How to Start a Gem Collection


how to start a gem collection - gems in cases
A variety of neatly organized gems. © Pebble Sprout. Used with permission.

Many gem enthusiasts want to become collectors but don’t know where to begin. Most likely, you already have a few gems lying around. Once you begin organizing and keeping track of what you have, it becomes a collection. Then comes the fun part: adding new pieces!

Read on for tips on how to start a gem collection and the best ways to organize and grow it.

Record Keeping

Knowing what you’ve collected is crucial to maintaining your collection. It seems simple, but many novice collectors put off keeping records. However, the longer you delay this crucial step, the more daunting it becomes as your collection grows.

Keeping track of your collection can help you decide on your next gem purchase as well as identify any pieces you’d like to sell or donate. When the time comes, detailed records will also help your heirs.

At a minimum, keep records of

  • Gemstone species and variety.
  • Physical description, including color, cut, clarity, and carat weight.
  • Any known treatments or enhancements.
  • Any laboratory reports.
  • Lapidary/gem designer.
  • Date of cutting.
  • Date acquired.
  • Bills of sale and other paperwork.
  • Dealer names and contact information.
  • Physical location.

Even if your first gems are factory-cut or synthetic materials, keep records of them. Your future self will be grateful.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. Photos of your gemstones will greatly enhance your records.

Storage and Care

An organized collection will make finding each piece easy. Some collectors choose to sort by gem species, while others may group their gems by color or origin. You have many options for storage and display, including gemstone jars and jewelry bags. For a small and growing collection, a plastic container with dividers may be the simplest to manage.

how to start a gem collection - unusual gems in boxes
Boxes with clear lids and padding are another way to store gems. “Unusual Gem Tray” by Cobalt123. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Always store gems separately (either individually or by species) to avoid scratches. Use padding for any gem that may fracture or chip easily. In addition, proper cleaning and care is essential to keeping your collection in top shape. Because oils and dirt may damage gems over time, always clean them before placing them in storage. Particularly sensitive gems, opals and pearls require gentle cleaning.

Adding to Your Collection

Of course, part of the fun of having a collection is growing it. Do your research and understand what you’re buying before acquiring a new gem. Keep in mind that buying the best quality gem that you can afford will make you happiest down the road.

Collections with a Focus

Some collectors simply enjoy fine gemstones and jewelry, appreciating the qualities of each stone in their collection. Others become connoisseurs of a particular gem, focusing their collection on that stone’s different varieties and origins. Still others may seek out rare and unusual species, gemstones with unique cuts, or fascinating phenomenal effects.

how to start a gem collection - grandiderite, pink sapphire, and alexandrite
A small collection of rare gems. From left to right: a 1.30-ct grandidierite with exceptionally rare size, clarity, and top color; a 1.34-ct pink sapphire; and a 0.51-ct alexandrite that changes from pinkish-purple in incandescent light to bright green with a touch of blue. © JL White Fine Gemstones. Used with permission.

Giving your collection a focus will help you decide how to grow your collection and what to acquire.

How to Start a Gem Collection on a Budget

Many collectors start out low on funds. Although gems can be quite expensive, you can still grow your collection on a budget.

If your collection has a broad focus, you can start with any one of many inexpensive gem families. For example, you can often find quite affordable varieties of quartz, zircon, garnet, and topaz. Opaque gems, even high-quality material, are often inexpensive. These include turquoise, carnelian, agate, and onyx.

how to start a gem collection - golden beryl
Golden beryl is a relative of better-known gems such as emerald, aquamarine, and morganite. Though less expensive than its more glamorous relations, its beauty is undeniable. 2.7-ct golden beryl from Pakistan, cut with a Motzuma’s crown design. © Pebble Sprout. Used with permission.

For certain gems, such as alexandrite, a cat’s eye cabochon will be less expensive than a faceted stone. These always make for an interesting addition to your collection.

Origin often impacts price for many gems. For example, Colombian emeralds command a premium in today’s market, while emeralds from other sources are less expensive.

Buying a piece of rough to make a “rough and cut set” for each gem in your collection is another way to add interest without breaking the bank.

how to start a gem collection - mahenge garnets rough and cut
This 4.15-ct cushion-cut mahenge garnet is surrounded by rough. © JL White Fine Gemstones. Used with permission.

Synthetic and treated gemstones are often much less expensive than natural and untreated gems. These can be a great way to add more varieties and colors to your collection.

Education and Resources

Learning more about gems and gemology will help you grow your collection. Numerous books on gems can provide interesting and useful information on the pieces in your collection. They may even inspire your next acquisition.

Local gem clubs and online communities, like the IGS forums, can provide answers to your more in-depth questions.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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