Gemstone Characteristics

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It is not difficult to imagine that in seeking these everyday necessities, he soon discovered vivid colored pebbles or crystals whose beauty at once distinguished them from the ordinary stone. How pleased and excited he must have been as he hurried back to show his discovery to others.

Perhaps his fellow tribesmen promptly set off in an ancient day gold rush, their eagerness to get some of these pebbles for themselves. In any case it’s easy to imagine that the most appropriate place to show off his treasures was upon the lucky finder. Perhaps in this way was born the use of gemstones for ornaments.

Every continent records the use of gemstones for ornamental or ceremonial purposes well beyond written history. In North America, ancient graves from Panama to the Aleutians have yielded an amazing variety of minerals for this purpose by aboriginal inhabitants. One such inhabitant compiled a list of minerals mined by American Indians, naming over twenty used as gems.

Jade was used in various forms by the pre-Columbian Mexicans and the Eskimos of the far North and Turquoise was found to be in high regard by the West.

Another thirty rocks and minerals were used for mundane purposes, such as; household implements, hunting and fishing tools, and weapons. The realization of the beauty and diverse structure of these minerals and rocks become apparent, they looked upon them in different way. The attractive colored patterns and formation placed value on certain stones, not only from their ornamental and practical uses but also began to believe in the magical powers and medicinal properties.

The first quality that a gemstone must have above all is beauty. Without it and regardless of whatever other qualities it possesses it cannot be regarded as a gemstone. Unfortunately beauty is often not enough; a large number of minerals are captivating and beautiful, but sadly, far too soft to be worn as jewelry. Some of the better known gems such as Opal and Turquoise suffer greatly when worn in rings, a careless knock, or immersion in hot water, contact with the wrong cleaning product would ruin them completely.

It has been custom in the past to consider hardness as one of the outstanding virtues of any gemstone, making exceptions for the softer ones like those previously mentioned. However, with the increase of amateur interest in a wider range of minerals, many species which are far too soft to be considered seriously for jewelry, are being cut and polished for the sake of their beauty alone. Many collectors of such finished gems do not have any illusions about their gem value but adopt the view that owning them, taking them out to look at them and thereby enjoying their beauty, are reward enough for the time and trouble taken to cut them.

The ability of a gemstone to resist wear is measured by two properties; hardness and resilience. The first is a measure of its resistance to abrasion or how easily it scratches if rubbed against another hard substance. The second property is structural and depends more upon the ability of the stone to resist chipping or shattering if given a blow.

While diamond is the hardest substance known and therefore scratches everything else, it toughness is not that great. A crystal diamond can be shattered by the tap of a hammer, yet it is conceivably harder than the steel of a hammer it takes to destroy it.

The scale commonly used to designate the hardness of minerals and gems, is the “Mohs Scale”, named after the mineralogist who devised it.