Why Choose a Colored Gemstone?


opal composite - colored gemstone
Opal gems can make striking jewelry stones. However, they’re quite sensitive. With special care and the right setting, this colored gemstone can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Assembled or composite settings can help protect opals as well as enhance their color. “Composite” refers to a gemstone made of two or more gems, such as doublet or triplet opals. In these settings, gem cutters attach different gemstones to the back, front, or sides of the opals. Here you can see an interesting use of the composite technique. A Mintabie opal was carved, placed, and re-faceted into the culet of a faceted Arkansas quartz. “The Nebula Opal,” from the Galaxy Gemstone Line. © Hashnu Stones & Gems. Used with permission.

In 2014, the International Gem Society (IGS) held an essay contest. Members were asked to write short pieces promoting awareness of colored gemstones. The following essay was one of the finalists.

I’ll begin where my husband and I began our journey to discovering our perfect engagement ring. I knew I wanted him to choose my engagement ring. However, I also had in mind a few important aspects I wanted him to incorporate into it.

Consider the Source

The first detail of my engagement ring I wanted him to consider was the origin of the centerpiece stone. That might sound strange, but little did we know how important this aspect would become. This led us to consider selecting a colored gemstone, which we knew very little about, over the ever-popular diamond.

My husband and I do humanitarian work in East Africa. Over the past decade, I’ve grown very close to the indigenous peoples who live there. After reading about blood diamonds, choosing a conflict-free stone became very important to me. However, locating a conflict-free diamond became a daunting task. We soon realized many respectable diamond companies in the United States used diamonds extracted from mines in African war zones. As a result, these companies directly fund the warlords’ control over innocent lives and entire communities.

At this point in our journey, we discovered the possibility of a colored gemstone as our ring’s centerpiece. I did my research. Colored gems aren’t always completely conflict-free. Nevertheless, they’re at a much lower risk of coming from mines in war zones across the globe. For example, ruby, sapphire, and alexandrite are much scarcer than diamonds. This makes them less susceptible to control by the large players involved in the blood diamond industry. You’re also less likely to find someone wearing a stone like yours and more likely to have a unique jewelry piece. Thus, a colored gemstone became a great option as we sought a conflict-free engagement ring I could wear proudly.

We had just started to understand why a colored gemstone was a better choice than a diamond for jewelry.

ruby and gold ring - colored gemstone
“Ruby and Gold Ring” by Mauro Cateb. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Affordability and Durability

Due to the efforts of gemologists like IGS founder Donald Clark, amateurs like me can access an immense field of knowledge. We have so much to learn about incredible gems from around the world. Those searching for a stone for high-end jewelry can uncover something beautiful and rare, often at a very reasonable price.

Affordability was the second thing I wanted my husband to consider when choosing my engagement ring.

We wanted to spend the money we’d saved wisely. Selecting a colored gemstone would keep us within our means. Despite the rarity of some of these stones, they tend to have more reasonable prices, especially when compared to diamonds. Some might attribute this to diamond’s durability. However, a closer look will reveal some colored gems can still “outshine” diamonds, even in this area.

Diamonds do have the highest hardness score, a 10, on the Mohs scale. However, many colored gemstones also have very high scores. Ruby and sapphire have a hardness of 9; Alexandrite has an 8.5. As a general rule, stones with a hardness of 7 or higher will make excellent daily wear jewelry. Stones like quartz (7) and topaz (8) also come in a great variety of colors.

Consider how often you’ll wear your high-end jewelry piece. How much wear will it receive? Durability may not matter as much as the beauty of the gem itself. Protective ring settings can even let you wear softer, but nonetheless beautiful, stones safely, like sphene or opal.

Delve into the world of colored gemstones and you can find many incredible options across the hardness spectrum.

sphene - colored gemstone
Sphenes have greater dispersion, more “fire,” than diamonds. With protective settings, they’ll make beautiful jewelry stones. “Sphene,” 2.78 cts, Pakistan. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Keep the Wearer in Mind

When choosing the perfect ring or jewelry piece, keep the wearer in mind. This sounds simple enough. However, too often people select jewelry based on what everyone else seems to be buying. If you do this, you’re not considering how it suits the person who will wear it. Personally, that my engagement ring meant something significant and personal in our lives mattered most to me. Diamond rings just fell short of meeting this significant desire of mine.

For my husband, incorporating a colored gemstone as a centerpiece in my engagement ring opened the door to creativity. He could pick something very specific and meaningful for both of us. Just imagine what colored gems could represent for a couple, a family member, or as a gift to a friend. These treasures enthrall even celebrities who can afford just about anything. For example, Jessica Simpson’s engagement ring featured her ruby birthstone as a centerpiece. Elizabeth Hurley’s 9-ct sapphire stone represented her fiancé’s birthday.

You’re not limited to birthdays. You can base your colored gem choice on an anniversary month or other special day in a person’s life. Try favorite colors or stones with a connection to a person’s history. My husband and I considered a green/pink color-change diaspore, which originates from the same country as my husband, Turkey. A colored gemstone gives your imagination so many possibilities. You can rarely make a diamond ring this personal and unique.

A Conversation Piece When Words Fail

Choose a colored gemstone instead of a diamond for a high-end jewelry piece. You’ll have a greater chance of acquiring a durable, conflict-free stone and staying within your budget. Instead of going along with what everyone else wears, you’ll stand out. You can create something that’s both meaningful for the wearer and a stunning conversation piece. (This benefit can also appeal to those with big budgets).

Remember this eloquent quote by George Eliot, the Victorian author and journalist:

These gems have life in them: their colors speak, say what words fail of.

diaspore - colored gemstone
Even experienced gem cutters may find diaspore difficult to cut. However, these rare color change gems can make durable and beautiful jewelry stones. You’ll have a very special piece, indeed. “Diaspore,” 3.22 cts, emerald cut with scissors cut crown, Turkey. © Dan Stair Custom Gemstones. Used with permission.