It can be a bit difficult to give a single definition that completely satisfies what a gemstone is. Artisans, marketers, and people in the jewelry interchangeably use terms like gemstones, gems, precious and semi-precious stones, and jewels to refer to ornamental materials. But are they all the same? What makes one type of mineral more valuable, and why are gemstones so precious?
Firstly, we need to state that the term “gemstone” in the strict geological sense is used to define a mineral crystal. A mineral has to be a solid chemical compound, with a crystal lattice structure. Gemstones can be either natural or synthetic, and to be considered as precious, they have to be exceedingly rare. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are universally considered to be precious stones.
However most people in the jewelry trade, and even gemologists, consider other materials such as Amber, which are derived from fossilized tree resin, and Opal, a beautiful and iridescent rock created by mixing silicates and water, as precious stones as they are used in jewelry making. Pearls, are also not mineral crystals per se, however, because of their rarity and aesthetic value, they are considered as gemstones as well.
Even when gems are classed as “semi-precious” they can still have immense value, and consequently, a high price tag. Factors such as the color, cut, size, clarity, among many others can greatly impact the costs of gemstones.