rarity, like pendants or earrings.

Baroque, or irregular shaped, pearls can be a great and cheap way to add to your collection. Modern jewelers are making great use of them to make unique pieces of jewelry. Buying loose strand pearls, or drilled pearls, can be cheaper way to slowly build your own necklace or bracelet to be strung together later.

Caring Tips
Pearls can last a lifetime with some simple caring tips. Simply wearing them will keep the pearls moist and lustrous from body oils. After use, wipe the them with slightly damp, lint-free cloth. To clean them, wipe them with water mixed with a few drops of soap then wipe them again with just clean water; do not soak pearls.

Keep these organic gemstones away from chemicals like perfume, makeup, and hairspray. As such, put on your pearls last when dressing and remove them first when undressing.

When putting away or storing pearls, wrap them in a soft cloth and separate from other jewelries to avoid accidental collisions. If you plan to stash them away for a long time, like a safe deposit, leave a cup of water near them so avoid cracking.

Pearl: The Organic Gemstone

Once thought to be the tears of gods and goddesses, pearls are one of the most treasured gemstone throughout history. So revered as pearls were in Ancient times, Cleopatra won a challenge for most extravagance single meal worth 10 million sestertius with a single large pearl – if the story is to be believed. Truly making pearls like no ordinary gemstone.

Pearl is an organic gemstone – like amber, ivory, and ammolite – from mollusks; mainly oysters and mussels. Clams, abalone, and conchs can produce them as well.

These little treasures are produced when an foreign object, like a tiny stone or sand, is introduced inside the mollusk. In a response to the irritant, layers of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, are secreted around the object, slowly building up the pearl; taking about seven to eight years. Nacre is consist of mostly aragonite – calcium carbonate – and conchiolin, bounding complex proteins.

As you can tell, finding a pearl naturally in a mollusk is extremely rare, about one out of a thousand; most naturals are small and very expensive. Because of this uncertainty, majority of pearls on the market today are cultivated, both freshwater and saltwater.

Pieces of tissue from the inner surface of the shell are use for freshwater mussels and small beads are used for seawater oysters. A single mussel can have multiple inserts while oysters can only handle one to three, if lucky; thus, freshwater pearls are very abundant and affordable. Freshwater varieties are also more likely to be irregularly shaped – think potato.

Additionally, there are little differences between natural and cultivated; cultured pearls being slightly denser. Only x-ray examination of the internal can tell the difference between natural and cultured; natural pearls have concentric internal layers.

Depending on the mollusk and location, there are a wide range of colors for every skin tone. Freshwater pearls colors are generally white, peach, pink, purple, and blue. Seawater pearls can have white, golden, green, blue, black, and even iridescence. Many white pearls are dyed black or dark blue to create the prized black pearl or give it an iridescent effect – oily, rainbow effect.

In addition, pearls also display an overtone color – glint of the surface in various lighting. Seawater pearls have the most noticeable overtone effect. Similar to color, they may have different overtones depending on the mollusk and location. Overtones can be ivory, cream, silver, rose, green, and many others. The most sought after pearls are ones with a white body and a rose overtone.

Some popular varieties and their general properties:
–Akoya – the most popular pearls. Cultured in Japan and China, but often associated to Japan. Consistently round and naturally white with mirror-like, metallic luster; highest luster and shine among the varieties. Overtones of rose, cream, and silver.
–Tahitian – famous for the black pearls. Cultured in Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands. Although known for the black color, pearls here can be green, blue, and gold. Due to the dark and metallic nature, they have overtone of the rainbow.
–White South Sea – large sized white pearls; the most expensive pearls on the market due to their size and rarity. Cultured in Western Australia. Silver and white color with overtones of silver, rose, and ivory.
–Golden South Sea – golden version of the South Sea variety. Cultured in the Philippines and Indonesia. Overtones of silver, green, and rose.

There are literally hundreds of varieties around the world. Abalone pearls are horn shaped, making them quite unique. Cortez pearls are dark in color from the Gulf of California that can be a good substitute to Tahitian pearls. Biwa pearls from Lake Biwa in Japan produces irregular shaped that are quite popular as jewelry. There’s also many like scallop and melo pearls that are not true pearls but just as lovely.

Color, overtone, luster, shape, size, surface quality, and nacre thickness are the depending factors for the valuation. Because of no standard grading system, most buyers will look at the percentage of blemish, quality of the surface, on the pearl. 95% to 99% is considered of highest quality. A good quality pearl is relatively blemish-free, smooth with suitable amount of nacre for durability. Symmetrical, spherical pearls are the most valuable.

Even with a Mohs rating of 2.5 to 4.5, depending on the amount of nacre, pearls are quite durable and resistant to crushing due to their compact structure. As such, they make excellent jewelry that are away from kinetic movement like necklace, pendant, and earrings. Bead necklaces are the classic pearl jewelry but require a craftsman with a trained eye to match the strung pearls either as uniformed or graduated style. Baroque, or misform, pearls are popular in modern jewelry at affordable prices.

Natural pearls are seldom used in jewelry today. When in jewelry, they are usually single to showcase their rarity and value.

Pearls are harvested – both natural and cultivated – around the world. Today, Japan and China lead the market in cultured pearls. Japan is mainly known for high quality Akoya pearls. China produces the most freshwater pearls from mussels in the world. Recently, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are gaining popularity due to their range of colors, overtones, and large sizes.

Lastly, buyers do have to look out for imitation pearls since they are widespread. Imitations will lack the iridescent effect. To test a pearl, you can gently rub it against the edge of your teeth. Real ones will be slightly rough like a sandpaper, while imitations will feel like glass. Certified pearls are your best bet if you’re concerned about imitation.

Pezzottaite: The Lost Cousin of Beryl

When the world discovered red beryl – also known as bixbite – in 1903, mineralogists across the world searched for more deposits of the rare reddish pink gem without much luck. But in 2002, a deposit of pink stones were discovered in Central Madagascar to the delight of many enthusiasts as red beryl deposits are exhausted. With high hopes of finding a new source of red beryl, the initial stones from this these mines were marketed as red beryl. But upon closer inspection, mineralogists realized that the raspberry hued stones were not red beryl, nor part of the beryl family at all; these were a new gem – pezzottaite.

Recognized by the International Mineralogical Association as a new gemstone in 2003, pezzottaite is named after Italian mineralogist Federico Pezzotta. Although similar to beryl family of gemstones in appearance, pezzottaite contains lithium and cesium not found in beryl. In addition, pezzottaite is a trigonal crystal system while beryl is a hexagonal crystal system. Pezzottaite can also form chatoyancy cabochons, or cat’s eye.

The color hues of this gem can range from orange-red to pink to raspberry red (purplish-pink). The raspberry color is what pezzottaite is famous for; hence, the other various names like raspberyl and raspberry beryl. Like morganite and red beryl, the color comes from manganese within the crystal structure. Pezzottaite also has a much higher refractive index – the ability to bend light – which makes this stone more lusterful than beryl.

Being such a new gemstone, there is a limited supply of pezzottaite in the world. As such, it is mainly a collector’s gem at the moment due to scarcity. Still, many are attracted to the pink hue despite its rarity. Because of the low supply, it is very rare to find a good faceted pezzottaite over one carat; finding a clean stone might be just as hard. For comparison, the largest good quality faceted pezzottaite is only 11.31 carats while the largest diamond is 317.4 carats – the Cullinan. 17.36 carats is the largest cabochon with cat’s eye.

Having the Mohs hardness of 8, similar to beryl, pezzottaite is suited for most types of jewelry but still a brittle stone so care must be taken. However, the lack of supply means that the stone might be hard to get your hands on, must less finding a home in a piece of jewelry. Still, pezzottaite is less valuable than red beryl but more expensive than morganite. Pezzottaite and red beryl are often mistaken for each other so certification is a must if you’re looking to avoid getting the wrong stone.

Another attribute to look out for when dealing with pezzottaite is that the stone does lose its color when heated to 450°C for two hours. Meaning that heat treatment have a negative effect on the color hue of this gem, unlike many other gemstones, where heat enhances the color. However, gamma irradiation does restore the color loss due to heat treatment. Other words, vivid pezzottaite gems are most likely natural.

Unfortunately, the original mine in Ambatovita, Madagascar where pezzottaite was discovered has been exhausted to our knowledge. Fortunately, there are some deposits in Afghanistan and Burma that have popped up in recently to continue supplying the world with this rare beautiful gem. Until a large deposit is found, grab these while they last.

Benitoite: The California Sapphire

With a rich, deep sapphire blue and the luster of a diamond, the appearance of benitoite to the gem world has excited both collectors and scientists. Why are scientists interest in this gemstone? Well, benitoite – a hexagonal class that forms flattened triangular crystals – is the first discovered mineral to crystallize into a ditrigonal dipyramidal crystal system, called “Benitoite type;” mathematically proposed but never found in nature previously. Because of its special crystal system, benitoite can form a six sided star similar to the Star of David.

Discovered in 1906 by James Couch in San Benito, California – where its name comes from. The blue stone was originally thought to be sapphire but later identified as a new specimen in 1907 in UC Berkeley. In addition to being discovered and identified in California, benitoite became the official gemstone of California in 1985. Gem quality stones are still only found in California.

Benitoite, BaTiSi309, get its color from barium and titanium. Researchers think the deep blue comes from traces of iron in the crystal matrix while titanium gives the stone a violet blue tone. Benitoite can come in colorless, pale pink, greenish, gray, violet, and blue. But, its rich sapphire blue with a hint of violet is what makes this gemstone popular, similar to the rare tanzanite.

Unfortunately, there are few naturally blue samples as most are greenish-gray. The good news, blue benitoite is not affected by heat treatment so any blue benitoite gems are likely natural. Colorless stones can be treated with heat to produce orange tones. There are red to maroon stones, as well, due to inclusions of neptunite, which is commonly found with benitoite.

Having one of the rarest crystal form, benitoite is also has dichroic properties, different colors at different angles, like tanzanite and tourmaline. Besides able to form a six sided star in nature, benitoite potentially has a higher refractive index than diamond; making good clean and cut stones greater internal fire and brilliance than diamond. Because of these properties, benitoite is sometimes called, “blue diamond.”

Due to it’s rarity and uniqueness, this scared gemstone can command $3,500 to $5,000 for a cut one carat with good clarity and color; $10,000 per carat for those over two carats. Uncut stones in a good mineral matrix – neptunite and natrolite – can still cost thousands of dollars. Clusters of blue benitoite and black neptunite on white natrolite are very rare and highly sought after by collectors since good sized cut stones are so rare.

With only a Mohs rating between 6 to 6.5, benitoite is not suitable on jewelries that can expose the stone to hard impacts. So rings are not recommended but wear them if you desire. Pendants, earrings, and necklaces are spectacular.

Besides being such a luster gem, high quality benitoite stones are used to align and adjust electron microprobe beams. As such, demand for this gemstone is high. Unfortunately, the California mines in the Diablo Mountain Range, where benitoite was discovered, are depleted. There are deposits in Japan, Australia, and other parts of the United States – Dallas and Arkansas – but none of them so far produce any stones of good quality. Making benitoite rarer than tanzanite but a treasure to those lucky enough to have one in their collection.

Bixbite: Red Emerald of the Beryl

Deep within the beryl family, lies an elusive member, that is more rare than morganite – covered previously. This relatively unknown gem, one of the rarest in the world, goes by many names over the years – like red beryl and red emerald – but the original name is bixbite; red beryl is the current accepted name to avoid confusion with bixbyite, a little more on that later.

Discovered in 1904 at Thomas Mountain – also known as Topaz Mountain – in Western Utah by Maynard Bixby, who also has a different rare black mineral named after him called bixbyite, hence red beryl is commonly used to distinguish the two. Unfortunately, the initial deposit of bixbite was very small and not of gem quality. Another deposit was not found until 1958 at the Ruby Violet Mine in the Wah Wah Mountains, Southern Utah. This deposit did provide gem quality bixbites and, currently, the only source of this sparse gemstone, thus making bixbite one of the rarest gemstones in the world.

Marketed as “red emerald” in 1998, bixbite has the same basic composition – beryllium aluminum cyclosilicate – as other beryl gemstones except there are impurities of manganese in the crystal matrix, similar to morganite. Since pure beryl is colorless, this impurity gives the stone its color that can range from rose, orange-red, raspberry to dark red. The most prized color is a rich red called “stoplight.”

Due to the rarity of this stone, most bixbites are less than one carat while any between two and three carats are considered very large samples. The usual facted size is only 0.15 carat, with the largest faceted bixbite being 8 carats and the largest crystal stone being 54 carats. A fine quality faceted, cleaned bixbite with a stoplight color can command about $10,000 per carat.

Mentioning clarity, most colored stones will have some inclusions in them, even if tiny. As such, “cleaned” to a colored gemstone is determined by being clear to the naked eye. One should be careful with inclusions on the surface as dye and glass can be injected into the cracks to make the gem darker in color. Obtaining a certificate or buying from a reputable merchant is always a good idea for any rare precious stone but making sure your bixbite is natural and unaltered is especially important.

Bixbite crystal, hexagonal structure

Once said that only one woman in two million would ever own this precious gemstone, which is a pity because this beautiful crimson stone has a hardness of 7.5 Mohs makes for a good gem for everyday use jewelry. Yes, ruby jewelries would be more affordable, but attraction to red beryl is owning something rare for the collector inside of us.

Potential buyers should also be aware that some red beryls on the market are actually pezzottaite, another rare gemstone discovered in Madagascar in 2003. Pezzottaite is not in the same beryl family as it has a different crystal structure and contains lithium. Although valuable in its own right, pezzottaite is not valuable as bixbite. In addition to mislabeling, you should watch for lab synthetics if you’re interested in the real thing. Again, when dealing with such a rarity of a gem like bixbite, certification and reputable dealers go a long way.

Morganite: A Banker’s Pink Gemstone

In the gleaming shadow of emerald and aquamarine, lays a pink gemstone that radiates delicacy and glamour; the gemstone in question is morganite. A light pink to violet-pink variety of beryl, the same family as the mentioned aquamarine and emerald, morganite was once simply called pink beryl – even called pink emerald at times – before it was officially given a name. Despite being the one of the rarest variety of beryl, second only to bixbite, this pink gemstone is the most sought after pink stone in recent years.

One of the new wave of “new” gemstones discovered within the century, morganite was discovered in 1910, in California, by George D. Kunz, the very same that has kunzite named after him, and suggested that morganite be separated from beryl in naming. The pink morganite stone is named after the J.P. Morgan – the billionaire banker and, concidently, biggest customer of Tiffany & Co., who Kunz was also working for.

Loose pink morganite

The color of this stone comes from manganese or cesium impurities in the crystal matrix. Impurities in the beryl turns the colorless stone into a pale or pastel pink hued stone; intense or vivid colors are rare for this gemstone. As with many colored precious stones, usually the larger the stone, the deeper the color will be; smaller sized morganites are paler in color.

As such, the radiate pink hues are what make this magnificent gemstone so special; pure pink and magenta being the most popular colors. Even so, many may prefer the pale shades. Also, in recent years, peach and salmon morganites are gaining popularity among buyers. Pick the size and shade that calls to you.

Speaking of color of this lust stone, you should know that many morganites are indeed treated with heat in today’s market to improve the color and reduce yellowish tints in the stone. Heated at relatively low heat of 400°C – relative as some gemstones like sapphires are treated at 1600°C – the treatment creates an improved color shade that is stable and will not fade over time; reasons why heat treatment is so common.

Having a Mohs of 7.5 to 8, morganite makes a good everyday jewelry with good hardness, durability, luster, and radiance. Rings, pendants, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are all great choices for this stone. Morganite can form chatoyancy, or cat’s eye, pattern that are usually polished into a cabochon, then mounted into pendants. In addition, morganites can also exhibit asterism, or star, pattern as well.

Although “discovered” in California, and still mined there, morganites of high quality are mined from Brazil and Madagascar. Other important deposits of fine quality are Afghanistan, China, Mozambique, Russia, Zimbabwe, and the United States – California and Maine.

With such a beautiful, soft pink color, one can easily see why morganite can be an enchanting gem to so many around the world. Best of all, this is a very affordable gemstone, even though it’s rare compared to more established gemstones. With that said, you might have a problem getting your hands on this gemstone in retail stores, which can be unfortunate, but morganites can easily be obtained on online stores.