Guide to Gemstone Classification & Care

Gemstones are fascinating objects that have been coveted throughout human history for their beauty and rarity. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, and each gemstone has unique physical and chemical properties that make it special. Gemstone classification is an essential part of gemology, the study of gems, as it helps to identify, value, and understand these precious stones.

There are many ways to classify gemstones based on their physical and chemical properties such as color, hardness, specific gravity, refractive index, dispersion, pleochroism, fluorescence, magnetism, thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity, and more. However, one of the most important factors in gemstone classification is the crystal system. The crystal system refers to the way that atoms are arranged within a mineral’s structure. There are seven crystal systems: cubic (isometric), tetragonal (ditetragonal), orthorhombic (rectangular), monoclinic (domatic), triclinic (anorthic), hexagonal (trihexagonal) and trigonal (rhombohedral). Different crystals can be identified by observing their external geometries or internal structures under a microscope.

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has developed a widely used classification system for colored gemstones based on four criteria called “the four Cs”: color grading which assesses hue tone saturation; clarity grading which evaluates the presence or absence of inclusions or blemishes; cut grading which takes into account the quality of faceting; carat weight scaling which measures mass. This system is particularly useful for evaluating colored stones like rubies or garnets since they often vary significantly in terms of color intensity.

Imitation gems are man-made stones that mimic natural gems but do not possess their unique physical and chemical properties. They may be made from glass or other materials such as plastic or resin that have been treated with dyes or coatings to resemble the color and texture of real gems. While imitation gems can be visually appealing, they are not considered true gemstones and do not have the same value as natural stones.

History of Synthetic and Artificial Gemstones

Synthetic and artificial gemstones have been around for over a century, and their history is fascinating. The ancient Greeks were known to create synthetic gems using colored glass. However, it wasn’t until Auguste Verneuil invented the flame fusion method in 1902 that synthetic sapphires and rubies could be created on a large scale.

The Flame Fusion Method

Verneuil’s flame fusion method involves melting aluminum oxide powder with other chemicals at high temperatures. The molten mixture is then dripped onto a rotating pedestal, where it cools and solidifies into crystal form. This process is still used today to create synthetic sapphires and rubies, as well as other gemstones like spinel and alexandrite.

Hydrothermal Growth

Another popular method for creating synthetic gems is hydrothermal growth. This process involves dissolving chemicals in water at high temperatures and pressures to create a solution saturated with the desired mineral. The solution is then allowed to cool slowly, causing crystals to form over time. This method is often used to create synthetic emeralds, aquamarines, and lapis lazuli.

Gem Cutters’ Impact

The rise of synthetic gemstones has had a significant impact on the gemstone industry over the years. Gem cutters must now be able to identify not only natural stones but also synthetics or imitations accurately. It can be challenging because some synthetics look almost identical to their natural counterparts.

Mineral Groups and Gem Classification

Classification is a crucial aspect of mineralogy and gemology, as it allows for easier identification and understanding of properties. Mineral species are classified into groups based on their atomic structure and chemical composition, while gemstones are classified based on their mineral species and formation process.

Mineral Species Classification

Minerals are naturally occurring solids that have a specific chemical composition and crystal structure. They can be classified into groups based on their atomic structure, which determines their physical properties. For example, minerals in the silicate group have a tetrahedral arrangement of atoms, while minerals in the carbonate group have a trigonal planar arrangement.

Minerals can also be grouped based on their chemical composition. For example, sulfide minerals contain sulfur ions bonded to metal ions, while oxide minerals contain oxygen ions bonded to metal ions. These classifications allow for easier identification of unknown minerals by comparing them to known ones.

Gemstone Classification

Gemstones are mineral crystals that are cut and polished for use in jewelry or decoration. They are classified based on their mineral species and formation process. The most common gemstone classification system is the one developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

The GIA system classifies gemstones into two categories: Type I and Type II. Type I gemstones include those that are formed from pure mineral crystals without any trace elements or impurities present during formation. Examples include diamonds and sapphires.

Type II gemstones include those that form with trace elements or impurities present during formation. They can be further divided into two subcategories: Type IIa and Type IIb. Type IIa gems have no nitrogen or other impurities present, resulting in exceptional clarity and transparency. Examples include colorless diamonds and white topaz.

Type IIb gems contain boron impurities that give them a blue coloration. Examples include blue diamonds and Paraiba tourmalines.

The formation process of gemstones also plays a crucial role in their classification. For example, fusion process gems are formed when crystals are melted and then solidify into a new crystal form. Examples include synthetic rubies and sapphires.

Flux growth gems are formed when a mineral is dissolved in a high-temperature solution and then recrystallizes as the solution cools. Examples include emeralds and aquamarines.

Characteristics and Classification of Natural and Synthetic Gemstones

Natural and synthetic gemstones are two different types of stones that have unique characteristics. They can be classified based on their origin, chemical makeup, physical properties, and other factors. In this section, we will discuss the characteristics and classification of natural and synthetic gemstones.

Natural Gemstones

Natural gemstones are formed by nature over millions of years. These stones are created by various geological processes such as volcanic activity, metamorphism, or precipitation from mineral-rich solutions. Natural gemstones come in a variety of colors, species, crystal structures, hardness levels, and other physical characteristics.

One of the most important characteristics of natural gemstones is their quality. A quality stone has a high level of clarity, color saturation, brilliance, durability (hardness), and rarity. The clarity refers to the absence of visible inclusions or blemishes inside or outside the stone. The color saturation refers to how intense or vivid the color appears to be. The brilliance refers to how much light reflects off the surface of the stone when it is cut properly.

The hardness level is another important characteristic that determines whether a stone can withstand wear and tear over time without getting scratched or damaged easily. Hardness is measured on the Mohs scale from 1-10 with 10 being diamond which is considered one of the hardest minerals in nature.

Synthetic Gemstones

Synthetic gemstones are made in a laboratory using materials that mimic the chemical composition of natural stones. There are two main types: crystalline materials (such as corundum) and amorphous materials (such as cubic zirconia). Synthetic gemstones can be created in any color desired since they’re not limited by what nature produces naturally.

One advantage synthetic gems have over their natural counterparts is consistency; they’re usually more uniform than naturally occurring stones since they’re produced under controlled conditions. Another advantage is cost; since they’re made in a lab, synthetic gems are usually less expensive than natural ones.

However, there are some disadvantages to synthetic gemstones. They lack the uniqueness and rarity of natural stones which can be important for collectors or those looking for unique pieces of jewelry. Synthetic gems may not have the same physical properties as their natural counterparts; for example, they may be more brittle or less durable than natural stones.

Clarity Grading: VS, VVS, and SI

Clarity grading is a crucial aspect of gemstone classification that determines the quality and value of a gemstone. This process involves assessing the presence of blemishes and inclusions within the stone, which can significantly impact its appearance and overall worth. Gemstones with higher clarity grades are more valuable than those with lower grades, making it essential for buyers to understand the differences between various clarity grades.

VS, VVS, and SI are some of the most commonly used clarity grades in gemstone classification. VS stands for “very slightly included,” indicating that there are minor inclusions visible under 10x magnification but cannot be seen by the naked eye. VVS or “very very slightly included” indicates even fewer inclusions visible under 10x magnification than VS. These stones are considered to have exceptional clarity and are highly valued. On the other hand, SI or “slightly included” indicates that there are noticeable inclusions visible under 10x magnification.

Internally flawless (IF) is another clarity grade used to describe stones without any internal flaws or blemishes visible under 10x magnification. This grade is incredibly rare and highly sought after by collectors due to their exceptional quality. Included (I) is the lowest clarity grade, indicating significant inclusions that affect a stone’s appearance.

Several factors can affect a gemstone’s clarity grade, including size, specific gravity, refractive index, colorless or blue hue, among others. For example, larger stones tend to have more inclusions than smaller ones because they take longer to form over time. Different colors may show varying levels of inclusion visibility depending on their hue saturation.

Types of Gemstone Inclusions

Crystals, Needles, Clouds, and Feathers: Types of Gemstone Inclusions

Gemstones are admired for their beauty and rarity. However, not all gemstones are perfect. Inclusions are natural materials that are trapped inside a gemstone during its formation. They can affect the clarity and value of a gemstone. In this section, we will discuss the different types of inclusions found in gemstones.


One type of inclusion is crystals. These are small mineral formations that can be seen inside the gemstone with the naked eye or under magnification. Crystals can come in various shapes and sizes and can be colored or colorless. For example, quartz crystals inside an amethyst give it a unique appearance.


Another type of inclusion is needles. These are long thin structures made up of minerals or other materials that resemble tiny hairs or fibers inside the gemstone. Needles can be straight or curved and may appear alone or in clusters. An example of a needle inclusion is rutile needles found in some varieties of quartz.


Clouds refer to hazy areas within a gemstone caused by many small inclusions clustered together that scatter light as it passes through the stone. Cloudy areas may appear white, gray, blue-gray, brownish-yellow or greenish-brown depending on what minerals make up the inclusion.


Feathers are another common type of inclusion found in gems like diamonds and opals but also occur in other stones such as sapphires and rubies. They look like cracks or lines within the stone but are actually tiny fractures filled with gas bubbles or liquid-filled cavities.

Jardin: Unique Emerald Inclusions

Emeralds have their own unique type of inclusion called jardin which means garden in French because they look like miniature gardens trapped within the emerald stone itself! Jardins consist mainly of dark green moss-like formations and are highly valued by collectors.

Inclusions as Clues for Gemstone Origin and Authenticity

While inclusions may affect the clarity and value of a gemstone, they can also provide clues about its origin. For example, some sapphires have silk-like inclusions that indicate they come from Sri Lanka. Inclusions can also help determine if a stone is natural or synthetic. Natural stones often have inclusions that are difficult to replicate artificially.

Caring for Gemstones Based on Their Classification

Gemstones are precious and valuable, making them a favorite among jewelry lovers. However, caring for these precious stones requires knowledge of their classification by gemologists. Each stone has unique properties that determine how it should be handled and cared for to maintain its quality and value. In this section, we will discuss the importance of classifying gemstones and how to care for them based on their classification.

Certain Stones Require Extra Care

Some stones require extra care due to their chemistry and treatment. For instance, corundum (sapphire and ruby) is a hard mineral that can withstand daily wear but can be damaged by chemicals such as bleach or exposure to high heat. Beryl (emerald and aquamarine), on the other hand, is soft and brittle, which makes it susceptible to scratches and chips. It also contains inclusions that make it prone to cracking under pressure or sudden temperature changes.

To avoid damaging these precious stones, they should be cleaned with mild soap solution using a soft-bristled brush or cloth. Avoid exposing them to water, bleach, or light as this may cause discoloration or damage the stone’s surface finish. If you have any doubts about how to clean your jewelry safely, consult a professional jeweler.

Handle Precious Stones with Care

Diamonds are one of the hardest minerals on earth but can still chip if hit at the right angle. Paraiba tourmaline is another rare gemstone that requires special handling due to its delicate nature. It is highly sensitive to heat changes; therefore, avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures when cleaning or storing.

Quartz is another popular stone used in jewelry making because of its durability; however, prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause fading over time. Therefore, it’s essential always to store your quartz jewelry away from direct sunlight when not in use.

Have Them Checked in a Lab

If you’re unsure about how to care for your gemstones, it’s advisable to have them checked in a lab. A gemologist can identify the type of stone and provide you with detailed information on its properties and how best to care for it. They can also determine if the gemstone has undergone any treatment or enhancement processes that may affect its durability.

Understanding Gemstone Classification

Gemstones are fascinating, beautiful, and valuable. They have been used for centuries as adornments, status symbols, and even as currency. With so many different types of gemstones available on the market today, it can be overwhelming to try and understand them all. That’s where gemstone classification comes in.

Mineral groups are the basis for gemstone classification. These groups are determined by the chemical composition of the minerals that make up each gemstone. The most common mineral groups include silicates, carbonates, oxides, sulfides, and halides.

Natural gemstones are formed over millions of years through natural geological processes. Synthetic or artificial gems are created in a lab using various techniques such as high pressure-high temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD). While synthetic gems may look similar to natural ones, they often have different characteristics and properties.

One way to determine the quality of a gemstone is by examining its clarity. Clarity grading scales range from included (I) to flawless (FL). The most commonly used grades include very slightly included (VS), very very slightly included (VVS), and slightly included (SI).

Inclusions refer to internal features within a gemstone that can affect its appearance and value. Some common types of inclusions include feathers, needles, crystals, clouds, and fingerprints.

Proper care is essential for maintaining the beauty and value of your gemstones. Depending on their classification – natural or synthetic – they require specific cleaning methods. For example: Avoid exposing your natural gems to harsh chemicals such as chlorine bleach or ammonia-based cleaners; Use warm soapy water with mild detergent instead.

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