Learn about color and quality for yellow gemstones, which ones will hold up best as ring stones, and which should be kept safe in a gem collection. [Reading time: 12 min]
Table of Contents:
- Assessing Color and Quality in Yellow Gemstones
- Yellow Gemstones Ideal for Everyday Wear
- Citrine and Lemon Quartz
- Golden Beryl and Heliodor
- Yellow Gemstones for Occasional Wear
- Yellow Topaz
- Golden South Sea Pearls
- Fire Opal
- Yellow Gemstones for Collectors
Assessing Color and Quality in Yellow Gemstones
Gemologists assess color by considering hue, tone, and saturation. For yellow gemstones, the primary hue should be yellow. The most valuable stones are a pure yellow hue, but secondary hues may be present. For yellow stones, secondary hues are green, orange, and/or brown. Green secondary hues are usually undesirable. However, when slight, they may add a “neon” quality to the stone. Orange secondary hues are generally preferable. For example, popular “golden” colors have slight orange hues. Brownish colors would make ideal choices for an autumnal jewelry project.
Unlike most colors, yellow hues reach their gamut limit at relatively light tones. This means that a bold, highly saturated yellow color will occur with a tone, or darkness, of about 20-30%. Still, very light yellow tones may appear to be off-color white stones.
Because the tone is lighter in yellow gems than in other colored stones, imperfections in the gem are more visible. This means that a higher clarity grade is more important in yellow gems relative to other colored stones. Large or dark inclusions are particularly undesirable, as these have the greatest impact on a gem’s appearance.
If you’re considering a yellow gemstone for an engagement ring or fine jewelry, consider designing a unique piece with CustomMade. Their experts can help you find a top-quality stone, and you’ll avoid the poor quality that most major retailers offer (like this sapphire with washed-out color from James Allen).
Yellow Gemstones Ideal for Everyday Wear
Some gemstones are just tougher than others. These yellow gemstone options all have a Mohs hardness value of at least 6.5, making them very resistant to scratches. Additionally, these gems aren’t likely to break if accidentally dropped or knocked against a table. Because of this, they make excellent stones for rings and daily wear jewelry pieces.
Citrine and Lemon Quartz
By far, the most popular yellow gemstone is citrine, the modern November birthstone. This variety of quartz is yellow to orange or brown, and, due to the abundance of quartz in the Earth’s crust, it’s an inexpensive option. Still, this mineral is a durable jewelry stone. Though natural-color citrines are relatively rare, heating can turn smoky quartz a vibrant shade of yellow-orange. Furthermore, a combination of irradiation and heat treatment can turn colorless quartz into bright lemon quartz.
On the more expensive side, yellow diamonds can be fantastic. When consumers think of the April birthstone, they likely imagine a colorless diamond. However, some gem experts believe that a diamond’s proper color is yellow. In fact, the GIA D to Z color grading scale for colorless diamonds rates these stones on how little yellow hue they have! Nitrogen content in the carbon crystal causes yellow color in diamonds. Some of these gems can have bright “canary” hues. If you love yellow diamonds but want to save money, consider an irradiated or high pressure and high temperature treated (HPHT) gem. These are completely safe for wear and less expensive than a natural fancy yellow diamond.
Most people associate sapphire with blue, but sapphire can be any color except red. (Sapphire is the mineral corundum, but any red corundum is ruby, instead). Yellow sapphires are far less expensive than their blue and pink counterparts but still quite attractive. Iron content in sapphire imparts these lovely yellow hues, and heat treatment or irradiation can enhance this color. Though irradiated yellow sapphires may fade in sunlight, heat treatment creates a stable color.
Golden Beryl and Heliodor
Heliodor, or golden beryl, is emerald’s less-famous sibling. Because they are both varieties of the mineral beryl, some dealers market heliodor as “yellow emerald,” but this is a misnomer. Golden beryl gems can be highly saturated and bright, and often receive unusual cuts. They sometimes undergo radiation treatment to improve color.
Chrysoberyl is best known for its color-changing variety, alexandrite. However, most chrysoberyl has fantastic yellow hues. Don’t let alexandrite obscure the rest of this beautiful gemstone species! These gems are also quite tough and make excellent jewelry stones. In addition, when cut as cabochons, they can display a stunning cat’s eye effect. Though some cat’s eye specimens are irradiated to enhance color, few faceted chrysoberyl gems undergo any enhancement.
Perhaps one of the most fantastic yellow gemstones is garnet. While most know this January birthstone for its reddish brown hues, it can have almost any color of the rainbow. Hessonite, a variety of grossular garnet, can be yellow-hued. Far more spectacular is topazolite, the yellow variety of andradite garnet. This gem has a dispersion higher than diamond, causing multicolored “fire” in the gem. However, topazolite is rare, and it may take some searching to find the gem you’re looking for. Mali garnets form from a mixture of andradite and grossular chemistry, and these beauties also display high dispersion and brilliance.
Although tourmalines occur in just about every color of the rainbow, yellow hues in this October birthstone are very rare. As a result, the yellow tourmalines you’ll find for sale often contain inclusions and can have high prices. Yellow color in tourmaline arises from manganese in the crystal structure. Known for multi-colored stones, a bi-colored tourmaline with yellow hues is a real rarity.
Sometimes called the enigmatic gem, jade can actually be one of two minerals: nephrite or jadeite. Either mineral can be yellow, but they have slightly different properties. Always opaque, nephrite occurs in large sizes and is often used for carving. Jadeite, on the other hand, is beloved for its translucency and “colored oil” appearance. Jadeite pieces are generally smaller and much more expensive than nephrite. Nevertheless, yellow jadeite never reaches the prices of more well-known green jadeite. Both nephrite and jadeite are incredibly tough. They can take a hammer strike without breaking. In fact, jade can make beautiful sounds when struck and was even used in ancient musical instruments! However, a large amount of jade is “B” grade material, which has been treated with acid and polymer. This is far more brittle.
Bright canary hues of danburite are little known, but these gems can have beautiful color when properly cut. Although heat sensitive, this gem will hold up well in jewelry, including rings. Not particularly fiery, danburite can nevertheless have excellent color and offers an affordable and unusual option for jewelry.
Yellow Gemstones for Occasional Wear
Some gems are soft, and others are somewhat brittle. When placed in a ring and worn every day, these gems develop scratches or chips over time, thus losing their beauty. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear them! Instead, try these yellow gemstones in earrings, pendants, and brooches. In jewelry pieces like these, they’re less likely to chip. If you’re certain about using one of these gems in a ring, a protective jewelry setting will help to prevent damage.
Topaz, the traditional November birthstone, is an excellent option for yellow gemstone jewelry. With a hardness of 8, this stone resists scratches but remains prone to chipping. Yellow to peachy-orange hues of topaz also go by the name “precious topaz.” Although heat treatments can enhance the color of these gems, many yellow topaz specimens come by their color naturally.
Though often associated with blue, this December birthstone can show nearly any color. The bright sparkle of zircon makes it an excellent and common diamond replacement. Yellow hues can be bright and attractive but are often the result of heat treatment. Though it has a high enough hardness to resist scratching, zircon is somewhat brittle and may chip. Trade names for yellow zircon include “Melichrysos” and, for pale yellows, “jargoon” or “jargon.”
Golden South Sea Pearls
With a beautiful, satiny surface, golden South Sea pearls grow large. With typical sizes near 13 mm (as opposed to Akoya’s 6 or 7 mm average), these are some of the largest pearls. However, they’re also quite rare and expensive. Fortunately, a special heat treatment technique has been developed to make these beauties more available, and well-matched strands of golden South Sea pearls are far more affordable than they once were.
Famous for the occasional insect or other tiny creature within, amber is a fossil gem. Once tree sap, this stone takes over 30 million years to fossilize and become what we have today. Deep yellow hues are the most desirable and are somewhat more expensive than others. Still, amber is very affordable. However, this material is rare in large sizes. Be aware that large pieces of amber on the market may have been reconstituted from small pieces. Amber frequently undergoes heat treatment to improve color, but consumers are often not informed of these treatments.
The “fire” in fire opal refers to the gem’s body color, which ranges from yellow to red. This opal may be translucent or transparent and may or may not show a play of color. Mexico is the major producer of fire opal, and the term “Mexican opal” refers to fire opal. Although the natural color of these gems is often quite attractive, GIA has identified dyed specimens.
Though easily confused with citrine, scapolite is a much rarer gem. When gem-quality scapolite is available, it’s often an attractive honey yellow. Occasional cat’s eyes also occur, and the effect is particularly bright in this gem. Unfortunately, scapolite’s brittle nature doesn’t lend itself to wear in rings. To keep this stone from breaking, set the gem in low-impact jewelry such as earrings.
Yellow Gemstones for Collectors
Some gems are risky jewelry choices. Whether too soft, water soluble, or brittle, these yellow gemstones are best suited to a viewing collection.
With a dispersion higher than diamond, sphene is a favorite among collectors. It can occur in many colors, including yellow, but often has color zones. Due to its low hardness and cleavage plane, sphene worn in jewelry likely won’t last. Still, as part of a display, this gem’s fire can outshine most, and yellow hues, with relatively light tones, are excellent for showcasing this effect.
Another fiery favorite for gem collections, sphalerite has three times more dispersion than diamond. This mineral is both brittle and soft, but cut specimens make a magnificent sight. Sphalerites can occur in very large sizes, and material from Mexico, which often exhibits yellow hues, can weigh over 50 carats cut.
If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary for your gem collection, try a bright yellow legrandite! This rarity is usually translucent to opaque in larger sizes. Faceted specimens are rare and, with a hardness of 4.5, not suitable for wear. Still, its signature bright yellow will stand out in any gem collection.
Because of its thermal properties, simply holding sulfur crystals can cause them to crack from thermal shock. Nevertheless, some lapidaries have succeeded in cutting this gem, although facet-quality sulfur is very rare. Still, these yellow gemstones are a great find for a collection.