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Gemstone Learning Guide
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Last Updated
4th of July, 2009

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Color

Jewelers describe the color of a gemstone in terms of three characteristics: hue, saturation, and tone. A gemstone's basic color is its hue, and those with purer hues (for emeralds, green; for sapphires, blue; and for rubies, red) are generally considered more valuable. Often, however, a hint of another color can be detected. Sapphires will range from purplish blue to greenish blue; emeralds, yellowish green to bluish green; and rubies, orangey red to purplish red. Saturation is a measure of the intensity or purity of a gem's hue and is determined by the degree to which gray or brown hues mute its defining color. Value tends to increase with saturation, so a fully saturated purplish blue sapphire may well be more expensive than a muted pure blue one. The tone of a gemstone, a measurement of its lightness or darkness, is usually given as light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, or dark.

Clarity

A flawless gemstone is rare and usually extravagantly priced. As with diamonds, most gemstones have inclusions, or tiny mineral flaws, that can be seen under magnification or by the careful eye. Sapphires tend to be moderately included, while emeralds and rubies are usually heavily to moderately included. Make sure that any inclusions in the stone do not penetrate deeply into the gem, as this may cause it to break or crack. Clarity grades range from VVS (very, very slightly included) to I3, in which inclusions are prominent and severely affect the gemstone's beauty.

Cut

A gemstone's cut refers to its proportions and symmetry. It is essential in making a gemstone look appealing--the stone should be symmetrical in all dimensions so that it will appear balanced, and so that its facets will reflect light evenly, providing good brilliance. Color should also be taken into account when cutting for optical efficiency. If a stone's color is highly saturated, a shallow cut will allow it to pass more light, while a deeper cut may increase the vividness of a less saturated gem. There is no generally accepted grading system for gemstone cut.

Size

Though a gemstone's weight is usually given in carats, this may not give an accurate idea of its size, because different types of stone have different densities. Therefore, a 1-carat sapphire or ruby will be smaller than a 1-carat emerald, though they have the same weight, because sapphires and rubies (both a form of the mineral corundum) are more dense than emeralds.


Illustration of gemstone dimensions

Gemstones can also be measured in dimensions (diameter, length, and width). It is important to know the dimensions to ensure that the gemstone weight will be visible and well proportioned in the setting.


Treatment

Gemstones are often treated to enhance color and fill cracks. Please note that, if a gemstone has been treated, this information will be provided in the specifications on the stone's product detail page. There are various accepted techniques, depending on the type of stone. For example, oils and resins are frequently used to fill surface-reaching fissures in emeralds and rubies. This process is not permanent, however; if a treated ruby or emerald is subjected to high heat from a jeweler's torch, an ultrasonic or steam cleaner, or even hot dishwater, the filler may leak out of the stone. Sapphires and rubies are often heated in a kiln or furnace to enhance their color. Such heat treatment, which is considered permanent, has been used for centuries. Lightly colored sapphires may also undergo diffusion treatment. This is done by heating a stone in the presence of coloring elements such as titanium or iron, which causes a thin layer of color to be diffused into the stone's surface. Because this color layer is so thin, a diffusion-treated sapphire should not be repolished.

Care
To clean gemstone jewelry, first wipe it with a soft cloth to remove any dirt. Emeralds require only the use of a soft cloth, as cleaners may damage these soft gems. Sapphires and rubies can be cleaned with either an ultrasonic cleaner or a solution of one part ammonia to six parts water, with a soft brush. Store your gemstone jewelry in a soft cloth pouch or jewelry case so it does not touch other pieces in your collection. As with all jewelry, normal wear and tear can loosen prongs and settings, so it is a good idea to have it checked by a professional jeweler who can make repairs as needed


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