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What does ‘Semi Precious’ even mean?
The term “semi precious” is applied to a subset gemstones, and the term was created to set them apart from what are considered precious stones (diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds). Things like amber and lapis lazuli, which are not really stones at all are still considered “semi precious” by most people. However, don’t be fooled by the name – semi precious gemstones are not necessarily less valuable than the so called precious stones – there are some varieties of semi precious stone with unique properties (cat’s eye, for example) that can be worth more than precious stones. In fact, there are many rare varieties of gemstones that are considered semi precious, highly sought after by collectors and that are rare enough to surpass even the mighty diamond in value. Both semi precious and precious stones fall under the larger category of gemstones, and many in the gemstone trade actually no longer use the term semi precious stone or semi precious gemstone at all even though its still widely used among the general population.
The most common use for gemstones is for aesthetic purposes, and they are often used in jewelry. However, some different kinds of gemstones, or rather the minerals that they come from, have different uses – some have industrial applications, others are used for carvings or statuettes, and still others are kept in their natural mineral form and displayed decoratively in homes and offices.
Here’s a video that serves as a great introduction to gemstones:
Do Gemstones have healing power?
Some people believe that gemstones, and certain semi precious varieties in particular, have mystical power of various kinds. For example, there are some who believe that Lapis Lazuli can help alleviate depression and insomnia, and inspire creativity and honesty. Healing properties are also sometimes attached to specific colors or groups of gemstones – for example, blue gemstones are said to have a calming effect, and green gemstones are said to be helpful for people trying to bring change, development or growth into their lives. We here at the SPS Guide don’t believe this, but out of respect for those who do have these beliefs, we have tried to include this information in some of our content. Please be aware that while we love gemstones of all kinds for their beauty and individuality, we do not believe that they are mystical. Nevertheless, it is thoughtful and fun to consider these supposed effects when buying gifts with gemstones in them for family or friends.
You can find more information on the purported effects of some stones here.
Making Jewelry from Gemstones
Jewelry making is rapidly gaining popularity as a hobby and potentially as a way to make a bit of extra money outside of work. Many jewelry makers and sellers are located on Etsy. Most home jewelry makers purchase beads made of semi precious gems and link them together to create unique and interesting designs. There are different approaches to making home jewelry – some hobbyists focus on color and aesthetic appeal, others delve into more mystical ideas and create pieces that attempt to help people alleviate their worries or overcome obstacles. Still others tailor their jewelry based on birth month, zodiac signs, and a host of other factors. Whether you want to create your own jewelry just for your own use, or potentially use them as gifts or sell them to other people, the vast number of different semi precious varieties and all their combinations make this hobby a great outlet for creativity and can be a lot of fun. Jewelry making is also an activity that can be fun for kids, and is a good way to encourage scientific and historical education, as many semi precious and precious stones have interesting geological, chemical, and historical characteristics. Also, scientists believe that experiencing different colors and shapes can help with the intellectual development of young children – one way to introduce these elements is to work together with your children to craft jewelry (obviously, children should only be allowed to do so under adult supervision).
If you’re not inclined to make jewelry yourself, but you like the idea of homemade or craft jewelry, there are plenty of online shops and hobbyists who would be more than happy to make a custom piece for you. If you’re looking for custom jewelry, we highly recommend The Gems and Mineral Diva. She will design a custom piece of jewelry for you for only the cost of the gemstone + a small fee for the design process. For examples of her excellent work, you can take a look at her gallery of sold pieces.
Popular Semi Precious Gemstones
We have compiled a gemstones list that includes of the most popular and well known semi precious stone varieties. We’ve left out precious stones in this case because frankly, we find them dull. For a look at a wide and more comprehensive gemstones list, please refer to our (pretty comprehensive) Semi Precious Stone Chart, which organizes a large number of gemstones into an easy to read table with descriptions, colors, and other properties. We also have individual pages on specific colors of gemstones (e.g blue gemstones, green gemstones, pink gemstones) and specific families of gemstones (quartz, garnet, beryl) that can be accessed via the Nav bar or the links in the side bar.
Amber is actually not a stone at all – its fossilized tree resin. Any piece of genuine amber you come across or use has likely been around for a very long time (millions of years). Amber is most commonly an orange color, and was thought in prehistoric times to be linked to the Sun due to its similar coloring. Amber has been considered valuable and has been used in jewelry for a long time. There have been amber pieces found in graves as long ago as 2000 b.c. It is thought that the word ‘electricity’ traces its roots to ‘electrum’, which was the Greek name for Amber – possibly because Amber can acquire a static charge which rubbed. Some people say that Amber eases the stress of people who wear it, and that it clears the mind.
Amethyst is a brilliant purple color, and outside of the precious stones is one of the most popular and well known gemstone. The word Amethyst comes from Ancient Greece, where it meant ‘against drunkeness’. There was a belief in those times that amethysts protected against the ill effects of alcohol, which is why historians sometimes find amethysts encrusted in goblets and cups. Purple has also traditionally been the color of royalty, and it was popular for members of the various royal families to favor amethyst jewelry. Some people believe it helps with insomnia, pain relief, and brings peace and balance to a wearer. Amethyst is a favorite of ours here at SPS Guide, and is actually a purple variation of Quartz. You can read more about Amethyst here.
Bloodstone, also known as Heliotrope, is a green gemstone that often has red or brown flecks or spots.These spots bore similarity to the color of blood stains, and this is where the name is derived from. Different bloodstones may have different density of the red spots running through it, and the red may also come in stripes or veins. The red spots in Bloodstones are actually caused by iron oxide impurities within the stone. Historically, Bloodstones were considered metaphysical due to its appearance and its name, and even today, some people believe it brings personal power, determination, courage, and strength of mind. To check out more information about Bloodstones, click here. We also have a page dedicated to green gemstones here.
Garnets come in every color except for blue, and are actually the name for a group of similar minerals rather than just one. Most commonly, Garnets are known as rich, dark red gemstones, but as mentioned earlier a wide variety of colors are actually possible – for example, among pink gemstones there is a variety known as Rhodolite, which is actually a form of Garnet. The name Garnet comes from the Latin ‘granatium’, meaning pomegranate. This may be why people often think that Garnets only come in the color of the pomegranate fruit. There are a number of more technical names for the individual minerals that fall under the umbrella of Garnet. Garnets were popular in the Victorian era, and were often used for jewelry in that period. Garnets are often associated with passion and energy, and are considered a ‘love stone’. It is also said that it removes inhibitions and taboos and helps with self confidence. We have a special page dedicated to the different varieties of Garnets here. You can also find out about some red gemstones you may not know about here.
Jade actually refers to two different varieties of green gemstones, Jadite, and Nephrite. Jade is especially valued in Chinese culture, and was is often used to fashion prayer beads, statues of deities, and jewelry. In Chinese culture, Jade is seen almost like Gold is seen in the west – it is a signal of wealth and is highly valued, and in some cases can be even more valuable than gold. Jade is comes in a variety of green shades, and darker Jade stones are seen as more valuable. The most valuable kind of Jade, Imperial Jade, is translucent and is almost emerald-like in its color. Jade is very difficult to work with, and for this reason nobility in ancient China valued pieces made of Jade, as it signified the supreme skill of the craftsman. Less valuable kinds of stones are often passed off as Jade, and there are many merchants of these kinds of fake Jade. Jade is seen as related to the heart, and is said to attract love and aid with generosity and fidelity.
Jet, much like Amber, is actually not a stone at all and is in fact fossilized wood formed over millions of years. Jet is formed in rivers and seas where, over time, the pressure exerted on it cause wood to turn into the material we now know as Jet. It is black or dark brown in color and is opaque. The highest quality Jet is mined from England. Jet was particularly popular in the Victorian Era; the Queen herself wore it as part of her mourning attire when mourning the death of Prince Albert. The phrase ‘Jet black’ comes from this gemstone. Jet’s supposed healing properties include neutralizing negative energies, and it is also believed to be a way to protect oneself from psychic attacks.
Lapis Lazuli is one of the better known blue gemstones, and is a beautiful, opaque, deep blue stone. The name comes from Persian, and literally means ‘blue stone’. It is often just called Lapis for short. It was immensely prized and highly popular in ancient times, particularly in the around the Mediterranean, in countries like Persia and Egypt. The deep blue color of Lapis Lazuli was impossible to create artificially in paints until the 1800s – any deep blues seen in paintings or other works of art prior to this time were created by grinding up Lapis Lazuli into a powder and making paint from it. It was such a treasured stone that in certain ancient kingdoms, it was exclusively a luxury of nobility. Some of the proposed mystical properties of Lapis include associations with truth and knowledge, and some say it brings the wearer intelligence and objectivity. We also have an entire page about blue gemstones including Lapis Lazuli here.
Opal is a stone that comes in a variety of colors, and high quality Opal can seem to sparkle with many different colors at once, giving it a kaleidoscope effect. It was highly valued in Roman times, as it contained the colors of all the other gemstones in one. The uniqueness of the Opal has helped it maintain its popularity throughout the ages. Most Opal produced today comes from Australia, and semi precious stone experts often separate opals into different categories, including White Opal, Black Opal, Fire Opal, Boulder Opal, and Crystal Opal. Different kinds of Opals display the flashing color effect to different degrees. There are those who believe that Opal aids creativity and imagination, and can inspire playfulness and spontaneity. We have a whole page dedicated to the different varieties of Opals – you can read more about them here.
Everybody knows that Pearls aren’t stones – they come from oysters and mussels, and naturally occur when sand or another irritant enters the protective shell. Nowadays, most pearls are cultured, which means that the pearls are purposely created by inserting some foreign substance into the shell. Pearls are mostly commonly known to be white, but also come in cream, gold, and black colors. Pearls were highly valued in many cultures, and remain a popular gemstone for use in jewelry today. Be careful when buying Pearls, as there are some sellers who will try to pass of imitation Pearl as genuine. To test if a Pearl is real, rub it gently across your teeth – imitation Pearl will feel smooth, but real Pearls will feel rough. Pearl is often associated with purity and some say it helps encourage personal integrity and honest.
As noted earlier, Amethyst is a form of Quartz – in fact, there are many varieties of Quartz with their own names that are considered gemstones in their own right. Quartz is actually the most common stone on earth, and with 49 varieties, it can have many different colors and characteristics. The most common kind of quartz is Rock Crystal, which is an almost-glass like, transparent crystal. Some other well known varieties of Quartz include the Citrine, Rose Quartz, Amethyst, Smoky Quartz, and Milky Quartz. Some forms of Quartz are very common and affordable – for example, pink gemstones in general are typically seen as rare, but Rose Quartz is a very affordable and common pink Quartz variety. Other forms of Quartz can be more valuable, like the aforementioned Amethyst. Quartz has historically been used in Europe and the Middle East for many aesthetic purposes, including jewelry, headstone carvings, and various kinds of vessels. Quartz is of course also used in watches and clocks, and it has a huge number of other industrial applications. Rock Crystal, or Clear Quartz, is believed to be able to act as a conductor and store of energy, and apparently serves as a kind of catch all healing stone. We have en entire page dedicated to the various forms of Quartz here.
Topaz can come in a few different colors, but the most commonly known and most valuable kind of Topaz, the Imperial Topaz, is one of the most valuable orange/yellow gemstones, and ranges between transparent and translucent. The different colors of Topaz are called by impurities in its structure, which is why there is such a wide variety of hues. The origin of the name Topaz can be traced to either Greece or India, and in renaissance Europe, Topaz was believed to be able to break magical spells. In India, historically the Topaz has been seen has a bringer of long life, intelligence, and beauty if it is worn near the heart. In the modern day, there are those who believe that Topaz helps relieve stress and tension, and that it can bring success and good fortune.
Hopefully you found our gemstones list useful. Again, for a more comprehensive look at a list of gemstones, check out our semi precious gemstones chart, which covers a many more types of gemstones.
While each gemstone is essentially unique and in a class itself, there are some general criteria that are used to judge all gemstones, including semi precious gemstones. These include dispersion, hardness, specific gravity, refractive index, luster, fracture, and cleavage. These terms are used to distinguish different types of gemstones – e.g it’s occasionally difficult to tell the difference between two otherwise identical red gemstones (like ruby and red spinel). Below we’ll go into each criteria, describing it briefly without going into too much detail.
This is a term used to describe the flashes of light that gemstones have when turned in light – this is caused by the dispersion of white light into other colors within the stone. Generally speaking, higher dispersion is valued in gemstones, with the caveat that darker stones will show less visible dispersion than lighter stones.
Hardness describes how scratch resistant a gemstone is. For example, it is well known that diamond is an extraordinarily hard material and is impossible to scratch without industrial equipment. Hardness is gemstones is measured by the Mohs scale, named after German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs. The higher the Mohs scale value, the harder the gemstone.
Specific Gravity is the term used to talk about how dense a gemstone is. Specifically, it measures how dense a semi precious stone is compared to water. Essentially, the higher the specific gravity, the heavier a gemstone will be compared to another stone of equal size.
Refractive Index, or RI, is a term used to measure how slowly light goes through a gemstone, and it is measured as the ratio between the speed of light through a gemstone and the speed of light through a vacuum. For example, amethysts have a RI of ~1.54, meaning light (on average) takes 1.54 times as long to move through an Amethyst as it does a vacuum.
Luster describes how a mineral appears to reflect light, and how dull or radiant it is. There are a range of terms to describe the various ways that gemstones reflect light – for example, a gemstone might be described as vitreous, meaning it looks a bit like glass. We won’t list out all the terms here but we’ve provided some links below for further discovery.
Fracture is used to describe the kind of market that is left when a gemstone breaks or chips. There are a number of terms that describe different ways a gemstone can fracture. You can refer to the links below for more information.
No, it doesn’t mean what you’re thinking. Similar to fracture, cleavage describes whether or not a gemstone will retain a smooth surface or a crystalline structure if it is broken. A gemstone that, when broken, never produced any crystal shaped pieces or pieces with smooth surfaces has no cleavage. Topax, for example, has perfect cleavage when broken in a certain way. For more information, please refer to the helpful links we’ve shared below.
Gemstones also occasionally have uncommon or interesting properties, like Chatoyancy (also known as cat’s eye) or Asterism (A star pattern in the gemstone). For a deeper and more comprehensive look at these rare qualities that are sometimes found in semi precious gemstones, check out our Gemstone Phenomena page.
For further information about individual gem varieties and how to judge them, visit the Gemological Institute of America Encyclopedia.